Why You Freak Out – The Emotional Hijack

January 24, 2020

Why, when you are seemingly grounded and going about your day, are you sometimes overcome with the ‘whoosh’ of an intense emotion?  The trigger could be something somebody says that you find very offensive, judgmental, shaming or anxiety producing; a behavior that hits a ‘bruised bone’ of yours; an overwhelming fear that you have been trying to suppress; a person, place or thing that brings up a feeling of shame or fear – really anything that your deep brain deems as a threat.

Then comes the emotional hijack.  Your whole mind / body complex responds to color that moment through the perceptual lens of the trigger.  Everything you see and feel validates the trigger and you react as if it is the only truth.  You may scream, cry, shutdown, or worse. Further, you may feel overcome with a racing heart, a shot of adrenalin, a punch in the gut, or hot with rage or shame; discerning appropriate action from this state is virtually impossible.  You may say or do something you regret later.  You may even look back at the situation after you have calmed down and wonder what happened to you.  How can an emotional reaction so easily knock you off your balance?

Intense emotions are designed to be destabilizing; they are designed to get your attention. They are like the fire alarm in your mind / body complex. All too often, however, you may be so overcome with these emotions that you react as if this alarm to get your attention is a full-fledged out-of-control fire and let these emotions consume you, cloud your judgment, and cause you to behave in regretful ways. These emotions are inherently destabilizing and the best way to reduce their havoc is to understand them, stabilize your mind and body when they arise, and ultimately rewire a different response all-together.

That is the focus of this three-part series.  Each part is a stand-alone piece to equip you with skills to help you calm intense emotions step-by-step.  The information in this first part empowers you to take a giant leap forward in calming the hijack of an intense emotion.  Understanding their origin is the first, and foundational piece.  I often say that if I could give everyone in the world one piece of information this would be it.

Before you can begin to appropriately deal with intense emotions it is important to know where they come from. All intense emotions come from your immediate perception and evaluation of whatever is upsetting you, this evaluation may be way off base, and it is mainly beyond your conscious thought. In other words, without your knowledge your ‘emotional evaluation system’ kicks in, floods you with overwhelming reactions and hijacks your mind / body complex.

Most people have no idea how or why this process occurs, they just feel the ‘whoosh’ of the emotion, think it is warranted, and, usually, respond to its hijack.  Also, it is important to know that the triggering impetus could be an external circumstance, an internal feeling, a thought, a memory, a worry – basically anything your subconscious brain has been programmed to identify as a threat.  You get flooded with the result of your fear response system in over-drive which makes proceeding with clarity and taking appropriate action almost impossible.

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