Sometimes the flood's so bad I need an ark....

What would make a normally thoughtful, conscientious, gentle, rational person turn on a dime when faced with something tough and emotional to the point where she is screaming and yelling, throwing down gauntlets and saying things that are meant to cut, even when she (and the people around her) know she doesn't really mean them, she doesn't normally act like this, and frankly she must be out of her mind?  Or it makes her either completely shut down to the person or else she gets up and leaves.  She'll just get up and walk out.  Even when it has to do with one or more of her children, whom she would normally die for?

Hello, my name is Veronica and I am a reactionary.  No, not the ultra-right-wing-conservative kind of reactionary, but the kind that becomes so quickly and emotionally flooded with emotion that I end up being reactive instead of proactive.  And I hate it.

My reactions when I get angry or more specifically, when I feel defensive or rejected are something I loathe.  It's one of the reasons why I'm in therapy.  I hate that everything I hear or experience gets filtered through the abused-wife filter that I now possess and I scan every comment or action to determine out if it's dangerous.  If it's an insult, attack or form of rejection.  I've been told that my "defense mechanism is voracious."  Friends and family that have seen it in action often end up thinking, "what the hell was that?"  But it's the place I go to.  Almost instantly sometimes.

I remember months ago, when I had to work a weekend shift for the first time in this job, Paul had made a comment like, "isn't that unusual for you to have to work a weekend?"  Could be a simple enough comment, but my brain heard that as an insinuation.  After being with "the evil one" for so many years and having him CONSTANTLY accuse me of cheating and being a whore, that's instantly, INSTANTLY where my mind went and I completely lost my shit on Paul.

I was standing in the middle of the band-aid aisle at WalMart screaming obscenities into my phone and telling him HOW DARE he accuse me of anything when I am nothing but loyal, blah blah blah, and then I hung up on him and wouldn't talk to him for hours because I just had to get away from him.  I was beside myself.  Later, when he said he didn't mean anything by that comment, I was rational enough to hear him.  But in that initial moment?  Whew.  No way.  

"Emotionally flooded."  That's the term Therapist uses to describe what happens to me, so I decided to Google it and see what I come up with.  Here's what I found:

** When people speak to us, they unknowingly trigger a network of memories— specific images, scenes, and sound bites that remind us of something that has already happened.  So when we find ourselves activated in a conversation, our sense of being upset and flooded with emotion is rarely coming from the topic at hand, but from a whole slew of past-based associations. And when reminded (often unconsciously) of prior episodes where we felt hurt or threatened, anger typically automatically arises.

**”Emotional Flooding” is the term for when one’s physiology gets activated by emotional conflict – the body literally prepares itself to fight. Stress hormones start flowing, the heart rate increases, and attention narrows its focus on attacking and defending.  Emotional flooding is an essential condition of survival mode.

**(This I find VERY interesting...)
...the person that is flooded (literally with adrenaline) snaps and loses the ability to think rationally…basically the frontal lobe shuts down and the person enters survival mode. Ironically the verbal expressions that remain most intact are cuss words and the last coherent thought they had, which is often repeated over and over.

** Emotional flooding can occur very quickly (sometimes instantly).

**If a person has had many experiences of trauma to reinforce the flooding, it usually takes a very small trigger to initiate the flooding.

 **When someone is emotionally flooded their instinct is usually to do anything necessary to either escape or fight.  It's classic fight or flight survival.

**Shame, anxiety, or both, are probably the most common emotion triggers for someone becoming flooded.

**What do combat vets, trauma survivors and chronically anxious or stressed people have in common?    Emotional Flooding.

**Arguing or debating while emotionally flooded causes people to react rather than respond.  They may  say and do things they do not mean, leaving behind a pile of regrets in the wreckage.

**The flooding indicates they are feeling threatened and their body acts just like the cave man did when faced with a saber toothed tiger, which is impulsively. Once the arousal system becomes flooded, ready to fight , flee or freeze, it's nearly impossible to resolve hurt feelings at that moment.

Wow!  This explains so much to me.  It's like getting a bad diagnosis from the doctor and being happy about it.  Not because you're happy something's wrong, but because you're happy to be able to put a name on it so that you can start attacking the problem and fixing it.  Many of these articles (thankfully) say that this is not a character flaw, it's just the way people in survival mode respond.  From what I'm reading, I respond pretty typically as far as this goes. One of the books I read recently, suggested paying attention to exactly how you feel physically when this reaction is happening so that you can learn to recognize it for what it is and start to diffuse it.

For me, it manifests in one of three ways.  Fight, flight or freeze.

With fight, it's just that.  I'm ready to go to battle.  Eye contact is strong and piercing, curse words fly, I'm in a strong stance and am ready to defend myself physically if you come at me.

In flight, I just want OUT OF THERE.  It's very frustrating to Paul when I sometimes just get up and walk out of his house, but I've gotta GO.  I feel a bit panicked and flighty, and my eyes may dart around a little bit or look at the ceiling.   

Freeze is when I shut down.  I have trouble making eye contact, I am silent, my tongue is stuck to the roof of my mouth and my jaw is clenched.  I usually have trouble opening my mouth at all and if I do open it, I will be clueless as to what to say.  If pushed, I will respond with, "stop it! or don't!  just leave me alone.  I blink fast.

In most of these, especially fight or flight, you can tell I'm hitting my danger zone because (most of the time it feels involuntary), but my first words will usually be "FUCK YOU."  That's the stop sign.  Give me some space, or a quiet hug, but beware if you keep pushing me because I'm about to become irrational and won't hear you anyways.

I always feel bad afterward.  I think the devil actually uses it to add to the shame I carry around by making me feel like an ugly person because of the way I reacted.  I know I'm not a bad person.  I'm actually a very good person.  I know I'm not a shallow caveman, yet when pushed, that's exactly what I turn into.  I've always heard, "It's easy to be good during the good times, how do you act during the bad times?"  Well, if by bad times you mean conflict, then I don't act very good.  Therefore, all of the good in my life must be fake.  It's not the real stuff.  The real me must be ugly and unworthy.

That's a heavy burden to carry around.  I'm so over it.  I'm sorry to everyone who's had to deal with me when I'm like that.  Mostly, Courtney and Paul lately.  And I just have to say, me admitting that my reactions SUCK, doesn't mean the other people were all innocently standing by when I jumped in their faces and B'GAWK'd!  No, they can own their own parts of whatever was going on, but as Therapist would say, I need to clean my own side of the street and say I'm sorry.  I'm working on this guys.  I really am.

lurve you, xoxo v.


Michelle said…
I am proud of you. Love, Chell
Allison said…
Progress is what matters. I'm encouraged and happy for you to be discovering some answers....