BASK Flashbacks

Before I read up on flashbacks, I thought they were like living the trauma all over again, in every single detail. Sights, sounds, smells, temperature, and touch all would combine to recreate the original experience in a special kind of hallucination.

Well, mine aren’t like the least bit like that. I get little snippets of odd things: a smell of gasoline or perfume when I am swimming; mistaking a car’s backfiring for a gunshot; bizarre intrusive thoughts. I never thought much about these things until I learned about dissociation and flashbacks. They were just examples of the stuff that made me peculiar.

Now I understand that, during the trauma, I perceived the event in a dissociated state. I stored the memory in unconnected fragments, and when it surfaces, it comes back in fragments. So each little weird snippet is the memory of a small part of something I experienced years ago.

When I learned about Bennett Braun’s BASK model of flashbacks, things started to make more sense. Braun made B stand for behavior, A for affect (emotion), S for sensations, and K for knowledge. Each of these modalities can come back separately. Let’s go through them one by one.

Behavior, I think, is the hardest to understand as a flashback. We tend to repeat our traumas. If our Dad was distant, we fall for distant guys. If our Mom was alcoholic, we are attracted to alcoholic women. But this feels like true love, not a flashback.

And yet it is, really, because we are saying, in actions, something about our past. It feels familiar. It’s a repetition of the past and is inappropriate in the present.

Here are some of my behaviors that I have come to see as flashbacks. I spend a lot of energy trying to please men and I am afraid of making them angry. I put myself down before others can put me down. I am perfectionistic, fearing that awful things will happen if I make a mistake. The list goes on and on.

Emotional flashbacks (Braun’s A for affect) are also confusing. Strong feelings sweep over me and I find myself crying, enraged, or full of fear. My mind searches for a reason for these feelings. Since the reason, the original abuse, is still unconscious, I grab on to something in the present to explain my feelings. It’s taken a lot of practice to recognize that I am having a flashback, and that I am not really afraid of this particular mailbox on the corner or this cute little harmless spider.

Sensation flashbacks are much easier for me to recognize. That piece of trash on the road is not a dead body. Loud noises are not gunshots. Feeling cold in ninety-degree weather is a body memory. And so on.

Knowledge flashbacks feel really strange. I calmly say things I didn’t know I knew, like the comparative cost of different animals my cult sacrificed. I describe code words that were used to trigger me more than fifty years ago. I just know these things. At the same time they seem improbable and surreal, like bad science fiction. I always have the reaction, “Where did that come from???”

Every now and then fragments come together and I know which event is paired with which sights or sounds or feelings. This seems like a photograph in my mind, or a short movie. Very occasionally I think the event is happening now and I have to work hard to separate the past from the present. These more complete flashbacks occurred more often shortly after I figured out I was ritually abused.

I know everybody is different. I realize that your flashbacks may not like mine at all. I know that some people may find it very helpful to intellectually understand what is going on, while others feel it’s sort of beside the point. But I also know that many people have benefited, as I did, from using the BASK model to organize their thoughts about flashbacks. It can bring a little order into the chaos and can provide a degree of distance from the flashback experience. It can help you keep one foot in the present, so to speak, and that is very, very helpful.

Survivorship Notes, 
Vol.6, No.r 3

Here is the original article. It is in pdf form, so it will download onto your computer. If this doesn’t work, just Google “Bennett Braun” and BASK. This was the first result in my search.