Do You Have an Emotional Circuit Breaker?

an electric panel
Image by Damian Gadal / CC BY

I’m not the kind of person who yells when I’m angry.

I have a long fuse. It takes a lot to get me riled up.

And typically, my first instinct when I’m upset with a partner is simply to talk to them about it. Keeping a level tone of voice but choosing my words carefully. And trying to make clear that something really bothers me. That I need to work together with them to find some sort of solution.

Because something’s gotta give. Otherwise, I’ll be miserable. Need to bug out.

But my first instinct isn’t emotional amplification of the message. I prefer to problem-solve in a level-headed manner.

On the rare occasion that I do raise my voice at a partner, it’s because they’re actively aggravating me in a way where escape isn’t easy. I’ve really only ever raised my voice in anger with one partner and only twice. Basically, because they were double-binding me and I inadvertently mentally stepped back into a bad trauma.

Other times that this has happened, I’ve fled the room instead of yelling. One time I sat down in an empty closet until I calmed down. Most times, however, I get into bed and pull the covers over my head.

Interestingly, though, these were comparatively arbitrary moments. Times when someone had incidentally tripped over something, and my amygdala (the brain’s fear center) freaked out. I have a wonky amygdala since I have PTSD, having suffered three major traumas between 12 and 19 over a background of C-PTSD from childhood abuse.

Anyway, when I actually have a conflict with someone else that I recognize needs to be worked through, I’m actually very calm as I relay this to them.

In the past, this has meant that partners haven’t taken my concerns seriously. Even though I use words to stress how important it is — sometimes saying things like, “If this doesn’t change, I’ll have to leave this relationship” — because the emotional tone is mild, they assume that it isn’t a big deal.

And in multiple cases, people are surprised when they ignore these concerns (in spite of my repeatedly raising them) and I get so unhappy with the relationship that I leave.

Because I never yelled at them in anger. Never threw things. Never acted out passive-aggressively. I basically didn’t perform the steps of the dance that they associate with becoming unhappy in a relationship. Never performed the familiar drama.

And when I break up with someone, I typically continue to be eerily calm.

From my perspective it doesn’t make sense to turn it into a Big Thing. The Movie of the Week portrayal of What a Breakup Should Be. A parade of cliches and insufficient answers and a self-indulgent talk that’s more about my own sense of closure than theirs.

Even if I’m deeply hurt by what they’ve done (or didn’t do), I don’t feel a need to put them on trial. Put the screws to them. Lead them through the intensity of my emotion, my disappointment with them as a partner and/or with how the relationship turned out.

If they want to know my reasoning, we can talk about it, sure. But it doesn’t have to be an emotional journey through the wilds of my soul.

*

I’m talking it over with Justin one day. “When I’m done with a relationship, I’m done,” I say. “There’s no sense becoming aggravated.”

He nods. He dated me during my divorce (everyone involved was polyamorous, including my now ex-husband). Saw how I handled that, the Biggest Breakup of My Life. And since then, he’s witnessed me part ways with a variety of partners and have non-romantic fall-outs with others.

“It’s pretty easy for me to just walk away when I’m done,” I say. “Especially if that person mistreated me. There’s a safety switch inside of me that just turns off. That says, ‘this person doesn’t deserve your consideration, your kindness. They are unsafe. Get out of there.'”

He nods. “It’s your emotional circuit breaker. When you overload, you shut down.”

“Oh,” I say. “I like that.” I pause, before adding. “Sometimes I feel like it means I’m defective, that everything can just shut down so quickly for me emotionally. Like I’m dead inside, y’know?”

He shakes his head. “No, it’s just a form of protection. And understandable due to all you’ve been through.”

We talk about a friend who is having a really hard time letting go of their ex’s opinions of them, even though they were badly mistreated. This friend has plenty of people interested in them and really could do quite a bit better. They deserve quite a bit better.

But they’re so hung up on this nasty ex who they acknowledge treated them like garbage that it’s hard for them to take the steps to really put themselves out there and find what they really deserve.

“I wish I could just install an emotional circuit breaker in them,” I say.

If only.

*

My new book is out!

Dealing with Difficult Metamours, the first book devoted solely to metamour relationships, full of strategies to help you get along better with your partners’ other partner(s).

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