On "Losing It"
Updated: Sep 9, 2018
We all have moments when we simply "lose it." Personally, I tend to go into fight instead of flight. My heart begins racing, my respiration increases, and my body heat starts rising -- literally, I turn red -- and then my mouth just starts to run. I can see myself yelling, but I just can't seem to shut it off. As a mom and wife, I have realized this is an area I need to work on. I can have a sharp tongue, and I do not like cleaning up the aftermath.
As humans, we all have a stress response. Its purpose is to keep us alive when true danger is approaching, for example, running from tigers; it also is awfully hard on relationships. Some people have fight response, some flight, and some freeze. I find in my work with couples that we all carry shame from the moments we tip into stress response. Perhaps you feel bad about the irrational thoughts that poured out of your mouth. I utter some doozies -- just ask my husband. Maybe you threaten a divorce in the heat of the moment and regret ever mentioning the word. You might be frustrated because you can not express what you are really feeling because you shut down in the moment. Please, let me assure you that we all have these moments, and there is a way to minimize the frequency.
First, start taking inventory of what your body does in these moments. As described above, I start heating up. If I can catch the "red" before it makes it to my mouth, I can prevent the damage. My family all knows that hot water is my way to cool down. They lovingly suggest my "magic baths."
When I feel triggered, I have the option of taking a timeout to do something that calms me down. This allows time to reflect, my brain to reboot, and later discussions tend to go much better. As a couple, it is great to have a discussion about how to set up timeouts and utilize them as needed. This keeps the conflict manageable and productive. Research recommends a 30-minute break before reengaging in the discussion. The secret is that you must come back to the topic, or no one will honor the timeout the next round.
As a parent, I began to realize that my kids are human too, and apparently they also need timeouts. When my 12-year-old stomps upstairs to her room, I used to think of it as an act of defiance. "Get down here! I am not done talking!" The problem is, when we are in stress response, our ability to reason and problem solve is diminished. My daughter was in flight mode, not defiance mode. I found if we both take our timeouts as needed, we are able to work through what we need without getting into a yelling match. Apparently, my kids have also inherited my need to get in the last word.
Have the discussion with your loved ones about what their stress response feels like and how to start building in breaks as needed. So many times, what happens during a stress response causes hurt and resentment that can have a long-term impact on relationships. However, if you talk about what has happened, you can make repair. You have the power to change these patterns and experience a thriving relationship.
To learn more: www.shannonkayjohnson.com/thethrivingrelationship