Flooding and the Use of the Verbal Cue

Have you ever gotten flooded during an interaction with your partner when you felt so overwhelmed that you couldn’t seem to see straight?  It can happen when it seems like the same material is coming up in an argument that you’ve been over and over again and again and you just can’t handle it any more.  You know you should disengage, but somehow when you get to this point, it just seems impossible.  Everything seems out of control.  This is flooding.  Flooding is defined as:

“…a physiological response we have when we feel in danger or become extremely emotional.  The parts of the brain needed to fight back are flooded with oxygen for better performance.  Unfortunately, these are taken from the parts of the brain that deal with logical thinking. When you are flooded you might sense you shouldn’t keep fighting, but you can’t seem to get the logical part of your brain to actually get you to stop.  It’s not fully functioning.”+

Flooding seems to happen in a lot of ADHD couple’s arguments.  The executive function (particularly after meds have worn off), is not working, and  so logic and rational thought are not in charge.

Therefore, it is so important that before you get to this point in the argument, the more reasonable part of you takes over, and that’s the time for a verbal cue.  How do you know when to jump in with a verbal cue?  It takes a certain amount of consciousness, and the recognition of what the physical signs are in your body that signal that an argument is coming.  Your heart starts beating faster.  The tension starts in your neck and shoulders.  Your hands might start balling into fists, your body might overall become more rigid, as does your jaw, your voice begins to raise.  Each one of us has different physical signs, but we all have them.  It is important to know what yours are.

As soon as you notice yourself beginning to go there, you might also notice that your thoughts turn to blame and judgment of your partner.  You get yourself into an attack mode.  It is at this point, as difficult as it might be, that you need to pull out your trusty verbal cue.  And the verbal cue might sound something like this,”

“I think we should take a break.  I’m thinking this isn’t going to a good place.”         Or

“I need a time out.  I don’t like what’s going through my head right now.”

Or whatever you need to say to stop the action.  And it’s important that you and your partner have decided that this is something you would do if the tensions got too high so that there’s no great surprise when you use the verbal cue, and you both know what to do at that point…to take a break in the action.

Verbal cues can have other uses as well, but for now, let’s just say that as a way to calm down instead of having an all-out fight, they can really come in handy.  And don’t feel like you’re the weak one if you jump in to use it.  It shows a lot of strength to stop an argument before it gets out of hand.  So know that you have done the right thing, and know that you can come back and figure out what the break down was, and hopefully find a way to navigate around your differences, and get back on positive ground.

To use a verbal cue:

  • Be sure you’ve agreed to its use in advance
  • What the cue is (words and actions)
  • What it means
  • What the response will be

Used in the appropriate way, it can be a very effective tool.


+From The Couple’s Guide to Thriving with ADHD, p.111.