More on Flashbacks

* Detailed instructions for making comments are in “News Items.”

* Additional information on the following holidays is available at:

Halloween: (personal) and

Halloween (background)
Yule/Winter Solstice


I haven’t written explicitly about flashbacks in a while. Here’s what I wrote back then if you want to look it up.

About BASK Flashbacks 
Explaining Flashbacks to Littles 
Flashback Worksheets 
Caryn Stardancer’s Flashback Worksheet 
Another Round of Flashbacks (personal)

There are certain seasons when survivors are more apt to get flashbacks, and Halloween is one of them for sure. So it seemed appropriate to revisit the subject.

Flashbacks have a bad rep, but they also have a positive aspect to them. They give you information about the past, often eliciting an “Aha!” reaction. “So that is why I am afraid of…” “Those bastards actually DID that!” The knowledge can help explain some of your symptoms and make you feel less crazy. This is a plus! Far better to know why you do something than to stumble around without a clue.

Having said that, too many flashbacks in a short period of time can be really debilitating. So can the kind of flashbacks that are so vivid that you lose awareness of the present and re-experience the abuse just the way it happened in the past. It’s hard to remember the details of this kind of flashback, so you don’t get the positive part of the package.

It’s possible to slow down the rate at which flashbacks come, turn down the intensity, keep one foot in the present, and even schedule them!

As with many things, it’s easier to plan in advance than to wing it in the middle of a crisis. If you work out a plan, you can tell others (if you have trusted others), write it out, and put a copy of it in your wallet, another one in the car, and still another one by your bed. In other words, scatter them around liberally! I’ve known people who taped their plans to their walls. No matter where they were in the house, it would have been impossible to miss those lovingly illustrated posters.

Some of the things you might consider for your plan:
Hotline numbers
Numbers of your therapist and your friends
Comforting things, like blankets, pillows, tea
Pencils, pens, crayons, lots of paper
Soothing music
Books to read to your littles
Things that have a special meaning to you – lucky stones, crystals, prayer beads, etc.
Favorite stuffed animals

You know best what calms you down when you are panicked, what techniques help end panic attacks, what reminds you of the present. It’s important to comfort your younger parts and to talk to them and tell them it wasn’t their fault, they were brave to come through that, you love them, and you want them to know that it isn’t happening right now.

If you feel a flashback coming on, you might start soothing yourself before it starts. But sometimes you don’t have a warning. One minute you are fine, the next minute you have switched into flashback mode. If you don’t know where you are, it seems that there isn’t much you can do. But if you have left comforting things around that would appeal to child parts, they may very well see them and head for them. Once you are curled up with a stuffed animal, sucking your thumb, there may well be space for a more adult part to come forth and help out.

I have never had the kind of vivid flashback where it is so intense that it blocks out the present. I’ve always known it was a memory surfacing. For that reason, I don’t feel entirely sure that I understand what is going on and that I am giving good suggestions. I wonder at times whether there has been a switch, and it is another part, without co-consciousness, that has the flashback.

I said that it is possible to slow down the rate at which flashbacks come, turn down the intensity, keep one foot in the present, and even schedule them! Here’s some ideas on how to do these things.

1. Slowing down the rate. In a time when you are calm and not expecting to have flashbacks, explain to your parts that you want to give your full attention to each person who is sharing with you. That you are grateful to them and proud of them. But you need time between hearing about these things to catch your breath and absorb what you have learned. If somebody has just shared a memory they have been holding, could you wait at least an hour (or six hours or a day) before telling me what happened to you?

2. Turning down the intensity. There is a classic hypnotic technique which is pretty nifty. Pretend you can display the memory on a movie screen or TV. Pretend you have a set of controls. One for volume, one for color, one for the intensity of the emotions being displayed. If you find you need to turn down something else, just reach out your hand, and you will find that the control knob is there for you. Of course, you can always turn up the volume if something isn’t clear to you.

