11 Tips for Controlling Your Emotions during High Conflict

Your emotions are important messengers that provide constant information about your surroundings and safety. While we often think of emotions as feelings, they also have a critical physical component that can kick in whenever the body detects danger. 

During conflict, emotions go into overdrive. The body enters a life-saving fight or flight pattern, flooding the system with hormones that enable you to get to physical safety. In the meantime, however, when you’re in the midst of the conflict, there’s less blood getting to your brain, and your rational thoughts may get hijacked.  

How can you interrupt a brain focused on physical safety so you can control your emotions and resolve conflict with the people around you?

Why do you feel “out of control” during tense times?

Your body is intuitively designed to ensure your survival. Without being consciously aware of it, it responds to your environment 24/7.

We now know the brain reacts to real or imagined stress as if your life is in danger. Conflict? Anxiety? Depression? To your survival-focused body, these are life-threatening matters. And, as a biological response, your physical body shifts into short-term survival mode while your rational mind takes a back seat. 

The body’s stress response system, otherwise known as the HPA axis, works immediately to help you survive a dangerous situation. When confronted with stress and conflict, your brain sends chemical messages throughout your body to facilitate your safety. Your heart rate and breathing spike, and your blood and muscles prepare to move you quickly from harm’s way.

However, when these biological responses are focused on your physical safety, you feel cognitively out of control because – temporarily – you are. Your ability to regulate your emotions shuts down. You may react in ways that you would never otherwise react. 

If you’re going through a high-conflict divorce, this may sound familiar. 

Emotional dysregulation

Emotional dysregulation is the inability to control an emotional response to a situation. And while this is often true for people who have experienced trauma, depression, and anxiety in their lives, anyone can suffer from emotional dysregulation when faced with a serious emotional trigger.

When someone suffers from emotional dysregulation, they can have exaggerated reactions to challenges in their relationships such as intense bursts of anger, overwhelming sadness, bouts of crying, and even the creation of more conflict. Because of that biochemical response to stress, their judgment can suffer, and they find it difficult to look at the situation rationally.

When dealing with a high-conflict trigger like divorce, your body’s biochemistry can take over in much the same way as someone who suffers from emotional dysregulation. You go into survival mode, and your emotional life can feel completely out of control. Understandably, it can be difficult to get past the intense feelings of hurt, anger, and betrayal, and you may even appear over-reactive to others.

11 tips for controlling your emotions

As you can see, controlling your emotions during high conflict isn’t always about self-control. During this time, your rational mind can be missing in action. It takes self-compassion and focus to keep the cycling emotions at bay. Relieving stress can be essential to your ability to control emotions and preserve your well-being during this time. 

1. Grieve your loss

Like facing a loved one’s death, divorce requires you to go through a grieving period for the loss of your former partner and all that meant in your life. This looks different for everyone. While the stages of grieving are universal, not everyone will experience all of them or experience them in a linear way. Like death, divorce is a serious life transition. You deserve the time, space, and healing that finally comes after you’ve grieved the loss of your marriage.

2. Name the feelings that come up

There are no good or bad feelings when it comes to divorce. You’re angry. You’re sad. You’re afraid. These are all relevant, and you should let them come up for the sake of your own mental health. Let them be present. Let them cycle around multiple times. Little by little, the emotional charge they bring with them will dim. Just make sure they don’t keep you stuck in a victim mentality. You deserve a future away from the negativity of your divorce. 

3. Take responsibility for your part

If you can learn from this experience, it’ll help you avoid making the same mistakes in the future. Take a clear and objective look at the dynamics of what went wrong, and take responsibility for your part in it. What can you do differently to prevent future relationships from going down the same path? 

4. Refuse to get involved in power struggles

If conversations or negotiations go the contentious route, you can foster a much-needed de-escalation. How? Refuse to get caught up in the power struggle. Remove yourself from the conversation, and promise to circle back around when you both can discuss things respectfully and constructively. 

5. Take a time out

If you get caught up in negative rumination or relentless emotional pain, go for a walk to clear your head. Let yourself return to a calm setpoint, and appreciate that things usually look different the next day. 

6. Stay in your body

If you get stuck in your head, you may forget that your physical body is important to your nurturing and healing. Movement, breathwork, dance, yoga, mindfulness – your body and mind work symbiotically and holistically to keep you emotionally and physically stable. And it can save you from getting stuck too long in circular thinking.

7. Use positive inner dialogue

While positivity is easier said than done, it helps to take whatever positive and grateful spin you can on your current situation, even if it seems inconsequential. You might have to mine deep for some gratitude right now, but as you gain experience doing this, you’ll probably find positives easier to come by. 

Read: 3 Reasons Your Marriage Was Not a Failure

8. Focus on the future instead of the past

The stress of divorce can be immobilizing at first, causing a huge loss of energy and optimism. But if you focus on the end game of your future and take time to envision the possibilities, it can offer you a well-deserved boost of spirit and forward momentum. 

9. Get support

Take care of yourself. Nobody should have to navigate a conflict-ridden life transition alone. Talk it out, whether it’s with problem-solving with friends, venting to a support group, or getting self-care tips and tools from a therapist. You will not only get the support you need, but you’ll discover that you’re definitely not alone in your feelings and emotions. 

Hello Divorce free webinar: How Emotional Support Groups Can Help You with Divorce

10. Don’t burn bridges

Although you’re divorcing, if you’re now co-parenting, live in the same geographic area, or share the same circle of friends, you will probably need to see or deal with your former spouse at some point in the future. If your divorce has moved into high conflict, you may want to consider getting the help of a mediator who specializes in transformative mediation. A mediator is a third-party professional trained to help resolve issues that have become roadblocks for divorcing couples. 

11. Take a break

There is nothing pleasant about conflict, especially when it comes to a break-up or the divorce process. But even a high-conflict divorce can find resolution given enough time and effort. If you feel like you’ve hit an emotional wall, take a break, and come back to it when you can. This, too, shall pass. 

Domestic violence is never okay. If you find yourself in such a situation, read our article, What Domestic Abuse Victims Need to Know about Leaving and Divorce.

Hello Divorce is committed to finding peaceful resolutions to highly emotional life transitions. We offer online DIY divorce plans, legal advice, and other professional services and resources to help you get through this stressful time. Schedule a free 15-minute phone call to learn more. 

Divorce Content Specialist
Mediation, Divorce Strategy, Divorce Process, Mental Health
Candice is a former paralegal and has spent the last 16 years in the digital landscape, writing website content, blog posts, and articles for the legal industry. Now, at Hello Divorce, she is helping demystify the complex legal and emotional world of divorce. Away from the keyboard, she’s a devoted wife, mom, and grandmother to two awesome granddaughters who are already forces to be reckoned with. Based in Florida, she’s an avid traveler, painter, ceramic artist, and self-avowed bookish nerd.