Emotional hijacking can either save our lives or cripple them, depending on the situation and the emotional trigger of either fight, flight or freeze.
The problem we face today according to Daniel Goleman, is that our brains and specifically the amygdala cannot differentiate between actual physical threats and complex symbolic threats. In other words, to the amygdala there is really no difference between the fear of being eaten by a hungry predator, and the fear we may feel towards a demanding, dominating and over-bearing boss. The overall feeling is fear and the amygdala goes into over-drive, attempting to hijack us in order to save us from this scary situation. Do we run, fight or freeze?
It is probably safe to say that most of us will not be dinner for hungry predators any time soon, but the threat of a dominant, terrifying boss who triggers stress and fear in us can be very real.
With both scenarios mentioned above we narrow our attention and fixate on the emotion. Our thoughts become pre-occupied with the emotion of fear. The danger is when we act on that emotion. Unfortunately applying any of these actions of fight, flight or freeze towards the scary boss would probably cause more harm than good, especially the fight option. Therefore, what we do during this hijacking phase can redeem us or damage us.
We do thankfully have the ability to rationalise these impulses and control how we act. It is our choice on how we act. How self-aware we are will decide the final outcome.
Viktor E. Frankl stated in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
So the next time you feel a strong emotion taking over such as fear or anger try asking yourself the following questions.
- What would the consequences of my actions be if I acted without thinking them through?
- Would those consequences “save” me or damage me?
- How can I eliminate that feeling of fear or anger? What would I need to change about myself to move past this emotion?
- Is there a common trigger in my life which evokes this emotion? What measures can I put in place to control my reaction?
Don’t allow the emotional brain to manage and control you. Focus on being more self-aware and learn to self-manage and use the space to process your response. In this awareness you will find a happy balance of emotion and rational thinking.
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