If you’ve ever struggled with the feeling of being overcome with negative emotions especially when triggered by a miscommunication or disagreement with a loved one or significant other, you may be experiencing what is referred to as “emotional flooding.”
Although misunderstandings and disagreements are normal and can be a healthy part of a relationship, the mishandling of them can be detrimental to your partnership and your peace of mind. If you act on these raw emotions you may do or say things to your loved ones you later regret.
Of course, we do not consciously choose to misbehave but there are times when we allow the circumstances to cause us to “go off the rails.” It’s as though we are unable to interrupt the pattern before it takes us over. Fortunately, you can train yourself to recognize and shift it as it’s happening so that it doesn’t destroy your valued relationships.
Symptoms of Emotional Flooding
Emotional flooding is the feeling of being overwhelmed by your emotions, to the extent that it leads to a list of observable physical symptoms. When intense emotions take over, your body produces and releases more of the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol.
When you are experiencing an episode of emotional flooding, there will be an increase in your heart rate and your breathing becomes faster, more shallow and strained. Feelings of intense anxiousness and anxiety take over, and this might lead to nausea, sweating, tightness in the chest and difficulty thinking clearly. People who experience this phenomenon regularly have most likely experienced some kind of trauma in their childhood or early adulthood. Trauma can change the way your brain responds when it perceives danger, and the body follows in kind. Most typically, this leads to the fight or flight response.
Types of Responses:
FIGHTING: If you are in Fight, you will likely feel compelled to continue aggressively expressing yourself. Instead, you need to take a step back in order to break the pattern and stop this episode of emotional flooding in its tracks. Ask for a moment, perhaps to visit the restroom allowing you to move the energy by moving your body. Then take at least ten deep slow breaths and restore yourself to a calm present state before re-engaging.
FLEEING: If you are in Flee, you will do everything that you can to get away. You might check out emotionally or perhaps run away or find a reason to exit the conversation leaving the conflict unresolved. Instead of fleeing, try communicating your desire to flee and take a short break to recenter and come back in your power.
For some people, emotional flooding leads to two less common trauma responses: freeze and fawn.
FREEZING: If you are In Freeze, you may find yourself becoming disempowered, disoriented and or foggy. You may feel yourself shutting down and unable to express yourself. Perhaps you just pull inward and wait for the emotions to pass allowing those around you to continue on unabated, feeling powerless to stop them. But that can lead your partner to believe you are fine with all that is unfolding, when really you want to stand in your power and have an authentic conversation. This can be an innocent unknowing or it can degrade over time into a situation where your silence is expected. In order to break free from the freezing pattern you must become aware of it and then choose to break it. It may be helpful to take a break and find a safe place to literally shake your body for ten to twenty minutes. Once you are back in your body and in power you can choose whether to re engage.
FAWNING: This is the least understood of the four trauma responses. If you are a fawner, you may find yourself moving quickly into appeasement strategies when emotionally flooded. Fawners lose track of themselves and focus solely on the person who is causing them to feel unsafe.They will seek to shrink in some way, maybe by adopting a more passive energy or by saying self-deprecating things. They will seek to sooth the other person often with words of praise and/or actions of care. Fawners may find themselves in relationships with abusers who use this trait to condition their victims by rewarding them for this behavior. This sets up a complex set of behaviors and neural associations making it difficult for victims to see clearly what is happening and feel empowered to leave the situation.
Calming Your Mind and Body
For those who respond with flight or flee, you can learn to negate the “fight or flight” response and encourage a more restful state of being. When you take deep breaths, your heart rate will slow and the flow of blood in your body will return to normal after a few minutes.
Try taking deep slow, mindful connected breaths inhaling for 10 seconds and exhaling 10 seconds.
Another breathing technique that you can try is holding each deep breath for about four seconds before exhaling.
Depending on how badly you are flooded, it may take up to 20 minutes for your system to reset. It takes 20 minutes for adrenaline to leave the body. That’s why I teach all my clients the Pause Technique.
As you begin to calm down, ask yourself what triggered your episode and observe your reaction. With a little practice, you can learn what words or actions are likely to trigger you, and you can be ready to control your brain’s automatic negative reaction. Then you can begin to take practical measures to calm yourself down before things get out of hand.
What if you are a Freezer or a Fawner?
These two patterns are more problematic.
Freezers and fawners often endure much more conflict than is healthy. Using the deep breathing technique can help in the moment, but it may take more effort to learn how to put better boundaries in place to change this dynamic, or if necessary, find the power to leave the relationship.
Traditional talk therapy can help, but it’s slow and costly. Body-based practices can work much more quickly. Examples include EMDR, Somatic Release, Breathwork, etc.. A skilled energy worker can also support you in shifting your underlying energy patterns that keep you stuck in this loop. For example, I use my signature LEAP (Life-force Energetic Alignment Protocol) session to support people in shifting these patterns at the foundational level.
Please reach out if you think having a LEAP session would help you. They can be done in person as well as over Zoom.
Tj Bartel is a relationship coach or master energy practitioner with more than 20 years of experience. Tj offers LEAP Sessions (Life-force Energetic Alignment Protocol) that combine all of his years of experience mastering powerful energy techniques, integrating modern brain science, and practicing ancient Tantric principles.