Emotionally Charged Conversations


Stephanie Craig 2020 AugBy Stephenie Craig

Are you ever moving through life and find yourself feeling very angry or hurt by someone? Maybe you are experiencing anger or hurt at a level 10 intensity and you are noticing the situation intensity level seems to be much lower than your feeling. You might then realize you’re making up a story in your head about the negative, insensitive intentions of the other person. As a result, you may find yourself withdrawing, putting up walls, or being confrontational in ways that compromise connection.

Emotionally charged conversations are complex to navigate and often result in people not showing up as their best version of self. Intense feelings can fuel reactivity, shutting down, harsh words, judgment, unkindness, shame, and condescending tone. While you know it feels bad to experience someone’s emotional reaction, you may still find yourself reacting at times. Intense emotions are inevitable but, with practice, you can create a healthy pattern of working through your own and others’ reactions.

10 Ways to Approach Emotionally Charged Conversations

  1. Notice when you are triggeredPay attention to your feelings and your body. Notice changes in body temperature, stomach, chest, feeling shaky, clenching fists, grinding teeth, tears, and changes in heart rate. Name feelings if you are able. “I feel embarrassed, ashamed, humiliated, angry, hurt, sad, unsafe.”
  2. Calm your nervous systemTake 10-20 deep breaths, step away from the situation, journal, take a walk, nurture your pet. Engage in healthy calming skills to help your body move out of fight, flight or freeze so you can think more clearly.
  3. Notice the negative intention story you are making up in your head. She didn’t text me back because I’m not important. He didn’t make eye contact so he must not care. My child is selfish, disrespectful and trying to irritate me. Challenge the story in your head. Is it possible their behavior has another meaning than intent to hurt you?
  4. Sort past and present feelings. Intense feelings are often a sign that the present situation has triggered past wounds. Reflect on whether you are bringing memories from past interactions into the current situation. Acknowledge and allow past feelings to exist in a space separate from the current situation/relationship.
  5. Remember the humanity of and your history with the person. Try remembering you do not have negative intentions toward others when you emotionally react. You also do not intentionally emotionally react. Perhaps the other person had a difficult emotional moment and did not have negative intentions toward you. Remember the ongoing character of your relationship with this person. Are their intentions and behavior toward you typically positive?
  6. Approach with compassionate curiosity instead of shame. Instead of, “You don’t get to talk to me that way and you are being so rude and out of line,” try, “You seem really overwhelmed. What’s happening for you right now?” People often feel bad inside about reacting poorly. What helps them move forward is compassionate understanding rather than judgmental correction. When people feel understood with compassion, they will often apologize and move toward change.
  7. Validate and support. Communicate understanding of the other’s emotional state. Ask what support might be helpful on your end.
  8. Own your part. Humbly seek to understand whether you contributed an unhelpful part in the relationship dynamic. Take responsibility by naming and apologizing for your part.
  9. Address boundaries with vulnerabilityCommunicate kindly and directly how you were hurt and what would work better for you in the future. “When you snapped at me, that hurt my feelings and felt like you were blaming me. Now that we’ve talked, I understand that you were snapping because you were overwhelmed and it was not about me. I get overwhelmed too. When you are getting overwhelmed, it would help me if you would let me know what you need rather than snapping at me. I will be able to support you better and that will help us stay connected.”
  10. Listen and repeat. Listen with an open mind to the other person’s experience and repeat this process regularly when you feel triggered in relationships.

Emotionally charged conversations are difficult and can also be some of our most connecting and trust-building moments when navigated with intention. Try practicing these tools and connect with us along your journey for counseling and coaching at Journeybravely.com.