Cora Mills, LCSW
Addressing the Desire to Shut Down
There are times for all of us when we overwhelmed. One of my nearest and dearests has a response that is a straight up, "NOPE" followed by a 180 degree turn and walking away. That desire is something to pay attention to. It usually means we are emotionally flooded and we end up shutting down, turning off and leaving - either physically or emotionally. Being emotionally flooded means that we are overwhelmed with emotion to the point that we stop thinking or interacting clearly. We typically go into a version of fight/flight/freeze and we have to wait for our bodies to calm down until we can communicate or engage more clearly. Sometimes that puts us in shutdown mode where we can't think or sometimes act. This happens often in relationships for people where they feel overwhelmed and helpless in the face of some kind of trigger (a partner or child/parent outburst, tantrum, accusation, manipulation). We shut down and turn away. We don't communicate because we don't know how and it feels too overwhelming.
First, I want to normalize that response. As I said, it happens to most people at some point in their lives.
Secondly, we need to practice naming the shutdown feeling. Pay attention the next time you are not responsive and identifying it as shutdown. That allows us to know we need to regulate. Breathing in for a 4 second count, hold for 7 and out slowly for 8 seconds count can help. It is called 4-7-8 breathing and it has been scientifically proven to help with regulating our nervous system when repeated a couple times in a row.
Thirdly, when we can name it as "shutdown" we can start recognizing that we feel overwhelmed and practice naming the emotion. "I'm overwhelmed right now." Then follow it up with some compassionate curiosity: I wonder why I felt so overwhelmed? Understanding our shut down can help us deal with managing it and mental health professional are great resources to assist you in this process.
Shutdown is a response of which we need to be aware so that we can get unstuck in some of our relationships and response patterns. Think about if this is something you are dealing with and try these steps to resolve it. Shut down responses are not the end; they are a an opportunity to understand ourselves better and grow.