During a difficult conversation with someone have you ever become overwhelmed with emotions (flooding), or withdraw, and can no longer speak (stonewalling)? This is a familiar pattern for many couples during heated conversations regarding sensitive subjects. These intense emotional states can be referred to as stonewalling or flooding. Stonewalling occurs when you shutdown, withdraw, and no longer can speak. It is frequently used to avoid becoming overwhelmed or flooded with emotions outwardly; however, inwardly you may be feeling like you are going to lose control. You may think or feel you are trying to be “neutral” but stonewalling conveys disapproval, disconnection, and sometimes contempt to others. Flooding is most noticeable when there is an outward intense display of emotions. If you are experiencing being flooded you may feel like you drowning in your emotions. Your tears or anger are overwhelming and you are unable to outwardly or inwardly regulate your emotions. Unfortunately stonewalling and flooding behaviors result in ineffective communication with others. When either stonewalling or flooding occurs you are unable to track what is going on with the other person. So although they serve as self protection they prevent you from being able to take in the information that might be helpful in resolving issues. Intense physiological arousal prevents you from hearing and communicating clearly with those you care about is important. In fact when your diffuse physiological arousal reaches high enough states you cannot take in data so you are unable to accurately hear what the other person is saying.
It would be nice if you could simply stop experiencing intense feelings during difficult conversations because you now realize it is ineffective for resolving conflict. Unfortunately this is not the case for most of us. So when you are experiencing a great deal of emotions during a difficult conversation you might want to tell the other person that you need a time-out from the conversation because what is being said is important to you but you are unable to hear in this moment. Let the other person know that you will come back and talk about the issue later. Giving them a time frame is helpful, for example, 20 minutes, tomorrow morning, after dinner then be sure to follow up. Now it is time to reground, self-soothe, and re-center yourself. There are numerous ways that may work for you. Here are a few ideas you might try.
- Take a walk.
- Take a hot shower or warm bath.
- Focus on slowing your breathing down.
- Work on a hobby.
- Use a progressive relaxation exercise.
- Close your eyes and envision being in your favorite vacation spot.
- Put on some uplifting music.
- Make a gratitude list. Remember all the little things.
Experiment and figure out what works for you. Remember the idea is to decrease the intensity of your internal physiological arousal until you are in a place where you can resume the conversation with the other person, and hopefully come to a place of understanding and possibly resolution about a difficult issue.