When you and your partner are having an argument, does it seem like the floodgates open? Relationships can be challenging, and there will always be some kind of conflict. However, when those arguments tend to escalate to the point of overwhelm, it can be hard to resolve any issues. This is known as emotional flooding, and it is something you need to know how to stop when having hard conversations.
What Is Emotional Flooding?
In simple terms, emotional flooding—also known as flooding—is the overwhelm that occurs when your emotions are so strong that it triggers a fight-or-flight response. Your body reacts to an influx of adrenaline, which puts you on edge. When someone is emotionally flooded, they may shut down or meltdown, depending on how they respond to stress. Furthermore, you may feel like you are getting sucked down a deep, dark rabbit hole of negativity.
Most often, emotional flooding leads to the escalation of an argument, which is not beneficial to anyone involved.
Signs And Symptoms Of Emotional Flooding?
Knowing the warning signs of becoming emotionally flooded, as well as what it feels and looks like during an episode, can better help you and your partner work through it together.
Here are some things that happen during emotional flooding:
- Sudden onset of increased stress
- Accelerated heart rate
- Frustration and anger
- Tension in the muscles, particularly those of the face and neck
- Changes in focus and eyesight
- Shallow breathing
- Changes in the stomach, including nausea
- Itchy skin
- Mental withdrawal and an inability to focus
Why Do Hard Conversations Trigger Emotional Flooding?
Long ago, when mankind was first walking the earth, we didn’t have to worry much about discussing financial problems or why the batteries in the remote were not changed. What we did have to worry about was enemies destroying our homes, getting attacked while gathering resources, and so on. Humans are hardwired to react to threats, but most of what threatens us these days is the trauma that happens on an emotional level.
Hard conversations may trigger emotional flooding because it is a sign of rejection or incredulity. Arguments may signal to the trauma inside of you that your partner is turning away. Sometimes, depending on your trauma, you may even see someone’s desire to help as a threat.
Other emotions that trigger floodings are helplessness and guilt. For example, you may become emotionally flooded when someone is blaming you for something that you didn’t know about. Since there is nothing you can do, you feel cornered, and so the fight-or-flight response activates.
How To Stop Emotional Flooding When Having Hard Conversations
There are many strategies out there to help you deal with emotional flooding as it begins to happen.
Here are some helpful coping methods to try:
1. Try Self-Soothing Techniques
When you feel ready to explode, it is important to take a moment to pull yourself back in. Self-soothing techniques, such as meditation, mantras, visualization practices, prayer, stretching, or any other self-soothing method, can help you from capsizing in the flood.
2. Hit Pause On The Conversation
Do you feel your heart rate increasing and your palms getting sweaty? Now is the time to ask your partner to pause the conversation and take a break. Tell them that you need a moment to calm down before continuing on. Your partner will understand. Once the moment has passed, begin the conversation again—but at a slower pace. Think gentle thoughts, speak neutrally (avoiding negative statements), and remember that you and your partner are a team.
3. Think Of Your Partner In Their Best Light
Emotional flooding has a way of taking your thoughts and twisting them up. You may start to believe that your partner doesn’t love you, that they have rejected you, or lied. Since jumping to conclusions when you are emotional rarely leads to good outcomes, try to reframe your thoughts. Picture your partner during those moments when you thought, “I really do love them.” Think of them on your first date, on your wedding day, when playing with the kids or pets, or when their faces lit up on Christmas Eve.
If you shift the tone of the story in your head, you can pull yourself out of the downward spiral of emotional flooding.
A frenzied nervous system often leads to shorter, quicker breathing. Unfortunately, such shallow breathing can trick the body into thinking you are more stressed than you may actually be. So do not forget to breathe. Pause. Inhale, exhale, and repeat until you feel the tension leave your body. If you want, ask your partner to join you in the exercise. Seeing them breathing in sync with you may have a calming effect.
5. Consider Visiting A Therapist
Does therapy help with emotional flooding? You bet. While you may be unable to jump from an argument right into a session with a therapist about what you are feeling, attending sessions throughout the month can teach you even more ways to deal with flooding. Your therapist may even help you get to the bottom of the trauma causing such reactions.
You Can Rise Above The Flood
Emotional flooding can have a negative impact on your relationship, but it does not have to hold sway over your life for long. By attending therapy and enacting self-soothing behaviors, you can start to acknowledge what you feel in a much healthier way. Soon, even the hard conversations will be resolved much more smoothly.
Don’t let emotional flooding control your relationship. Couples Academy can help you and your partner ride the tide together. Give us a call today to get started with one of our therapy programs.