3. Keeping one foot in the present. The work needed to achieve this goal is done in anticipation of the need. If you are lost in a flashback, you have no concept of a future. You are 100% back there. Probably the most effective way of preparing is to talk to your parts, to educate them about flashbacks, and to tell them that they are experiencing the memory of the abuse, not the original abuse. Just talk, don’t worry about not getting an answer, don’t worry about talking to the “wrong” part. Once you feel you have gotten through, you can draw attention to certain things in your home, like calendars, dated newspapers or magazines, and your cellphones or television, which were not yet invented when the abuse took place.

4. Scheduling flashbacks. The technique is similar to that described in “Slowing down the rate.” Set aside a time each day, preferably with the same start and finish times. Tell your inner people that this time is set aside just for them to share the details of the terrible things that were done to them. Explain that you cannot give them your full attention at other times of the day, and you want to be able to listen with all of your heart and all of your mind. If a flashback starts or seems to be on the way, remind them that there is that special time when you can be there for them with all of your heart and mind. Then keep your promise! Make that time sacred, whether flashbacks come or not. It will take time for your parts to realize that the time is really theirs and that you are going to do what you said you would.


So, I would like feedback. What helps you? Just as important, what doesn’t? Just think how awesome it would be if everybody shared their opinions and experiences in the comment section. How much we would learn from each other! I bet we could put together a flashback-preparedness list that we could share more widely with other survivors.


Upcoming Holidays

10/31 Halloween/start of the Celtic New Year/start of the dark half of the year
11/1 All Saints’ Day
11/2 All Souls’ Day
11/11 (?) Veterans’ Day
11/12 Full moon
11/28 US Thanksgiving
12/1, 12/8, 12/15, 12/22 Sundays of Advent
12/11 Full moon
12/21 Winter solstice/Yule/St. Thomas’ Day
12/24 Christmas Eve
12/26 Annular solar eclipse. Totality will be visible in Saudi Arabia, southern India, Sri Lanka, parts of Indonesia, Singapore, and parts of the Philippines.
12/31 New Year’s Eve

Dates Important to Nazi and Neo-Nazi groups
9/29 – 10/1 Rosh Hashanah (New Year, Day of Judgement)
10/8 – 10/9 Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement)
10/16 Death of Rosenburg
10/13 – 10/20 Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles, harvest festival)
10/19 Death of Goering
10/20 Hitler’s actual half-birthday
10/21 Hitler’s alternative half-birthday (Note: Hitler was born on Easter, so Nazis celebrate his actual birthday and half-birthday on 4/20 and 10/20. His alternate birthday is celebrated on Easter of the current year and his alternate half-birthday six months later.)
10/21 – 10/22 Simchat Torah (celebration of the complete annual cycle of reading of the Torah)
11/9 Kristallnacht State-ordered pogroms against Jews in Germany and Austria)
12/22 – 12/30 Chanukah
(NOTE: Not all groups meet on Jewish holidays. Some groups also mark Candlemas, Beltane, Lammas, Halloween, the solstices and the equinoxes)

About BASK Flashbacks

* Detailed instructions for making comments are in “News Items.”

I realize that new readers don’t always find some of the more useful old posts, and new ones may have forgotten all about them. I know I forget, because I often say, “Oh, I haven’t written about this,” and then I look it up and lo and behold I have.

So today I’m going to write about flashbacks and pull together some of the more important points that I’ve already covered.

The BASK model of flashbacks is useful because a lot of people can get an overview of what is going on in what seems like a totally chaotic moment. Although, at first, they probably don’t think of it while in the middle of a flashback, when they catch their breath it organizes their understanding of what they just experienced. In time, it’s often possible to remember the intellectual framework while in the middle of a flashback. This provides some welcome distance – one foot in the present and the other in the past.

Bennet Braun’s created this model of flashbacks back in 1998. You can download his original article at It’s very theoretical and I found it hard to read and understand in places. So I will paraphrase the part that I have found most useful.

When a child is terrified, parts of the experience get separated from each other and stored in different parts of the brain. They can therefore come back separately. You often don’t get the whole memory all at once – you get it in bits and pieces. Bennet Braun organized the separate parts in this way:

BASK: B = behavior. A = affect (emotion), S = sensations, and K = knowledge.

