Couples Academy

Emotional Flooding: What Does It Mean In A Relationship?

Emotional Flooding What Does It Mean In A Relationship

There is something that can happen with emotions that most people can understand but do not have a word for. It is often the result of one partner escalating a confrontation while the other slides back into themselves, growing more and more unresponsive as the fight continues. Many people are unaware that this happens until they take a moment to reflect. This retreat is often caused by a sense of overwhelm known as “emotional flooding.” This article aims to detail how emotional flooding affects your relationships.


What Is Emotional Flooding?

There is a buzzword floating around that often describes “flooding.” That word is “triggered.” When someone is triggered, they can go into panic mode, or they may shut down. With emotional flooding, it is very much the same. It is when your emotions become so overpowering that the prefrontal cortex in the brain—the region associated with logical thought and processing—turns off.

What Is Emotional Flooding?

Signs Of Emotional Flooding

The symptoms of flooding depend largely on the person experiencing it. You may feel the following:

  • Increased heart rate (usually above 100 bpm)
  • Short and shallow breathing (hyperventilation)
  • Anxiety
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Sweating
  • Constricted feeling in the throat
  • Tense muscles and clenched jaw
  • Dry mouth
  • Either/or thoughts
  • Unable to focus on the issue OR hyper-focus and tunnel vision
  • Unresponsiveness to questions and discussion


What Triggers Emotional Flooding?

In the same vein of emotional flooding signs and symptoms being unique to the individual, so too are the triggers. The most basic trigger to flooding is feeling threatened. The human brain and body are very good at understanding danger; however, the danger is sometimes misrepresented, due to past trauma or even conditions like borderline personality disorder, ADHD and autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

How we perceive threats is interwoven into our experiences as people. Some people may perceive rejection as a threat, while others may feel flooded after a heated conversation.

Interestingly, John Gottman, relationship psychologist and researcher, found that men are more likely to end up flooded than women. Up to 80% of men are thought to experience it. The theory is that, when men shut down their emotions, it causes the negative ones to build up and then explode.


What Does Emotional Flooding Mean In A Relationship?

If emotional flooding sounds exhausting, that is because it is. When either (or, worse, both) partners get emotionally flooded, it can make it much more difficult to calmly walk through even the smallest of conflicts. One minute, you may be pursuing the ‘Gram on your phone, only to have your partner start questioning why you are on it so much. Next, they are yelling at you and throwing a temper tantrum.

Emotional flooding makes it difficult to access empathy—or to even think straight. Some people who get flooded will even misinterpret certain facial expressions, seeing them as threatening when they are not.

Emotional Flooding

For the person on the receiving end of flooding, there is no way to get a word in edgewise. You may feel frustrated or even frightened when your partner explodes. Sometimes, it even feels a little helpless.


How To Break The Cycle Of Emotional Flooding

Becoming overwhelmed and flooded with emotion can be a difficult thing to resolve. It is, after all, mostly due to unresolved trauma. However, there are some tips for working beyond those overwhelming moments, so you can communicate with your partner on a better level.

Here they are:

  • Attend therapy. Couples counseling or trauma-informed therapy for emotional flooding can not only teach you how to get beyond emotional flooding, they also give you skills for building healthier coping skills.
  • Learn to call out when a conversation is becoming heated and overwhelming. Whenever you make this call, take a break. Speaking with your partner about these breaks is important—and you must stick with the rules the two of you make.
  • Develop a de-escalation method. Some people recite the ABC’s backwards. Make your defusing technique mentally challenging enough to distract you from your emotions.
  • Self-soothe. Consider meditating.
  • Question those either/or thoughts in your mind. Reconsider your reactions and how you are behaving. Take a step back and try to observe yourself from your partner’s point of view.
  • As you become more aware of becoming emotionally flooded, you will begin to sense even the physiological symptoms (like elevated blood pressure). Stop as soon as you notice these reactions.
  • Remember that you love your partner and want to make them feel safe.


End The Flooding And Build A Healthier Relationship

No relationship is without some ups and downs, but emotional flooding can make even the smallest hill seem like an erupting volcano. By understanding emotional flooding and how it can affect your relationship, you will begin to recognize it and can start learning to quell it. Therapy is always an option for stopping the flood, so why not speak with one of the counselors from Couples Academy? Our team can help you and your partner reconnect after disagreements and help you build a stronger relationship.

Get in contact with Couples Academy today to learn more about the services we offer.