Scheduling Flashbacks

Here’s an idea. It might work for you or it might not, but it’s worth a try.

The parts that hold memories usually share them with the part that is “you” when they feel safe enough. You, however, don’t always feel safe enough to attend to them. What if you are driving? What if you are at work? Or talking to somebody you don’t know very well? Bad idea to switch or to get deep into a flashback and not be able to pay attention to the present. It would be so much easier to have flashbacks come when you weren’t distracted.

So the idea is to reserve a time for the parts who hold memories to share them with you. A set amount of time every day — ten minutes, half an hour, whatever you can manage. Make it at the same time every day so that it is consistent. If you can’t manage every day, choose one or two days a week. Find a comfortable place and bring things you think you might like to have around. A soft pillow, say, or a blanket in case you get cold, maybe some tea or a glass of water. Paper and pencils might come in handy, too. If you can’t see a clock from this place, bring a watch or set a timer.

Having a consistent end to this special time is just as important as having a consistent beginning. If there is no set ending point, your parts may think that it will go on and on and on, and that is not reassuring.

Go to your chosen place and explain what you are planning to do. “This is a special time to share memories. It starts at … o’clock and ends at … o’clock. We will do this every day so that everybody can have a turn. I’ll tell you when it is close to the ending time.” Do this for several days to make sure your parts have heard and understood the plan. (You can even ask if there are questions.)

Then just sit. If a memory comes, fine. If it doesn’t, the parts that remember aren’t yet ready. Don’t worry, you will give them another chance, and another, and another. The goal for now is to set the stage for your parts to be comfortable. Keep an open mind, so that you are receptive to whatever may happen.

At the end, say, “It’s almost time to stop. We have two more minutes.” Then two minutes later, “It is time to stop. We will do this again tomorrow, starting at … o’clock. Please, all of you, save your memories for that time. Thank you!”

If memories start to surface at another time during the day, say, “Please save this for today at … o’clock. I will be able to give you all my attention then. Thank you!”

(Of course, you don’t have to use these exact words. Say what feels natural to you, but be nice to your parts. No name calling, no cussing, no “I told you a million times.”)

For some people, this works almost immediately. They stop getting flashbacks at random times and memories surface during the allotted time. For others, it seems that flashbacks stop completely, as if the parts holding memories were startled and unsure what to do. Some people continue to experience flashbacks during the day and it takes many gentle reminders about the special time for the parts to understand.

The key to success is consistency. Your parts need to trust you in order to feel safe enough to share and to develop the self-control to wait until it is their time. If you don’t keep your word, how can they learn to trust you? You have to be trustworthy!

If there is going to be a break in your routine, figure out how you will handle it and explain your plan. If you have to travel, explain that the place will look different, but they will still have a blanket and paper to write and draw on. And the start and stop time will be the same. If you have to change the time, tell them as soon as possible and let them know if the new time is only for a few days or for always.

You will find that your parts can be very understanding. But remember, the fewer changes the better: consistency is the key.

If nothing happens, how can you tell if your message got through? I don’t think you can tell if it has or not. But there are ways that you can raise the chances that parts with memories hear what you say.

First of all, speak out loud, rather than just thinking the words. It’s clearer that way, easier to pick out what you are saying from the background of internal chatter or from external noises from your surroundings.

Second, it can help to offer a choice to listen or not. “Anybody can listen to me. Nobody has to. If you don’t listen but decide later on that you want to know what I said, you can ask somebody who did listen to tell you. And I will say this again tomorrow.”

How long should you keep doing this? That’s up to you. If your memories appear at the chosen time, you may want to do this indefinitely, simply because it makes life so much easier. If you have tried for a while and it doesn’t seem to make any difference, you might decide that the technique isn’t for you. Or isn’t for you right now, but might be later on. Or you could try exploring, alone or with another person or with a journal, what is blocking your parts from communicating. Is it fear? Fear of what? What would help allay the fear? Maybe a stuffed animal. Maybe a much shorter time, so it isn’t overwhelming. Maybe the reassurance that they don’t have to do this, but they can try it if they want to and see what it is like.

