How to Calm Emotions
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | January 2016 (edited 9-24-2021)
Successful communication requires calming emotions first, and honest communication second.
Love isn’t one wondrous moment of joy after another. Intimate partners arouse sensitivities. Our close connections are tightly bound to security; fluctuations in behavior signal volatility and painfully poke at vulnerabilities. Trust from repeated loving responses and timely repairs softens the fears. For many, however, a simple event or spoken word triggers strong emotions sending emotions into over-drive; they aggressively lash out, or silently stew in self-righteousness.
Protecting is a Survival Mechnism
All organisms respond to offensive slights and dangerous attacks, protecting from further harm—emotional or physical. Responding to emotions is normal and essential for connection. High-value relationships must be tenderly approached; careless expressions sometimes convey sharp messages that divide rather than connect.
We should express emotions triggered by a partner but carefully, considering how the message will be received.
Authors David Schulz and Stanley Rodgers wrote that "experiencing one's feelings and emotions is quite different from analyzing them or worrying about them. It involves accepting those feelings and emotions for what they are without believing that they have to be expressed in order to be experienced. Such awareness can also lead to more socially appropriate ways of expressing feelings (Schulz & Rodgers, 1980, p. 44).
In relationships, we can experience our emotions. Emotions are very personal. Yet, expressing them with appropriateness is a skill. The underlying goal is not to express our emotions but to achieve intimate closeness and acceptance. This requires sharing our personal experience within the parameters that a loving partner can process.
"High-value relationships must be tenderly approached; careless expressions sometimes convey sharp messages that divide rather than connect."
Building Closeness With Our Reactions
Expressions made with care and mediated with personal responsibility create closeness. When expressed in harshness, laced with accusations and blame, our rudeness strangles communication, coaxing a defensive protection.
Emotional expressions are the precious moments that build or destroy security.
Damaging Defensive Reactions
When we are aroused, no matter how serious the triggering behavior, going straight for the jugular with a violent attack, doesn’t resolve the issue. Our swings drive a separating wedge deep into the relationship. Our attack may produce blood but never open the partner’s heart.
Isn’t being felt the goal?
A venomous attack divides partners, inviting further defensiveness, closing the ears we wish would hear our cries. Even when we seemingly "win," the victory is a fantasy, increasing tension, and building resentments.
Slow down! Recognize the bubbling emotions; evaluate the value of the impulsive reaction; we must break this destructive chain. Breathe. Calm the emotional flooding first, reestablishing safety. After you have soothed the primitive aliveness of the emotional brain, remind yourself of the long-term goals, and only then appropriately share feelings in a kind, non-accusing and compassionate way.
Expressing ownership for our emotions is essential first before communicating about specific behaviors and events that triggered those emotions; with care, we can effectively open the door to our hearts, and there in our naked vulnerabilities we can compassionately respond to a lover. Only then can we be felt and accepted in the core emotions of love.
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Schulz, D. A., & Rodgers, S. F. (1980). Marriage, the Family, and Personal Fulfillment. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.