Overwhelmed or Flooded? Here’s How To Calm Down During Conflict

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Manage episode 253940143 series 1423957
By Caleb & Verlynda Simonyi-Gindele and Verlynda Simonyi-Gindele. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.
If you ever find yourself feeling overwhelmed during conflict, then this article is for you. We describe the psychological experience of flooding: when you white out or shut down or get hijacked by your own emotions. Usually, this happens during a fight with your spouse and it never helps resolve the issue you’re facing. In this article, we talk about what flooding is and how you can calm yourself down in order to navigate through conflict more successfully. What is Flooding? This is a problem that marriage researchers have been paying attention to since the 1990’s when Dr. Gottman first began describing it. It’s a common experience — typically for the withdrawer in marriage, and, since the husband is most commonly the withdrawer in a pursue-withdraw cycle, it happens the most to men. Of course, there are some wives who experience it too. Gottman defines flooding as "the subjective sense of being overwhelmed by the partner’s negative affect, finding it to be unexpected and intense, and feeling as though one’s information processing is impaired.”[1] In other words, in the face of your intense anger or upset I get overwhelmed and shut down. Flooding is not an emotion in itself. It’s just the experience of becoming overwhelmed and feeling like your thoughts are disorganized and you don’t know how to respond.[2] How to Recognize Flooding The more obvious signs of flooding to watch for are just that sense of being overstimulated, feeling that you are overwhelmed, and mentally disorganized.[3] It will typically prompt a fight or flight response in you so that you will want to either respond with anger or withdraw from the situation. About 80% of husbands will stonewall in this situation[4] which looks like emotional withdrawal (shutting down) and sometimes physical withdrawal (e.g., heading to the garage) as well. The less obvious signs of flooding are much like an intense stress response. These signs may include: increased respiration, an increased heart rate, an increase in blood pressure and perspiration. At the same time, you may notice yourself starting to have very negative or catastrophic thoughts about the relationship, for example thinking that “this is never going to work” or feeling very hopeless. Impact of Flooding It’s also important to notice that flooding may really compel you to want to put a stop to the situation that caused or prompted the flooding. In other words, you’ll want to shut down the argument or end the conflict, almost at any cost. It’s like you are driven to escape the situation.[5] The really difficult thing about flooding is that while it is something that happens to you during conflict (nobody does this intentionally to themselves) it is almost universally interpreted as you doing something to or against them! So, the more withdrawn you get as you feel overwhelmed, the more your spouse is likely to turn up the volume. In actual fact, as a result of the flooding, you may even be unable to hear what your spouse is saying.[6] This inability to hear your spouse is a key part of the cycle that we unpack and unravel with our marriage counseling clients as we help them find new ways to navigate conflict. In this article, we are going to talk about why this happens and how to calm yourself down. How to Reduce Flooding During Conflict Once again, we’ve created a bonus guide for our much appreciated supporters. We’ve got a PDF download that shows you how to practice self-compassion as a way to reduce flooding during conflict. This exercise is an effective approach to helping you navigate conflict more successfully. You can get this by becoming a patron of The Marriage Podcast for Smart People. Get the Guide! Why Do I Flood? You may be wondering, why does this happen to me? Or perhaps it is your spouse that gets flooded and you’re asking yourself, “Why does he do that?” It’s important to be aware of this because as the intensity of conflict increases,

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