Blog 1: Setting The Conditions for Emotional Communication
Welcome to my series of blogs about emotional communication. In this 3 part series, I will be outlining basic emotional communication steps that you can use in your most intimate friendships and love relationships to help learn how to express your feelings, emotions and needs and respond to the others’ emotions. Attachment bonds are emotional bonds— your capacity to be able to both express your emotions in a modulated, non-threatening way, and to be responsive to these emotional signals in others plays an important role in creating emotional closeness and connection. We are not designed to be left alone and isolated with difficult emotional experiences without reaching for a loving other. In these blogs, you’ll be provided with some simple steps to consider. You’re on your way to greater emotional intimacy!
In my first blog, I’ll be sharing with you various items to consider in setting up the conditions for emotional communication. Emotional communication and intimacy takes time, patience, and your full attention and presence to your self. Paying attention to these conditions might support you in your effort to provide your full attention and presence.
The conditions presented here are to help you set up the appropriate space to have emotionally laden dialogues. We are most effective in being able to experience, reflect upon, and make sense of our own feelings and empathize and hold a compassionate space for others when our nervous systems are in a calmer and more restful state. If we are overly stressed and distressed, and in a sympathetic nervous system response, also known as a ‘fight and flight response’, or in a dorsal polyvagal nervous system response, which involves a ‘shutting down’, we are unable to truly connect to our self and others and are most likely to be defensive or self-protective. We are more likely to block engagement, escalate conflicts, and only see our perspective, or disengage altogether.
To improve the possibility of not activating a ‘flight and fight’ or ‘shut down’ response during your dialogue, I suggest you consider establishing the following 4 conditions for your dialogues: Dr. Dino Zuccarini, C.Psych. is CEO and co-founder of the CFIR. He has published book chapters and peer-reviewed journal articles on the subject of attachment, attachment injuries in couples, and attachment and sexuality. He has taught courses at the University of Ottawa in Interpersonal Relationships, Family Psychology, and Human Sexual Behaviour. He has a thriving clinical practice in which he treats individuals suffering from complex attachment-related trauma, difficult family of origin issues that have affected self and relationship development, depression and anxiety, personality disorders, sex and sexuality-related issues, and couple relationships. At CFIR, he also supports the professional development of counsellors, psychotherapists, and supervised practice psychologists by providing clinical supervision.
- Pick an appropriate time and place for both of you to discuss your feelings, emotions and needs about any topic or incident. Make sure you and your partner are not distracted when having emotionally-laden discussions. Do not have these types of discussions while doing any other tasks, such as driving, the laundry, cooking or watching TV–. You will need sufficient time to process. If you are in the midst of a discussion and cannot complete it, make sure to both commit to another time to complete the discussion. Also, try to have these dialogues at a time and place in your home that you both agree too—setting a regular time or processing space will ensure that these discussions are contained by a regular time and space in your home.
- Ensure that you are not overly emotionally aroused, tense or stressed or shutting down before, during and after the dialogue. Over arousal increases defensive responding, and blocks your ability to figure out and attend to your own and partner’s feelings and needs. If either of you are feeling too emotionally aroused or stressed, or shutting down, it is important that you engage in breathing, relaxation exercises, and possibly taking a break from your dialogue until you are both able to be more present to your self and the other. Monitor your body prior to and during the conversation to ensure that you are breathing rhythmically and are sufficiently relaxed (e.g, body scan to ensure that you are not holding tension throughout your body). Intimate emotional communication requires that you are both present and attentive, and calm and relaxed. This contributes to the experience of connectedness and safety.
- Deal with only one or two feelings, emotions or needs at any one time. Do not bring up other feelings, emotions from past incidents during your dialogue. Discuss one situation and/or event as processing multiple events and feelings intensifies emotional arousal and disrupts processing as a result of overarousal. Partners can quite quickly become flooded by negative emotions if too many past incidents are raised during one discussion.
- Recognize that at any one time you and the other may have different experiences of events and situations. You are a separate psychological being in body and mind from the other. Remembering that you might experience situations or understand them differently is important in helping you maintain an openness and curiosity to the other’s self. Be prepared to be patient to give your partner the necessary time to FULLY describe his/her experience. Start as many statements as you can with words such as “In my experience” or “From my perspective”. These statements will help each of you to recognize that your experience of an incident is uniquely your own, and acknowledges the reality of how you may have different thoughts, feelings, emotions, preferences, desires and needs at any time and in any situation. Feeling seen and heard in regards to your unique experience by the other will lessen distressing emotional arousal.
In this blog, I provided you with some ideas about creating conditions for your emotionally-laden dialogue to ensure that overarousal doesn’t result in escalations of conflict or shut downs and withdrawals. In my 2nd and 3rd blogs, I will set out steps to help you in your emotional communication with others through 6 steps. I will be providing practical advice on how to emotionally cue and respond to your partner as they are expressing their emotions and needs. These steps will allow for more efficient and effective emotional communication
Dr. Dino Zuccarini, C.Psych. is CEO and co-founder of the CFIR. He has published book chapters and peer-reviewed journal articles on the subject of attachment, attachment injuries in couples, and attachment and sexuality. He has taught courses at the University of Ottawa in Interpersonal Relationships, Family Psychology, and Human Sexual Behaviour. He has a thriving clinical practice in which he treats individuals suffering from complex attachment-related trauma, difficult family of origin issues that have affected self and relationship development, depression and anxiety, personality disorders, sex and sexuality-related issues, and couple relationships. At CFIR, he also supports the professional development of counsellors, psychotherapists, and supervised practice psychologists by providing clinical supervision.