What Is Amygdala Hijack and What Can You Do about It?

I’m one of those “get crap done” kind of people. Show me a problem: I figure out the alternatives, usually find the best ones and make solid suggestions.

There are times when none of this is helpful.

Here’s what I learned when my brother ended up in the hospital.

Here’s some quick background in case you’re unfamiliar with amygdala hijack.

It’s true: when we’re not in a situation, the options — including the best one — can seem so clear.

Now you know why. The person you’re dealing with only has one-third of her or his brainpower. In this moment, that person is biologically incapable of making a decision. So whatever brilliant case you make, it can’t be heard and understood, let alone acted upon.

  • We just make people in “fight” want to escalate the situation and make us wrong.
  • We just make people in “fright” more fearful of making a mistake.
  • And we just make people in “freeze” feel more paralyzed.

We also have to watch our own reactivity. The mirror neurons in your brain are prompting you to exhibit the same body language as the brainless person before you.

A friend, who was listening to some of the FaceTime exchanges with my brother, said, “Don’t you ever get mad? I just wanted to shake him!” (“I would if I thought it would do any good!” I told her.)

My issue is defensiveness. I was hurt that my brother was calling me names and casting me in the role of trying to manipulate him — especially when I was trying so hard not to (and not always succeeding).

The good news for all of us is that, sooner or later, we get all of our gray matter back. Then we can mend torn feelings, ask for what we want, and commit to doing better next time.