Amygdala Hijacking

I wish my name was Brian because maybe sometimes people would misspell my name and call me Brain. That’s like a free compliment and you don’t even gotta be smart to notice it.
-Mitch Hedberg, Comedian

 
Speaking of brains, have you ever had your amygdala hijacked? If you are a parent, your amygdala has probably been hijacked many times by tiny, little criminals also known as your kids.

Here’s why: the amygdala (also called the reptilian brain) is the emotional part of the brain, left over from our caveman days. It regulates the fight or flight response. When parents are “threatened,” like for instance, when your child insists on pushing the grocery cart through the store and he “innocently” crashes into your foot, which hurts only slightly less than childbirth, you may respond irrationally. That’s because your prefrontal cortex, your thinking brain, gets hijacked by the very powerful reptilian brain. This is what Daniel Goleman, in his book Emotional Intelligence, calls an “amygdala hijacking.”

Now, immediately after the grocery cart crime, your hair-trigger amygdala tells you to collar the perp who sent the searing pain through your foot and let him have it. For many reasons including social media being what it is, you can’t do this. So how do you get your thinking brain to control your reptilian brain? It is possible – not easy – but possible.

  • First, label your feelings silently in your own head: pain, anger, frustration, etc.
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  • Then, take a breath and through (probably) gritted teeth, quietly tell your child how you feel, “When you run into my foot with the heavy cart it really hurts and I become angry.”
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  • Next, take executive action. Inform the criminal, I mean child, “I’m taking the cart now – when we have more time on another day, you can push.”

As difficult as the scenario above may be, remember that you can control the hijack. All you have to do is use your head.

By Claire Gawinowicz, Certified Parenting Educator
This entry was posted in A - Z Parenting Tips, Anger. Bookmark the permalink.

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