Emotional Hijacking

Ever wonder to yourself, “Why did I say that? Why did that guy suddenly freak out like that? or Why am I so depressed?” Marlene Schneider Potter has some really compelling answers in a really concise format. She has achieved the task of taking some complex ideas and research from neuroanatomy, made them interesting, simple, and useful. She goes into the how and why of compulsive behavior, fears of rejection, humiliation and more.

The coolest thing is describing how the limbic system is the fast part of the brain that seems to be in charge of survival even in social situations, but that it also makes lots of mistakes.  The limbic system will spot something like rejection and marshal a cascade of hormones and chemicals that get us ready to fight, but feels like we are just scared and nervous.

This much older mammally part of the brain or, the limbic system, evolved 4 million years ago and the part of the brain that makes us think of ourselves as human evolved only 35,000 years ago:  the neo-cortex.  The limbic system frequently has the upper hand, but isn’t as good at planning and strategy as the neo-cortex.  It is faster to react than the frontal lobes of the brain that give us things like chess, reason, and music, but the limbic system gives us the motivation and passion that makes life worthwhile.  The limbic system has a proven track record of keeping species alive, but it makes mistakes like equating a negative glance as a life and death situation and you freeze up, rage, or run away.  It also can get us to react to things faster than the neo-cortex by making quick assessments like, “a snake!” and you jump out of the way, but it was only a stick.  It’s better to make a mistake and live is how the limbic system works. Reining in the limbic system takes awareness and practice and this book has great strategies. One of my favorites is looking out for secondary gain. If losing your temper (an emotional hijacking) gets you what you want because people give in to you then it’s much harder to remain calm until you give that habit up. Anyway, I liked it. I think it’s a great resource for anybody, clinicians, clients, and otherwise. And she didn’t pay me or anything. I just thought it was worth sharing.


Inner Commentary

Remember the two old guys in The Muppet Show and movies who heckle?  Today, I thought about how much a negative inner commentary really gets my mood down sometimes.  By that I mean, heckling inside one’s own head, like “Dang I’m late again!  I knew I should have paid that parking ticket. Typical! I’m not doing enough.” Or any of a number of different negative commentaries. You may know what I’m talking about.  I know I’ve seen it quite a bit in my clients.

The negative thoughts become automatic and even like an unconscious reflex if unchecked.  The process reminds me of that automatic pilot mode when you find you’ve missed a turn while driving to the grocery store, because autopilot kicked in to drive you to work.  It’s a similar process and it’s hard to undo.  The first step is to notice what you tell yourself.  Meanwhile, I’m telling myself this is enough for now rather than “It’s not perfect.  You could do more.”  Know what I mean? These are the things I think about sometimes.