B (Behavior) I find behavior to be the hardest part to identify as a flashback because it seems like a totally appropriate reaction to the present situation. Let’s look at a few examples.

A man keeps falling for alcoholic women. He may not realize that his mother was alcoholic and that he is unconsciously replicating the patterns of the mother-child relationship. He just keeps being attracted to alcoholic women and deep down hopes that the ending will be different and that he finally will be loved and treated well. A survivor may be anorexic, not knowing that she was forced to eat body parts or things that contained drugs. Now that she is able to say no, she refuses defiantly, even though it hurts her body. (Me, I tend to cower before anybody in authority, expecting them to demolish me.)

These days, “acting out” means doing something that others disapprove of, getting into trouble. But the original meaning is that you are compulsively repeating the story of what happened to you. You are using action as an art form to tell your story, just like you are when you draw in your journal.

A (Affect or emotion) is easier for me to spot. A feeling sweeps over me when something happens that triggers me. Sometimes I know what event was triggered, sometimes I just recognize the trigger and the feelings that were aroused. Sometimes it seems to come out of the blue because I do not have the vaguest idea what the trigger was, let alone the event.

Before a person remembers the abuse, there is no understanding of triggers and flashbacks. The feelings, therefore. either seem totally warranted by whatever is going on or they seem like proof of craziness.

S (Sensation) This covers a wide range of things. An internal picture of something that happened, voices of your abusers threatening or belittling you, songs used in your programming, a weird taste in your mouth, a sense of pressure around your wrists where you were bound. It also covers pain.

Body memories generally involve pain. It’s important, though, not to assume that all pain comes from a body memory. There may be a present-day source of the pain which requires medical attention. If there is, it may well evoke a body memory, so you have two sources of pain to deal with – one in the present and one from the past. Pretty damn confusing!

K (Cognition Guess BASC didn’t look as catchy, or maybe that acronym was already taken.) I get this kind of flashback often and I always find it a little spooky. I just open my mouth and out comes things that I have no way of knowing unless I learned them back in the cult. Yet I don’t remember who told me or who taught me this, when or where or how I learned it. I also don’t know what I am going to say it until I am saying it.

In the beginning, I often thought I was making things up when I experienced this kind of flashback. My voice was totally even, matter of fact, with not a trace of emotion. I might as well have been discussing the distance between the sun and the earth. But come to think of it of it, how would I know *now* how far away the sun was if I hadn’t known it earlier? If I was guessing, surely I would have been wrong by orders of magnitude. And if I were guessing I would have paused for a moment to collect my thoughts. No, I knew what I was talking about, I just didn’t know I knew it until I said it.

Of course the more of the dissociated parts of an experience come together in a flashback, the more intense it is. Intensity makes it really hard see that it is a flashback and that it won’t last forever. That’s why I found that having an intellectual model helped me put a box around the experience, helped me understand what what was happening, and helped me keep a tiny bit of calm alongside the terror.

This has nothing to do with the BASK model, but I just have to share it anyway. My dear, wonderful Mike, the first therapist to really help me, not just watch me spin my wheels, had an annoying phrase he used all too often. “A flashback is a gift from the unconscious.” Guess what, Mike? You were right all along!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Upcoming Holidays

9/22 Fall Equinox
9/24 Full Moon

10/13 Backwards Halloween
10/24 Full Moon
10/31 Halloween/Samhain/All Hallow’s Eve/ Hallomas/ All Souls Day/Start of the Celtic new year.

11/1 All Saints’ Day
11/22 US Thanksgiving
11/23 Full Moon
12/21 Yule/Winter Solstice
12/22 Full Moon
12/24 Christmas Eve
12/25 Christmas Day
12/31 New Year’s Eve

Dates important to Neo-Nazi groups

9/1 N Start of WW2
10/12 Hitler’s half birthday
10/15 Death of Goering
10/16 Death of Rosenburg
11/9 Kristallnacht
(Some groups also mark Candlemas, Beltane, Lamas, Halloween