Amygdala Hijack was it really me? I am sorry!
Awareness Education

Amygdala Hijack was it really me? I am sorry!

Emotions are the most beautiful possession of humans that make us more human. When we “feel” and associate our emotions with the environment we are utilizing our higher order thinking patterns and building more stronger neural connections that are passed from generation to generation. A rose is beautiful, a tiger is dangerous, cycling brings joy, eating makes me happy and so on are all examples of how we are surrounded by different emotions all our lives. But, have you ever thought that these emotions are not just feelings! Have you ever experienced an intense emotion so strongly that it clouded your thinking – your rational self. Consider the following few incidents from everyday life before you say NO to any of these.

1) A young educated person going for work had a small scratch on his car due to an accidental stop of speeding cab. He walks out of his car and slaps the driver even before knowing the reason for sudden stoppage and apologies later for his sudden burst of anger.
2) An experienced managers awaiting his next promotion had an argument with his boss during a meeting and he throws the papers on the desk and moves out of meeting room thereby ruining his chances of future promotion.
3) A 35 year old man working in an MNC in Uttar Pradesh died by suicide over fear of COVID-19 when he got to know he is COVID positive, He was asymptotic and never visited and COVID care facility.

Sounds familiar? It happens with most of us. These are typical examples of overreactions to a situation that makes us regret our behavior later. We cannot believe that we reacted in such inappropriate manner. We want to apologize for our actions and feel embarrassed.Such over-reactions are what we call as Amygdala Hijack. It is a term coined by famous psychologist Daniel Goleman in his book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ (1995) We have two amygdala – an almond shaped part of our brain one on each side, behind the eyes and the optical nerves. They are the repertoire of our emotional memories. This is the place where we give meaning to our emotions and create emotional associations. It is also known as the emotional brain. Early human beings were exposed to many threats. During the process of evolution, we learnt the shortcuts of dealing with threats. These shortcuts are known as Fight or Flight reactions. Depending on the danger a threat poses, we activate either Fight or Flight (run away) reactions. It’s an automatic response to danger that allows us to react quickly without thinking.
When we feel threatened, our amygdala like a smoke detector, raises an alarm for an emergency response and releases stress hormones. These stress hormones bring changes in our bodily functions like faster heartbeat, increased breathing, shouting etc. It sometimes appears like we are being hijacked – we are not our real selves. We lose touch with reality and our rational thinking goes for a toss. Our mind stops processing any incoming information and logic and we react without thinking.
There are numerous real- life examples in the past that shows how it works. Let’s have a look at some of them.

Zinedine Zidane, a role model for many in his career’s last match during the World Cup final in 2006, lost his emotional control and headbutted Marco Materazzi in front of nearly 30 million viewers worldwide, Zidane was immediately disqualified, hampering France prospects for a win in the World Cup and Zidane’s career ended in shame. Zidane apologized later to his fans and children for setting a wrong example.

The incident is still afresh in the memories of football lovers not primarily due to Materazzi being hit, but that the most celebrated player in the world lost his cool at what could be the his career best in a World Cup Final. Harbhajan Singh had slapped S Sreesanth after a IPL cricket match between Mumbai Indians and Kings XI Punjab in April 2008. This infamous episode took place after MI’s 66-run defeat against Kings XI Punjab in Mohali. Harbhajan was also banned for rest of the tournament but he later regretted his actions. Monica Seles was the top ranked female player, and had won three consecutive French Open Titles, including several wins over Steffi Graf. During a match in Germany in 1993, Seles was stabbed in her back during a game, by a crazy Steffi Graf fan.
Seles took two years to get back to Tennis, but she never regained her Top position after the incident. The most hurting part is Monica Seles was only 20 years old when she was attacked, and she was on her way to possibly becoming the greatest female tennis player of all time. With these stories, there are three characteristics of Amygdala Hijack that can be highlighted:

1) It is almost sudden emotional reaction to a stimulus (physical or psychological).
2) It leads to an inappropriate and irrational response
3) It made us regret or feel embarrassed for our actions later.In almost all cases it is seen that the “Hijacked” person regrets his actions and uses words like “I was not in my senses”, “I was under some kind of control”, “I was unable to think”.
Amygdala Hijack is a very common phenomenon in today’s stressful living where the threat is more psychologically perceived. Peter Diamandis famous quote that “Bad news sells because the amygdala is always looking for something to fear” is very apt in today’s time.
And now, when we know what it is, the next step comes to how to stop it from happening.
The easiest way to prevent amygdala hijacking is to rewire your brain responses. Practicing mindfulness, creating more positive environment, recognizing one’s emotions are some of the coping strategies to avoid amygdala hijacking. The easiest way is 6-second rule where you wait for 6 – seconds consciously before a response. This guarantees the flood of stress hormones to pass through and let our thinking brain to activate. Our amygdala learns from past experiences, allowing us to change the way we react to a comparable circumstances in the future.
The Emotional Audit is another technique where you question yourself on your emotional state. What I am feeling right now? Why I am feeling enraged? What do I want? Questions like these help us divert our attention from immediate response and help us focus on more rational, sensible reactions. The more we practice this, the lesser will be the episodes of such hijacks. The brain learns to calm down more than blowing up.



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