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When an emotional hijack occurs, the thinker’s regular reasoning process is shut down to allow the emotional processor to take control of the circumstance.
Emotional hijacking refers to a loud or exaggerated response to an emotional condition. This occurs when intense emotions take control of the reasoning portion of the brain, causing us to respond before we can gauge it. Therapist Dr Susanne Wolf explains emotional hijacking and signs to look out for in her elaborate Instagram post. Did you know that when the brain is subjected to emotional hijacking, it senses danger and begins to respond in an exaggerated way? Your emotional processor takes control and triggers your fight or flight reaction since you’d need to act immediately.
Dr Susanne Wolf said, “The emotional hijack is an intense and immediate emotional response out of measure with the actual stimulus. It happens when strong emotions ‘take over’ the thinking part of your brain.” The mental health expert further revealed signs of emotional hijacking and what happens inside the brain during this emotional condition.
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS OF EMOTIONAL HIJACKING?
- A sudden and overwhelming surge of emotions, such as fear, anger, frustration, anxiety or panic.
- Physiological changes like increased heart rate, sweaty palms, shallow breathing, tense muscles, high blood pressure nausea.
- Loss of rationality
- Tunnel vision
- Difficulty communicating
- Heightened reactivity like minor triggers leads to disproportionate emotional reactions.
- Inability to regulate emotions
- Short-term focus often disregards long-term consequences
- Difficulty in decision-making as emotions override logical thinking
WHAT HAPPENS IN THE BRAIN DURING EMOTIONAL HIJACKING?
The Amygdala is a part of the brain, which regulates emotional and behavioral responses. During an Amygdala Hijack, the rational brain is bypassed and signals are sent to the ’emotional brain.’
- Perception of Threat: The amygdala detects danger or stress and doesn’t distinguish between real or perceived.
- Fight or Flight Response: It triggers the body’s stress response.
- Suppression of Rational Thinking in the prefrontal cortex.
- Heightened Emotional State: Emotions intensify leading to impulsive reactions.
- Limited Perception: Attention becomes narrowly focused on the threat.
WHAT CAN I DO TO STOP AN EMOTIONAL HIJACK?
- Recognize early signs like increased heart rate, tension in your body, sweaty palms and shallow breathing.
- Do deep breathing that activates the body’s relaxation response.
- Give yourself space if possible.
- Challenge and reframe negative or irrational thoughts that fuel the emotional hijack.
- Distract yourself with a short walk, listening to music and showering.
- Seek social support by talking to someone you trust or someone who provides relief and perspective and helps the process.
- After the hijack has passed, take time to reflect on what triggered the response and how you handled it. Learn from the experience to better cope with similar situations in future.