You have a little code breaker behind enemy lines in your brain.
He is the size of 2 almonds. He intercepts your sensory messages. He hijacks your emotions. His name is Amygdala.
Have you ever had your emotions get the better of you? You reacted to something over the top, don’t really know why and later regret it?
This happened to me the other day.
I had been up early working on my projects. When my husband woke up, I was in a crazy mood. I hadn’t seen my Kindle in a while and I jumped around the house shouting, “Where’s my Kindle?”
My husband hadn’t had his coffee yet. He took my hyperactivity as an accusation that he had lost my Kindle. He bore this quietly for a few minutes. Then he stood up suddenly and stormed off. “I’ll look for your stupid Kindle,” he hissed, “Even though I’m running late for work.”
It was really out of character for him. I froze immediately and stared daggers at my husband. “Don’t talk to me like that!” I snapped. “Forget about it – just go to work.”
I hung out the washing and thought, Man, that escalated quickly. I wasn’t even mad – just hyper.
In retrospect, I could understand why Matt took it personally. That didn’t give me permission to snap back at him and make matters worse. I had experienced an Amygdala Hijack.
Here’s what happened inside my brain:
When Matt moved suddenly and spoke loudly, these signals were sent through my eyes and ears to the hypothalamus to be translated into the language of my brain. Most of this information was then sent to the neocortex for processing, reflecting, understanding and finally responding. These tasks take some time. Meanwhile, a small portion of this information was sent directly to Amygdala for code breaking in case I was in danger and needed immediate action to survive.
Amygdala is quick but not particular precise. Nor is he built to understand this new, modern world where most things aren’t out to kill you. So, when he interpreted his small information that said Loud and Sudden, he pushed the big red “Fight Response” button to protect me. My brain and body jumped into action.
I snapped back without processing the majority of the information, weigh it up in the context of the day and display some empathy toward my poor husband. By the time these messages had come through, it was too late.
I apologised to my husband later and we talked calmly through our miscommunication that morning and carried on with our day happily.
So what does this mean for you?
The interesting thing is that we need Amygdala. He houses emotional memories which give our life meaning. He triggers Fight, Flight or Freeze when we really need it. It’s just that we need it so much less in our civilised world.
There’s no way to stop him, I’m afraid. He’s built in. But you can learn to recognise his tricks, calm him down, thank him for keeping you safe and then boldly embrace challenges knowing that they’re not life threatening.
When has your amygdala tried to protect you unnecessarily? Now that you know, can you give this another go?