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  • Writer's pictureMa'ayan Greenbaum

When big feelings get the best of you in your relationship

When you're triggered, do you sometimes experience emotional 'meltdowns' despite your best efforts to hold it together?

Meltdowns can be set-off by work-pressures, accumulating disagreements with your partner, the demands of parenting, or all the stressors of work and life combined.

Now, do you remember a time in your childhood when you had a 'temper tantrum'?

Maybe a care-giver acted in a way that left you feeling disappointed, frustrated or powerless so you proceeded to protest by screaming, crying, and thrashing your hands and feet.

In both cases, your nervous system likely became overwhelmed by intense emotion which couldn't be expressed or understood so your body and mind entered a state of survival.

Adult meltdowns and childhood tantrums are very similar in this way.

According to Dr. Sue Johnson and Dr. Edward Tronick (two of the most influential researchers in the field of love relationships), there are 5 main predictable 'moves' in the process of emotional bonding:

  1. An attempt to invite connection with an important-other.

  2. Protest or pushing away when the bid-for connection is not responded to or ignored.

  3. Turning away or shutting down as feelings of disappointment, rejection and fear build.

  4. Raised voice, desperate crying or critical demands for attention in response to painful and overwhelming feelings.

  5. If the connection is strong enough once things are calmer, attempts to repair and re-connect with the loved one may become possible (and are crucial in re-establishing safety and soothing).

When we are unable to truly express ourselves, or don't accept/receive the level of support we need (especially in moments of pain) it's very easy to fall into a toxic habit of melting down.

To reduce the likelihood of being cornered into explosive or overwhelming emotion, you can prioritize the following practices:

  1. Accept and feel your emotions as they come, instead of holding them in.

  2. Seek support from a trained therapist to help you de-code the messages underneath your uncomfortable emotions.

  3. Self-reflection, journaling, and regular movement or time in nature to support nervous-system regulation.

In my practice, I help my clients tune into their emotional guidance system so they can process uncomfortable feelings instead of getting stuck in overwhelm and reactivity.

What emotional bonding ‘move’ to you most relate with?

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