Has this situation ever happened to you? You and your partner are discussing something innocuous in the kitchen. Your partner notices some crumbs on the counter and then they make a small comment about how there are always crumbs on the counter and ask you to clean up after making your toast in the morning.
Your partner may have moved on, after making a seemingly small comment, but you can feel your heart racing, jaw clenching, eyes fixed, maybe your face is beginning to flush. It’s not the request your partner said, it’s what you heard … it’s touched a sensitive part of you, struck a nerve.
At this moment, your amygdala has taken over. It lives in the oldest part of your brain and is responsible for our emotions and responses to them. Current research shows that emotional dysregulation is actually a big part of ADHD, even though it’s not listed in the DSM. Are you aware when an amygdala hijack is happening in your life? What else does your body do to tell you your emotional brain has taken over and your rational brain has gone offline?
Learning the signs your body tells you when your thinking brain has gone offline only helps you recognize them more easily. You may want to ask your partner about what they notice as well.
I know I tend to avoid eye contact and clench my jaw when my partner says something I perceive as rejection. It’s best to discuss coming to a solution when both partners are in a rational place … hence the PURPLE PAUSE.
In the moment, I don’t want to say hey-partner-you’ve-touched-a-sensitive-part-of-me-and-now-my-emotions-have-taken-over-and-I-just-need-to-take-a-break-and-breathe-and-then-come-back-to-this-later … instead, the only thing I can eek out is “PURPLE! I need Purple time!”
Agreed upon beforehand, this is a word that tells your partner the conversation needs to pause immediately. A conversational safe word. The rational thinking has gone out the door, and you need time to come back online.
The pause can be used to take a walk, do meditative breathing, sip a warm drink … try focusing on actions that are body-focused as that will inevitably calm the mind. Be understanding and patient with yourself, allowing yourself to take as long as you need for your thinking brain to come back online.
Taking the time to learn what signs your body gives when you need to take a PAUSE, of whatever color, will help you bring your best self to conversations with your partner and your overall relationship.
Riley Karbon, PCAC
ADHD Coach and Life Coach, Executive Skills Coach