Emotional hijack (or so called or Amygdala hijack) is a term created by Daniel Goleman in his 1995 book “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ?”. Goleman uses the term to describe emotional responses from people, which are immediate and overwhelming and out of measure with the actual stimulus because it has triggered a much more significant emotional threat.
Emotional hijacking happens when our rational mind is overpowered by our emotions. It is easiest to recognize when we are in a state of fear or anger. Remember a time when you suddenly and uncontrollably felt angry at someone or something and started shouting for example. Why this happens and why it is hard but possible to control is explained by psychology and neurobiology.
First of all, we must start by saying that this is completely normal and biologically encoded in our brains and bodies. From the times that people were still living in wild nature under constant danger, our bodies developed a mechanism to provide us with speed of action and thus save our lives. For example, when a person is in danger (which is perceived by our sensory organs, ex. eyes) the signal for the danger goes faster to the amygdala (part of our limbic system) than to the neocortex (our rational mind) and triggers the so famous “Fight or Flight” response. In this way it saves time, but also in order to do this it overrides our rational mind. It happens in an instant and our emotions seize power over our actions.
Although this could save our lives in a situation where we are facing a lion for example, in our nowadays lives this brings us more trouble than benefit. This response is triggered any time we feel threatened, which happens very often in social situations. In order to overcome this biological instinct, we have to give time for the neocortex (our rational mind) to take back control and start thinking. All our brain needs is a few seconds. If we manage to control ourselves for a few seconds, we win.