Nobody begins a relationship thinking they’ll be at each other’s throats to the point of feeling unsafe. In fact, most people are conflict averse, avoiding it at all costs. But over time, relationships evolve and for a few, sooner or later, they devolve into periodic episodes of high conflict.
What Does High Conflict Feel Like?
Like the proverbial frog descending into boiling water, if you are in a toxic relationship, one day you wake up and discover you’re cooked. High conflict seems to happen out of nowhere, but tensions have probably been building for a long time. It’s sometimes convenient, especially if you’re conflict-avoidant, to ignore the signs until conflict erupts. Then it’s no longer possible to ignore.
High conflict may feel sudden, unexpected, and overwhelming. Your nervous system is overtaken with too many stimuli, and you have a physiological reaction. You may feel heat—your heart races, and your muscles tense. This is a phenomenon known as flooding. You can’t control your response, and your instinct kicks into a flight or fight situation. Your rational self is inaccessible.
If you experience flooding, you need to recognize what is happening to your body. Doubtless you’re in a situation that escalated to high conflict. Before you know it, you feel overwhelmed and out of control. That’s when you need to stop and try to identify your situation.
Can I process what my partner is saying?
Am I not hearing him, but jumping ahead in my mind to formulate an angry response?
Have I lost all desire to listen to what he’s saying?
Are we calling each other names or hurtling insults that can’t be revoked?
Have we deteriorated into physical violence, invading personal space, throwing things or
otherwise displaying aggressive behavior?
If you can muster the presence of mind to recognize that you’re flooding, congratulate yourself for being astute, and then remove yourself from the situation. Because once you experience flooding, it’s impossible to have a productive conversation until you and your partner become calm and rational again.
Next time we’ll talk about how to come out of a flooding situation and learn to self-soothe.
Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here: https://www.nancyscounselingcorner.com/contact