Emotional flooding is caused by an unrelenting stream of stimulus coming at you ‘thick and fast’. Like a real flood it overwhelms everything in its path and the level slowly but surely rises up and up, overwhelming everything in sight.
Emotional flooding is similar to hyperarousal in my article “Window of Tolerance”.
During a conflict or heated argument with your partner its easy to feel emotionally flooded. In this state of mind it’s more likely that you will say or do something untoward that you will later regret.
In this state as described in the window of tolerance article, you aren’t thinking straight, your capacity to process thought with reason has been compromised, so continuing the conversation / argument is unlikely to end well.
What if you could spot the early warning signs of becoming emotionally flooded? What if you never said those mean and horrible things in the first place!?
If you could see the flood water rising so to speak, you could prepare to do something about it.
For example, in a real flood you get to higher ground, use sand bags, and strategically control the rate of flow of damns and rivers.
The same concept applies to emotional flooding. Watch for the signs of emotional flooding, be aware of your triggers and thresholds and act accordingly.
Lets examine the signs and the symptoms of being flooded and understand why acting early is a good idea.
Trying to cope with too much all at once is a recipe for emotionally flooding. As you start to suffer from flooding you can experience any of the following signs in your mind and body…
These changes are activated as your fight / flight responses are activated.
Continuing a ‘loving’ conversation in this state of mind is near impossible, so its essential you act before you reach a point where your conversations disintegrate in a downward spiral.
For delicate relationship conversations – you can only really process one thing at a time well.
Look over the list above, identify your tell-tale signs. Identify your partners.
It could be a change in posture, pacing around the room, or something more subtle, a change in expression, a blank stare in the distance.
One way to monitor emotional flooding is with your heart rate. Marriage expert, Dr John Gottman discovered that many couples get flooded – with an increase in heart rate of 80-100 beats per minute.
At rest your heart rate is around 60-70 beats per minute.
In session during difficult, conversations I can monitor your heart rate with a finger pulse detection device. Being aware of this feedback helps you to become more aware of the sensations you are experiencing and better respond to the situation.
For example, taking a break and cooling it for 20 minutes if either partners heart rate rises above 80bpm
Things you can do yourself include:
Things you can do as a couple include:
After a distressing event or fallout during a heated argument where one or both of you are emotionally flooded, being able to ‘return to the table’ at a later stage to process the blowout is an essential step for couples to maintain a healthy loving relationship.
I use a strategy based on the Gottman Institutes “Aftermath of a fight” exercise to help clients heal emotional wounds after a fight or regrettable incident.
Sometimes though, the timing is not right and we must wait for another day. Like they say in comedy, timing is everything.
Use the key points in your next difficult conversation. If you’re used to ‘being in the dog house’, sleeping on the couch, or getting the silent treatment for days on end; the benefits to your relationship happiness and ‘serenity’ will be profound!