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A group of independent counselors serving Kingwood and Houston
Specializing in Gottman MethodTM Couples and Marriage Counseling

Posts Tagged ‘emotional flooding’

Does Your Partner Overwhelm You in Arguments? 5 Strategies to Cope with Emotional Flooding

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

IMG_1210Ever been chased by a bear?

Me neither, but I know a thing or two about feeling overwhelmed in a dangerous situation.

A few years ago my husband fainted while driving 70 mph on a highway.  Instantly realizing I had to maneuver us to safety, I ripped off my seatbelt, took the wheel and reached my foot over to the brake.  It wasn’t until we were safe that I realized my son  was crying and in a panic.  And because my only thought was not dying on that highway, I had not even processed what happened to my husband.  He came to and gained composure, but  I was completely flooded . . . breathless, sweaty and weak.  That’s a classic fight or flight response to a dangerous situation.

John Gottman found in his research that physiology of partners during conflict discussion can be like my fight or flight response, especially in ailing relationships.  When one partner feels attacked and overwhelmed, or chased by an angry bear, there is often heightened diffuse physiological arousal (DPA).  This causes feelings of unmanageable stress, such as inability to think, hear or communicate clearly, sweaty palms, increased heart rate and  increased blood pressure.  All we want in that moment is for the bear to stop chasing us and to get to safety.  Sometimes we fight back to overpower the bear, and sometimes we run away from the bear.

Managing DPA in conflict discussions is necessary, otherwise it gets in the way of productive discussions.  The cascade of physiological stress symptoms interferes with our ability to problem solve.  We cannot  be a good listener when we are flooded.  Go back to my fight or flight experience.  I wasn’t even aware of my son screaming, crying and panicking, so there is no way you will be able to hear an angry spouse when you are flooded.  Empathy and creative thinking fly out the window, along with our humor and understanding .  We need to get calm to take in better information and to engage in an effective discussion.

If you are prone to flooding, knowing how to self soothe and bring your physiology back to normal is important.  Practice the following steps when you get flooded:

1.  Learn to recognize the physiological signs that you are flooding.  A good indication is your heart rate, which can rise to well over 100 beats/minute when you are in DPA.

2.   Tell your partner you need a break from the conflict discussion and take 15-20 minutes to calm down.  Do something that distracts you from the conflict, such as playing Words with Friends or reading a magazine.

3.  Typically when in DPA we take rapid, shallow breaths.  Try taking several slow, deep breaths, breathing slowly, in and out, watching your belly rise and fall.

4  Try progressive muscle relaxation.  Starting with your feet and legs, lift and hold for several seconds, or until the muscles start to feel warm.  Release and feel the heaviness and subsequent relaxation of the muscles.  Move up your body (buttocks, abdomen, arms, shoulders, neck/head), repeating the same procedure.

5.  Try visualization.  Think of a soothing scene, like a beach or relaxing on a hammock under the stars.  Imagine, in detail, what is there . . . the sights, sounds and smells.  Allow yourself to be transported to a “safer”, more soothing environment.

A good break to reverse the physiology of DPA lasts 20-30 minutes.  Once you are relaxed try to return to the conversation with your partner.  Remember, a break is a break and not an opportunity to flee the scene.  You must return to the conversation because if you don’t it will feel like punishment and make matters worse.

Mary Beth George, MEd, LPC

Certified Gottman Therapist

(281)812-7529

Houston (Kingwood), TX

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Couples Counseling and Psychotherapy Associates provides service to Kingwood, Humble, Atascocita, Porter, Fall Creek, Summerwood, North Houston and surrounding areas.

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Kingwood, Texas 77339
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