The Amygdala Hijack

The amygdala is an almond shaped mass of nuclei (mass of cells) located deep within the temporal lobes of the brain. The amygdala hijack is an immediate, overwhelming emotional response with a later realization that the response was inappropriately strong given the trigger. Daniel Goleman coined the term amygdala hijack based on the work of neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux, which demonstrated that some emotional information travels directly from the thalamus to the amygdala without engaging the neocortex, or higher brain regions. This causes a strong emotional response that precedes more rational thought. The amygdala hijack basically equates to “freaking out” or seriously overreacting to an event in your life.

You want to tell your partner how you are feeling, but you are anxious. The prosody of your voice– tone, rhythm, pitch, may communicate annoyance, anger. Your body language may appear to be aggressive, you lean forward, squint, make your hands into fists. You do not mean to be aggressive, but your partner reacts, not to your words, but to what appears to be a threat

You instantly perceive your partner as aggressive. Your immediate, unconscious reaction, by way of the amygdala, is fight, flight or freeze. The amygdala screams danger and the thinking part of your brain goes off-line. You respond with an overwhelming emotional reaction, which triggers your partner’s amygdala.


Congratulations you and your partner are now dancing the primitive, amygdala Tango

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