About BASK Flashbacks

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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 https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/36679914.pdf. 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!

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