Have you ever been the victim of an emotional hijacking? If you are human, then most likely you have been emotionally hijacked ATLEAST 100 times (this is based on the minimum number of tantrums that I estimate the average child will have between the ages of 18 months and 4 years*). But if you are like most people, then you’ve been hijacked in your adolescent, teen and adult life as well. In other words, emotional overloads didn’t stop when you turned five.
Emotional hijacking often occurs when we suddenly move from a calm and rational state into one of more intense emotions, irrational thinking, and possibly even impulsive behavior if we aren’t careful. The degree of severity of the hijacking and the amount of the ransom needed to ‘fix it’ depends on how charged you become over the experience.
We all have emotional injuries and past experiences that make us vulnerable to certain types of hijackings. Like the mythical story of Achilles whose heel was his point of weakness, or like the fault lines of California where the ground can become shaky and unsteady, all of us have certain types of encounters or issues that tend to trigger us into a hijacking. Do you know what yours is? I am certain that if you pause to think about it, you will discover what it is. But if you have a blindspot, then you may need some help to discover it.
For many people, thinking about an old hurtful relationship that happened in the past can trigger an emotional hijacking. For others, it can be more current, such as an argument with a partner or friend, a conversation with a parent, or a power struggle with your adolescent or teenaged child that can create emotional tension.
In order to correct and turn around an emotional hijacking, you need to first take care of your body. (See Just Breathe and I took a breath…now what) Once your body is calm and you are back in the moment, then you can use your inherent intelligence and wisdom to explore the situation, learn from it, and correct the flawed thinking that likely fueled the hijacking. (NOTE: Taking care of your body and calming down is an essential first step. Studies in neuroscience confirm that the intelligent brain is not available to us as long as we are emotionally hijacked. We first need to calm our bodies, using our breath or other self care methods, before we can reason through the situation and completely disarm the metaphorical bomb strapped to a trip wire).
Taking your intervention to the next level after you have soothed yourself, you are ready to explore the mental and emotional terrain of the hijacking. What are you thinking about yourself as you remember that distressing moment, event or relationship? What are you unconsciously saying TO yourself ABOUT yourself as you recall the problem? With slow, patient, attentive awareness directed towards yourself you can discover the voice of your suffering. It is this voice that fueled your irrational response; this voice is the hijackers ‘financial backer’ so to speak.
Examples of common negative unconscious thoughts that serve as the voice for our suffering are:
I’m being disrespected.
I’m not in control.
I’m being ignored. OR I’m not important/significant.
I’m not lovable. OR I feel ashamed of myself.
I don’t like this. OR I can’t stand this.
After you have identified the negative thought pattern that is related to your distress your next step is to consciously challenge that and look at it with curiosity. Are you in fact being disrespected or do you just feel like that whenever your ideas are being challenged by a colleague? Do you feel out of control when communicating with certain people, with loved ones, with an (ironically) emotional or sensitive child? Are you in fact being ignored or are you sensitive to how others treat you in a group setting? Are you prone to interpreting social interactions as dismissive or hurtful because they bring up old patterns from your family, siblings, or a past relationship.
In order to free yourself from the emotional prison that is unconscious negative thinking, you can consciously cultivate an honest and true seeming counter truth to your negative thought. For instance, instead of thinking “I’m being disrespected” “I’m being ignored”, or “I’m insignificant,” you might bring up the thought “Its not about me” when someone speaks to you a certain way. Test this more positive or neutral thought and see if it feels true. When something occurs that leaves you feeling rejected or unloveable, try bringing up a kinder thought that you can test for the truth, such as “I am lovable”, “I’m fine as I am”, or “I’m OK.” If one of these statements feels true to you, then take a gentle breath as you draw that thought into you, noticing how you feel physically and emotionally as you dwell on that kinder thought. Repeat the statement to yourself quietly or out loud 3 or 4 more times and notice how the feelings deepen. You should begin to notice that the hijacker has put down the weapons and is ready to walk away from the scene. What is left behind from the scene of the crime is the original motive for the ‘crime’, which was your mind’s and heart’s need to give attention to an old wound.
Once it is over, you can enjoy the emotional shift that you have cultivated in yourself. You can acknowledge yourself for having the wisdom and insight to tune into your thoughts and feelings. And you can choose to be kind to yourself the next time a similar challenge arises, knowing that undoing these old negative thought patterns can take years of practice for some of us. The fact that you are brave enough to start the journey deserves some positive attention….such as “I can be kind to myself” and “I am OK.” Over time, you will find that your emotional hijacks happen less and less often. Which frees you up for the funner and lighter things in life…like an exciting movie that you get to watch on a Saturday night with a former accomplice to the crime who has now become an ally in your happiness.
*this number has not been scientifically tested or proven. Its just an anecdotal estimate. In other words: don’t quote me.