Many sensitive people find conflict overwhelming. And we can find it particularly daunting to fight with the person to whom we usually turn for comfort and understanding. To keep our relationships healthy, we need ways to keep overarousal at bay—even when the going gets rough.
In his groundbreaking book on marriage, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, psychologist John Gottman describes the phenomenon of flooding. Flooding is another word for hyperarousal or hypoarousal, more commonly known as the “fight, flight, or freeze” state. When you are flooded, your hands sweat and your heartbeat goes up. Worst of all, your pre-frontal cortex goes offline. And your ability to regulate your emotions and control your impulses plunges.
This flooding happens to all human beings in conflict. But for sensitive people, the threshold is lower and it happens faster. Once you are flooded, any further exchange is fruitless and even damaging. So it’s little wonder that if you don’t have strategies to prevent or handle overwhelm, you may end up resorting to the opposite extreme: you avoid difficult topics altogether. But—
Conflict avoidance is a common trap for sensitive people
I used to be terrified to express things that were bothering me. I’d squelch serious concerns for fear of losing the relationship. But if you’ve experienced the effects of relationship avoidance yourself, you know that it creates more problems than it solves.
The truth is that intimacy is nurtured by authentic sharing, and nothing kills intimacy faster than closing down this intimate exchange. Inevitably, resentment builds. Distance grows. And the relationship suffers under the strain of unaddressed issues.
My partner and I are a case in point. We are both built sensitive. And early in our relationship, we only had two strategies for conflict. We’d avoid it. Or we’d try to address problems in marathon talks that left us exhausted and frustrated, wondering why talking wasn’t helping.
It took us a long time to crack the code. But we are much happier as a result. In this 9-minute video, I share attitudes, strategies, and resources that can help you manage your overwhelm and handle conflict more constructively if you tend to avoid it. And if you need support getting clear in yourself what you need to express to your partner, contact me to find out how 1:1 sessions can help.
Image credit: Photo by Jean Wimmerlin on Unsplash