In life, we strive to avoid emotional hijacking and make rational decisions. Improving our emotional intelligence through self-awareness will advance this goal and increase emotional resilience.
Reclaiming Emotional Control: Surprising Tactics to Reduce Emotional Hijacking
Anyone can become angry–that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way-that is not easy. – Aristotle
The Influence of Your Emotions
Developing our emotional intelligence, specifically self-awareness, will inevitably change how we conduct ourselves, build resilience and make decisions. Increasing emotional intelligence is not a simple task; it takes time and effort to read our emotions effectively and understand how they affect our decision-making and ability to empathize with others. Managing them comes next, which requires considerable skill that requires strong self-awareness.
What is Emotional Hijacking?
Emotional hijacking occurs when intense emotions, such as anger or fear, take control of our actions and decision-making.
When our emotions get overwhelmed, they can quickly become hijacked. When this occurs, we lose control of them and often our behaviour. Ordinarily, it's a burst of uncontrollable and intense feelings that propel us to react in a way that doesn't reflect the best version of ourselves.
It is not a new phenomenon but has become more popular over the last 20+ years. Psychologist and author Daniel Goleman coined the term "amygdala hijack" in 1995 in his book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. The amygdala is found in the brain's temporal lobe and helps us perceive and feel anger, fear, and sadness and control aggression. It regulates our fight or flight response (known as the acute stress response) to immediate threats. It sends us a signal, a "red flag," and our reaction depends upon our ability to manage our emotions.
Why Do We Get Emotionally Hijacked?
Our emotions can rapidly sneak up on us. It can happen in a matter of seconds at work; you get emotionally hijacked when a colleague disappoints you and lash out at them instead of sharing your feelings calmly. After seeing the shock and hurt on your colleague's face, you're likely embarrassed and regret your actions and decision to act impulsively. You wish you behaved more rationally because you know how long it will take to attempt to repair this relationship. Without question, our emotions are very powerful. For a better understanding of them, you may want to check out my book, The Power of Emotion.
How Often Have You Been Hijacked When in A Good Mood?
Have you ever made a quick decision to purchase something because it was a great deal? You were so excited about the opportunity and, at that moment, thought you needed or, perhaps, couldn't live without it, only to realize later that the item was not in your budget and you didn't need it after all. Poor decisions like this can happen for many reasons; perhaps your resilience was low. Yes, even when we're in a good mood and least expect it, our emotions can become hijacked.
These examples require appropriate responses to assist us in rationally making decisions, from daily budgeting to managing danger and stress in our environment.
Seven Strategies to Help You Become More Self-Aware and Reduce Emotional Hijacking
Understanding and managing our feelings will empower us to make decisions that elevate our confidence. Believe it or not, our ability to breathe can save us from being hijacked. It's hard to imagine if you take the time to stop and "just breathe," it only takes 10 seconds or less for your brain to become calm and regain control of highly charged situations. Once you regulate the feeling, you can move forward and manage the situation peacefully. Here are seven straightforward ways to take control of an emotional hijacking and to help you become more self-aware:
- Recognize the signs: Become familiar with the physical and emotional cues that indicate you're experiencing an emotional hijack.
- Pause and breathe when you anticipate an emotional hijack occurring.
- Name your emotions: Identifying and labelling your emotions to help you gain a sense of control.
- Challenge your thoughts; don't just accept them.
- Practice empathy to diffuse intense feelings and foster better communication and problem-solving.
- Engage in self-care practice to build resilience and reduce the likelihood of emotional hijacks.
- Develop emotional intelligence to understand your emotional triggers, develop empathy, and improve your communication skills.
Increasing your ability to eliminate everyday emotional hijacking situations will improve self-awareness and emotional resilience. Marshall Connects offers Emotional Intelligence Assessments and Coaching to improve skill development in all areas, including self-awareness strategies enhancing your focus to improve overall productivity.
This article was originally published on November 2, 2019, and has been updated (July 2023).
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