There you are, sliding into a disaster like a car desperately trying to stop in the rain. The conversation is veering sharply into oncoming conflict and you’re trying to brace for impact. Just like in moments when your body believes you’re about to get into a physical fight for your life, the body reacts almost exactly the same when your heart feels it’s about to be bruised. Once we’ve gone into survival mode that’s exactly what we’re doing; not thinking, listening, or trying to be our best self, just surviving. How can we get this talk back to the center of the lane? Know what is happening in the body, take the time out, and come back.
Diffuse Physiological Arousal
You saw arousal, you squinted a little and saw physical, and maybe there’s diffuse lighting. Is this a sex thing? Similar! The less technical term is flooded. The Autonomic Nervous System (ANS, emphasis on automatic, i.e. involuntary) has two parts, sympathetic and parasympathetic. This paragraph is all about the high scoring scrabble words, let’s break it down. The Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) is sympathetic with your need to survive moment to moment. It’s not a longer term planner. When danger wakes it up, both adrenaline and cortisol (hormones) are secreted and you get flooded. Adrenaline comes alive for anger and hostility, cortisol comes out when you feel cornered or helpless. By their powers combined, your body is freaking out, heart rate going to 100 beats per minute, tunnel vision, hearing muted, non-essential services like genitals and stomachs are shut down, and thinking narrows. Ever watch a WorldStar HipHop video and wonder why they repeat the same 1 – 3 phrases over and over again… flooding is not when we’re our most brilliant. The only epiphany someone has while being chased by a lion is not related to quantum mechanics, but more likely the great importance of a good cardio routine.
Unfun fact, emotional flooding is about the most intense kind of flooding there is. What does this mean for you? If you find yourself holding your breath, sweating suddenly, heart ringing in your ears, or have a bit of nausea, you’re likely flooded and also can’t give / receive affection, play with humor, see your partner’s POV, and will likely begin employing the 4 Horsemen of the Relationship Apocalypse (if you don’t know what that is exactly, tune in next week!). From this point forward, since you’re not loving your partner but rather surviving your partner, any conversation or compromises aren’t usually genuine and can be fairly damaging. Fortunately there’s an answer! Another unfun fact, XY havers are more prone to flooding and take longer to come back from it.
The Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) is like a paratrooper that hops in HALO style (high altitude, low open) to bring us back to baseline. It’s the 10th cranial nerve (you’re taking notes right? There’s a quiz before you’re let out), and connects to all your automatic systems like hearts, lungs, liver, enlivens the genitals a bit, etc. Oddly enough, for how tied into the body it is, the way you get it to jump out of the plane is about as mental as jumping out of a plane. One common way is counting deep breaths, and attempting to observe your thoughts rather than just feel them.
So practically, what do we do? We have a 4 part plan!
- As soon as you notice you or someone else if flooded, gently acknowledge it. “Hey, I’m getting kind of amped up.”
- Agree to check back within a reasonable time frame of no less than 25 – 30 minutes.
- Get away from the situation and find something else to do for at least 20 minutes. The countdown begins when you stop thinking about what flooded you. Read, jog, sing, listen to music, what have you, but don’t ruminate.
- Check back, even if it’s to extend the timeline.
Why those specific minutes? It takes the body about 20 minutes to filter the adrenaline and cortisol through your liver letting the rest of your body and mind calm down. If you’re still thinking about what got you going, you won’t be ready to stop so, again, the countdown only starts when you stop ruminating.
Alright Cody, I got worked up, I worked out, now I’m ready to work on the rest of the conversation, how do I get that going? Here are some phases of getting back into it without getting “into it” that may be helpful.
Being with a gentle start up. Coming in like’s it BANGARANG TIME is going to start the whole “I need a timeout” process over again. Here’s a free formula to help: “I feel [emotion] about [what (not who)], and I need [verb] + expression of appreciation (optional).”
You may need to start with an apology:
- Apology Template:
- Damage Assessment. Taking an inventory of what negatively affects there are for yourself and others.
- Identify what you did wrong from the damage assessment.
- Give insight for yourself and others the motivations supporting what led to your part.
- Create a plan to do better.
You may need to work past a regrettable moment when you were flustered:
- Begin by asking how each other felt during the conflict. Just that. Something like, “I felt scared, overwhelmed, and frustrated.”
- Everyone involved will have a different point of view of what went down. You may be surprised that sometimes you don’t even have the same understanding of when the conflict started or ended. Give your side without judgement or negativity. Describe only your self. When your partner describes themself, summarize what you hear and validate them. See if you can agree on what really escalated the conflict.
- Own your part. It takes two to tango, and at least two to have a tumbler throwing fight in the backyard like a game of cornhole gone askew.
- Make a plan that includes how you could do a little better in the next discussion. This does not include improving your aim in my scenario, yours might if you’re arguing about the bathroom.
Hopefully you’re some esoteric monk that just can’t be bothered to the point you lose your center… for the rest of us it can be more of a challenge. If you or someone you know finds themselves more off course than on, feel free to reach out to me below for a free consultation.