Is Your Brain or Body in Control when you Fight?
Emotional Flooding Might Sound Like:
“We can’t even talk without a fight.”
“I get so angry; I can’t see straight.”
“It’s like we go from zero to sixty!”
“I don’t even remember what our fight is about, but I know it was ridiculous.”
Ever said these words or felt this way about your spouse or partner?
We hear from couples whose whole lives together have been characterized by these kinds of scenarios. What should just be a simple conversation or discussion becomes a fight. Couples begin to live like they are enemies and adversaries rather than friends and lovers. The problem is likely “Diffused Physiological Arousal,” according to John Gottman, more commonly called the fight or flight reflex or intense emotional flooding.
Our bodies play a big role in our relationships, especially during difficult conversations and conflicts. In highly conflicted or troubled relationships, normal conversations can trigger intense emotions that sometimes lead to the fight or flight reflex or flooding. You feel so stressed you become emotionally and physically overwhelmed and feel like you are in danger; you feel emotionally threatened. And so, you get a pounding heart, sweaty hands, irregular or shallow breathing. The mind races, and you feel cornered, like an innocent victim. Anger gets turned up; voices get louder, and escalation increases.
What’s REALLY Happening:
- Your ability to reason and be logical is highly diminished.
- You are not capable of hearing anything new or even an apology.
- This means you CANNOT accept influence from your partner.
- You lose the ability to be empathetic.
- There is no compassion toward your partner.
- Understanding has flown out the window.
Think about it. If you flood, you CANNOT have a good conversation; it will always go bad. You’re no longer able to think clearly or to participate in the conversation in a fruitful way.
What To Do To Help Yourself
Take a break, and do something that you find soothing for at least twenty minutes:
- Go for a walk
- Take a drive
- Run or work out
- Read a book
- Pray or meditate
- Engage in deep, mindful breathing
- Do muscle tension relaxation exercises
- Anything that is healthy that calms you down and gives you peace
Knowing yourself and your body well is the key to not flooding in the first place. Many people who flood do not have the ability to control themselves once they are flooded. Each person should evaluate their triggers and signs of flooding in order to prevent bad conversations and fights. Start now.
Ask yourself these questions originally designed by John Gottman in his book The Relationship Cure. These may help you evaluate your potential to flood and give insight into your actions and reactions:
- What typically happens just before you start to feel flooded?
- What is happening in your body? Heat? A rising up of emotion? Nervousness? Mind jumbled?
- Are there particular words, actions, or topics that seem to trigger you to flood?
- What could happen in an intense conversation to help you not flood?
- Are upsetting subjects brought up harshly in your conversations?
- Do either of you tend to store up problems and try to deal with them all at once?
- Can you do a better job of handling your problems one at a time?
- Find something to soothe yourself when you feel irritable, scared, or angry.
- Can you soothe each other?
- What signals can you develop for when either of you feels flooded? (A word or gesture that signals you need a time-out.)
- Can you take breaks? What can you do during these breaks to calm down?
Understanding the dynamic of flooding in your relationship may just be the key to changing your conflict!
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