Amygdala Hijack!

January 11, 2014 by · 3 Comments
Filed under: Play by Play 

Before yesterday I would not have had a label for it…  amygdala

Today – I experienced it.

This term was coined by Daniel Goleman.  He is behind EQ – Emotional Intelligence.  His work is based on the neuroscientist Joseph E. LeDoux’s focused work on the mechanisms of fear.   In a high level description, it is the activity that takes on in the brain when one experiences something that scares them.  Often this can be something that is not even rational.  Based on our own dysfunctional upbringings we have things that we are overly sensitive over.  Someone can say or do something that flips a switch inside of us and we find ourselves reacting irrationally before we have the ability to get a hold of the emotions.  Voices may raise, our physical bodies react – our heartbeat quickens, we stop breathing, our blood circulation and blood flow is actually reduced, there are chemicals released into our body.  When we experience that hijack and we feel a reaction and go into a flight or fight mode the adrenaflightfightl glands release hormones called CATECHOLAMINES – adrenaline and noradrenalin are released when our bodies experience this Amygdala Hijack.

From the thalamus, a part of the stimulus goes directly to the Amygdala while another part is sent to the thinking part of our brain. If there are experiences recorded in our memory that tells us this is a flight or fight situation, the Amygdala will take over the thinking part of our brain by releasing the hormones. The emotional brain registers activity milliseconds earlier than the rational brain so we end up reacting before the rational thinking responses can be activated.

Goleman explains that this hijack exhibits three signs:  “strong emotional reaction, sudden onset and post episode realization that the reaction was inappropriate.”

I was having a loving, nice conversation with a family member when suddenly they said something that triggered this response in me.  My reaction actually caused the same reaction in them; which took the conversation into a very ugly drama filled experience.  Afterwards, I worked to capture the things said and done by myself and them so I can review and work to find a way to respond rather than react when something like this happens again in the future.   Although I believe my thinking brain did re-enter the scene the hormones within the body made it very easy for the thinking brain to be slow to the respond to their reaction.  What a vicious circle.

circle

It is quite the coincidence that discussion in a leadership class I attend discussed this hijack yesterday.

So…. I can label it – now to be able to find the ability to always be present enough to let the thinking brain be faster than the Amygdala!!!!