Emotional waterfalls

Emotional sensitivity has to do with our threshold for emotional stimuli. A sensitive person, tuned into the emotions of others, may be quick to respond to emotion. Have you ever been in a situation in which a friend, colleague, or family member started to become emotional, and the emotion had a contagious effect? Sort of like them being anxious led to you being anxious, and then there was an overall increase in everyone’s anxiety?

People in high anxiety mode may easily get into falling-apart behaviors, and falling-apart behaviors generate oh-feeling-so-much worse. Oh-feeling-so-much-worse then perpetuates falling-apart-behaviors, and falling-apart-behaviors perpetuates more of the oh-feeling-so-much worse…and on and on.

In my Master’s program at Seattle University we learned that our own anxiety played a huge role in our ability to be effective as therapists. If we went full throttle into anxiety-generating-falling-apart-mode with clients —well, let’s just say it wouldn’t have much of a very therapeutic effect.

Sometimes clients have asked me: “Why do I have to do the changing if the problem is the other person?

Learning how to moderate your own anxiety while the rest of the universe is going crazy is indeed very difficult. Staying centered takes a lot of hard work- especially when people around you yell and scream, blame you for things that are unjust or unfair, make extreme threats about the relationship, or have the power to take away things that are important. It’s probably in fact the case that these types of situations would drive anyone crazy, and indeed send them down an emotional waterfall.

Learning how to regulate my own anxiety has helped to do the work that I do with clients. It’s helped me to see more clearly what is going on in front of me, to get into active problem solving mode, and to be more influential in my relationships. Most importantly, it’s allowed me to grieve relationships that won’t change, to accept the limitations of other people, and to extract myself from emotional waterfalls. Being able to walk out from emotional waterfalls is a nice feeling.


So…WHY SHOULD you have to do the changing if the problem is the other person?