Has this ever happened to you? You are working on a project and suddenly your boss begins a sentence with “There has been a change in plans and your role has been altered….” Immediately you begin to alternate between concern, hurt and anger…

Whatever else was said, you never heard it and some unflattering comments came rolling out in response. Now your professional credibility is damaged.

Or what about a family member who wants you to bail him/her out financially (again) after just refusing to let you talk to his/her daughter on the phone? Bam! You hang up after a tirade when years of what you have wanted to say spilled out to hurt the other person as you have been hurt.

It might all sound like what is known as Emotional Overraction Disorder.


Overreaction happens

Wow, these are loaded situations and it seems normal to respond in an emotional way. And yes, some sort of perceived danger would activate the Fight, Freeze, Flight System where our actions might be checking out completely or strong anger. After the dust settles and the logical part of the mind is back online (remember the amygdala hijacking of Emotional Intelligence), the action that makes sense for the situation that is beneficial for you (and those you love) and is possible maybe obvious.

It’s good to be assertive and yet we can go beyond that at times to anger. Those triggers can defy logic and mystify ourselves and others. There are times when the imprint of past experiences can be gathering more and more examples of upset just waiting to bubble up.

Certainly we don’t want to be folks that others need to tiptoe around in case we overreact, and yet what can we do?

Stress Management is possible

Typical stress management techniques may work well in the moment and yet how do you know what will bring about a lasting change? Yes, breathing, exercising, sleeping, self talk, meditation, guided imagery, journaling, thinking positive thoughts, going outdoors into nature, thinking calming thoughts, and counting to 10 can all help in the moment. But will they work equally well to make a long lasting change in behavior and emotions?

Recent discussions in neuroscience would say no. Yes, they may make a new habit that is healthy but they may not be able to replace stored upset in the brain.

New Approach – Clearing out old memories is possible

Let’s turn to research to find the latest thinking about how memories influence thoughts, behaviors and emotions.

The research into memory reconsolidation is clear about how memories are more malleable than we previously believed. It is also clear about how to reset them without the emotional content that overrides our behavior in ways we don’t like. Lars Clausen in his book ‘Memory Reconsolidation Applied’ provides a process he calls ICE to override peptides in the brain that contain those clogged memories.

emotional overreaction disorder_2

The three steps of ICE are:

I – identify memory, emotion and body sensation of troubling issue

C – calm yourself (fix your eyes on a point, fix your eyes on another point and fix your eyes on the space between the points)

E – exchange chemistry – review the memory, emotion and body sensation in the first step

Clausen explains in his book, other types of calming techniques that meet the criteria of the memory reconsolidation research and why. This body of knowledge is growing and something to watch.

How to recover from being too emotional

Researchers in psychology are reluctant to talk about permanent change as there are so many variables to consider with any particular person and situation. And yet, with current technology, neuroscientists such as Joseph LeDoux are able to prove that “If you take a memory out of storage, you have to make new proteins in order for it to remain a memory.”

From that new understanding of how memories are made and kept it makes sense that methods to make those new proteins may now be evaluated.

Use the three steps of ICE to begin this process for yourself.

You may be surprised with the results. Meanwhile, I’m on the trail to continue to discover ways to really make a difference in making the kinds of changes we want to make in our lives.

Is this of interest to you? Is emotional overreaction disorder something you have felt or witnessed? I would love to hear your questions and get ideas for further exploration of practical applications of research in psychology that go beyond what we know today.

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