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Understanding Emotional Flooding

Becoming emotionally flooded during conflict can really exacerbate the challenges we are already having in our relationship with our partner. I’ve found that gaining a deeper understanding of what flooding is and why it leads to more challenges is immensely important. I’d like to share a brief story from my own experience that may help you to better understand the impact of flooding.

Back in November 2020, Thanksgiving evening actually, we had some unusually strong and lengthy rain here in Kona, Hawaii. We ended up having some nearby bodies of water overflow and water came rushing down our steep driveway, not unlike some of the breathtaking waterfalls that are scattered across this lovely island. Unfortunately our home wasn’t made to withstand a rush of water like this and water quickly filled our front yard and our front porch. By the time we realized what was happening water was leaking through our walls and doors. We were being flooded! I remember quickly taking action and doing my best to assess the situation and look for ways that I could stop the destruction from the flood. After looking around outside and looking for ways to stop or slow the water I quickly realized we were too late and it was a losing battle. This force of nature was going to need to run it’s course and we needed to quickly accept the ensuing disaster while still working on damage control to seek safety and save what we could.

This all happened in a flash and the rush of emotions that were there were peaked in intensity. I recall feelings of fear and panic that led into upset and frustration. Then a quick flash of choice whether to feed the panic and frustration or to accept the natural disaster and focus on weathering the storm.

I see so many similarities now how that moment of crisis relates to conflicts we have with our partner when we may feel attacked, defensive and flooded, not with water but with emotions. Those emotions are intense and can quickly sweep us into a fight, flight or freeze state. If we don’t have tools to cope and regulate our emotions then we can quickly turn to panic. There is a choice that we have in these moments to react out of defensiveness or respond out of love. Not easy to do or to even see that we have this choice, but it is there. The more we learn to connect with our emotions and work through them in the smaller moments, then the easier it will be to work through them when the proverbial shit hits the fan.

Of course there is always the option of falling back to safety and weathering the storm. This can be a critically important tool to use with our partner in order to save the trust and respect that you still have. You do this by not reacting out of a feeling of defensiveness or upset where you aren’t able to easily access empathy, generosity or humor....the higher functioning that goes out the door so often when crisis hits.

So sometimes we just need to recognize that the emotional flooding is creating a conflict that is a losing battle. Easier said than done of course. At this point though the best we can do is to truly weather the internal storm so we can return to a sense of ease. From this place it will be much easier to have a discussion with our partner, the one we love, instead of a fight with an adversary that we need to defend against.


Be well my friends!


Christian Lamb, LCSW

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