29 Nov Self-soothing strong emotions makes for relationship success
Behaving like an adult during normal day to day interactions is one thing: managing to do so during times of extreme stress is a completely different challenge.
Strong emotional reactions are normal when relationships get tough. But this doesn’t mean they are always helpful. Knowing how to self-regulate strong emotions is important.
When relationship stress escalates, we might find ourselves overwhelmed by our emotions, and unable to think straight. Marriage counsellors sometimes refer to this as emotional flooding.
The central lesson is that when we are emotionally flooded we are not in relationship problem solving mode.
So, what does emotional flooding look like?
When you are emotionally flooded you might argue, shout, and become irrational and aggressive. It’s pretty easy to see that you’ve “lost it”.
Don’t be fooled though: for others, emotional flooding looks very calm. They become silent, still, and may even have a blank expression on their face. This doesn’t mean that they aren’t emotionally flooded, it simply means that they react to (and display) those feelings in a different way.
In summary, emotional flooding can look loud and combative… or quiet and frozen.
What does emotional flooding feel like?
You may feel angry, furious, confused, frightened, sad, grief stricken, or any other strong emotion. The key is that you will feel overwhelmed and overpowered by these feelings, and as a result of this, you’ll find it hard to think straight.
What should I do when I’m emotionally flooded?
The first skill is in recognising when it’s actually happened (this is really hard because you powers of reason have switched off). Let your partner know (it will probably be obvious once you know each other’s style). Pause any further interaction about your conflict or issue and take “time out”.
Breathe deeply. Leave the room/car/building – go outside or into another space.
Take the time you need to regroup, before acknowledging with your partner that you are ready for the interaction to resume (this may take minutes, hours, or days).
What should I NOT do when I’m emotionally flooded?
Don’t try to negotiate or resolve an issue with your partner when you are in this state, because you’re unlikely to make any productive headway, and escalation of tension will be the likely result.
Don’t displace your emotions onto something or someone else (eg this is not a good time to call your boss about that other issue at work that you’ve been meaning to address…)
Don’t get behind the wheel of a car or in some other situation where harm to yourself or others is possible.
Don’t blame yourself: strong emotions are good things. It’s all about learning how to use them constructively, rather than allowing them to derail us from the life and the relationships we want.
Want to learn more about how to manage your own emotional health in better ways?