Have you been watching Celebrity Big Brother? What do you make of the situation between Ryan and Roxanne? If you haven’t been watching, let me explain.
Former Emmerdale actress Roxanne Pallett has recently been in the BB house until she walked out on Saturday after what looks like a very stressful week for her and Corrie actor Ryan Thomas.
On Thursday Ryan and Roxanne were play fighting and Ryan lightly ‘punched’ Roxanne in the ribs. After laughing about it, Roxanne accused Ryan of intentionally hurting her and of being a ‘woman beater’ and wanted him to be removed from the house. Big Brother reviewed the footage and gave Ryan a warning but decided there had been no foul play.
Her accusation left Ryan devastated and fearing his career was over. BB fans have been left fuming with Roxanne, believing that she deliberately made false accusations in an attempt to ruin Ryan’s career and gain sympathy for herself. Many viewers and even some of her colleagues and acquaintances have spoken out saying that she has made similar accusations about other men and that she is ‘not well’ ‘needs help’ and is ‘a bully’ and ‘calculated’ and ‘manipulative’.
Its impossible to know what was going on for Roxanne or what her motives were, and only she really knows the answer. But when I watched the show this week and I watched the incident and her reaction to the incident, I suspect she might be having an emotional flashback, and that could explain her behaviour and the way she responded.
What is an emotional flashback
We know that someone with PTSD can have a flashback if they hear fireworks or a car backfire, and this would be an external trigger. An emotional flashback is an out of proportion emotional reaction to an event in the present moment that unconsciously reminds you of a similar event from the past. The flashback brings up an emotion or feeling that reminds you of previous events, and it takes you back into the overwhelming feeling state that you felt in the past. So in Roxanne’s case, being in a playful tussle with a man could bring up memories of times in her life when she was hit by her abusive ex partner. Without realising it, Roxanne’s emotions could have been about her memories about her ex, but it just looked like they were about Ryan.
In his book Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving, Pete Walker describes an emotional flashback as a ‘sudden and often prolonged regression to the overwhelming feeling-states of being an abused/abandoned child. These feeling states can include overwhelming fear, shame, alienation, rage, grief and depression. They also include unnecessary triggering of our fight/flight instincts’. p3
We know that we are in an emotional flashback when we respond to a current event that seems out of proportion to what has just happened. When we respond like that, its because we are actually having an unconscious emotional response to a previous event. It seems that the main reason viewers are angry with Roxanne is because of her overreaction to the play fight, which seemed very out of proportion to what actually happened. Pete Walker describes this and I think it really applies to Roxanne and her response to Ryan: ‘Another clue that we are in a flashback occurs when we notice that our emotional reactions are out of proportion to what has triggered them. Here are two common instances:  a minor upset feels like an emergency;  a minor unfairness feels like a travesty of justice’. p154
The signs and symptoms of an emotional flashback are overwhelming feelings such as fear, anxiety, despair, depression, confusion, shame or grief. Flashbacks can range from feeling mild to extreme and range in duration from seconds to weeks. Typically, during a flashback you feel small, fragile, helpless and afraid and they tend to bring up an experience of toxic shame. This is a sense that you are flawed, inadequate, bad, and unlovable. This sense of toxic shame is likely from a history of having been consistently neglected or rejected or from having been severely criticized as a child or from an abusive partner.
Triggers can be people, places, things, events, facial expressions, styles of communication, etc, that remind us of our original trauma in a way that flashes us back into the painful feelings of those times.
During a flashback, your fight/flight/freeze response is activated and you feel highly aroused and fearful. I think its interesting that after the incident Roxanne went into the bedroom and seemed to freeze, asking BB to call her into the diary room rather than go there herself. The triggering of Roxanne’s freeze response could be another sign of the emotional flashback taking hold.
How to manage an emotional flashback
Pete Walker lists ’13 practical steps for helping manage an emotional flashback’. The most important step is to tell yourself in the moment that you are having an emotional flashback and that the memories can’t hurt you now and that you are not in danger. You can find the other steps here or watch this great YouTube video.
It would be easy to judge Roxanne’s character and her behaviour based on what we have seen on CBB. But I think it is possible that, due to her previous unresolved trauma, Roxanne believed that she was being attacked or threatened ‘The survivor may, seemingly without reason, visualise someone as being abusive’. p152
So while I think its clear that Ryan didn’t do anything wrong and He was clearly very upset by the events and has been vindicated, I do think that Roxanne deserves some compassion and understanding. My gut feeling is that Roxanne didn’t set out to cause any upset with Ryan or try to ruin his career. I think its more likely that the play fight caused her to go into an emotional flashback and she experienced all the symptoms that go with it. Its a shame because emotional flashbacks can be worked on and resolved quite quickly.
If you would like to explore and work on your own experience of emotional flashbacks, call or email me and let’s talk about it.