Are any of you already doing this? If so, would you like to share your experience? Do you have any warnings or advice for those who would like to give it a try? And those of you who try it now, let us know what happened!


More on Trust

There were some errors in the ritual calendar, but they are corrected now.

Mary and Karen’s comments on “Trust” are right on. Some of us consistently have the problem of trusting too much, rather than too little. Others oscillate between the two extremes.

There are several possible reasons to be overly trusting. Probably most important, it’s a protection against feeling helpless. If everybody else is good, then if they hurt you they are doing it for your own good. So, if you change your behavior, they won’t have to hurt you any more. And if you try hard enough, you can change and everything will be fine. The illusion of being in control gives a strange sort of hope. It was a very depressing day when I figured out that nothing I did would prevent me from being hurt.

After having been taken advantage of once too often, I found I was being overly trusting to differentiate myself from my abusers. They did not believe me when I told the truth, or, if they did, they didn’t let on. Therefore I bent over backwards to believe people when they lied. If I misjudged, I would hurt myself, not the other person. How many times, in cult situations, do we choose to hurt ourselves rather than others? Even knowing that it will make no difference, that the people we were trying to protect would be hurt regardless, we hurt ourselves. If we hurt the other person, we would be like our abusers in our own eyes; that was unbearable. And the other person might think we did it willingly. That was unbearable, too.

Sometimes I see people being overly trusting, like a big floppy golden Labrador retriever. It makes me think they are trying to be ingratiating. “Like me! Like me! Pay attention to me! Look how nice and friendly I am!” Maybe it works sometimes, but trying too hard usually comes across as needy, not appealing.

Me, I think I am both at once. On the surface I trust everybody until they prove they are out to screw me. And they don’t get a second chance; they get many chances to prove me wrong. But underneath I expect everybody to betray me, and so I don’t let myself be vulnerable, don’t let others in. I guard my deepest self as if my life depended on it, which it certainly did once.


“I can’t trust anybody because of my childhood. Everybody betrayed me, badly and often. So my ability to trust is permanently damaged.”

“I would be a lot healthier and have an easier time in life if only I could trust. Especially trust myself.”

Sounds true? Well, sure, or perhaps maybe. But at the same time maybe it is not that simple.

I think trust is much more nuanced. Who can I trust for what? How often? Under what circumstances? Is my decision to trust based on accurate observations, or is it just a blind guess? Or am I assuming something will happen because it once did in a totally different situation?

People who have not been abused as kids learn the nuances early in life, starting in preschool. Oh, this kid is usually nice and shares toys. That kid yells a lot. That kid over there grabs any toy in sight. I get cereal or eggs or pancakes first thing in the morning. I am put down for a nap after lunch. Every now and then these things don’t happen — one day my Mom gave me left-over pizza in the morning — but they usually happen.

One of the principle reasons we didn’t learn how to trust is that the things kept changing. Mom is really nice one minute and a raging maniac the next. At home you are hit if you don’t eat all the food on your plate, at school the teacher says, “Oh, you aren’t hungry today?” when you are slow to drink your milk and eat your cookies. And she doesn’t hit you, she smiles. One night you are supposed to sleep when you are in bed, the next night you are yanked out of bed and and taken to a dark scary place where people hurt you.

There is no consistency, so you can’t predict what is going to happen. And under those circumstances, trust is pretty meaningless.

Once you are out in the non-cult world, you have to learn to navigate an entirely different world without a map or compass. You have to build trust the way non-abused children did, by observation. Slowly, you start to see patterns in events. Some things happen reliably over and over again. In time, you start to think, if this has happened 100 times, it might just be likely to happen 101 times. You are building your own map.

There are people who get drunk every night 99% of the time. People who have temper tantrums when they don’t get what they want. People who will steal your wallet if you turn your back. But there are also others who usually do what they say they will do, are pleasant and matter of fact about it, and don’t guilt-trip you.

Over the years, I have learned that trust is not a warm fuzzy feeling. It is a hard, calculated, rational assessment of the situation. That may sound cynical, but I think it’s a very useful way of looking at it. To me, that’s trust — the belief, based on observation and statistics, that, while things are not guaranteed, they are pretty darn likely.