YouLearn | Emotional Intelligence and the brain
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YouLearn | Emotional Intelligence and the brain

YouLearn | Emotional Intelligence and the brain

You drive a couple of blocks to find a free parking space, you finally spot one, you hurry there and just before you want to drive in, another car quickly takes the free spot right before your nose.  Alarm! 

You have a meeting with an important client. You are perfectly prepared and the moment you click the «join» button in Teams, your internet connection is lost. Your throat feels tight for a moment, your heart rate is rising, and you may even have to gasp for breath. 

Enter: the amygdala hijack. 

What that is exactly and how it can disrupt our relationships with others we learned in YouConnect's "YouLearn" of April 22, '21, organized for HR & Legal interim managers. Michel & Ellen of The Tipping Point carefully explained how the brain does not simply exist but is a particularly plastic mass of tissue that can be roughly divided into three sub-brains: the reptile brain, the mammalian brain and the human brain.   

It turns out that the alarm phase that takes place in your brain when you lose your parking spot or your internet connection, is not always activated correctly by the reptilian part of our brain. The brain detects a threat and triggers a response as if you were in mortal danger. This event where you react disproportionately violently and emotionally to what is actually happening, was first identified in 1996 by Daniel Goleman in "Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ". He called this the "amygdala hijack," an apt description for the takeover of your reactions by the "reptilian brain." Along either side of the brain hemispheres, we appear to have an almond-shaped particle that goes into alarm mode whenever a threat is perceived.  When the amygdala strikes, all the energy of our brain goes to that threat and it becomes very difficult for the brain to respond rationally: it is "held hostage" by the amygdala. This alarm center is of vital importance when you are face to face with real life danger and it is good that at that moment you immediately go into fight or flight mode. But you are not in mortal danger when losing a parking space or when your internet connection is lost.  

At such a moment you need emotional intelligence. The ability to recognize your own emotions and to dose them. And moreover, to be able to deal constructively with the other person's alarms, emotions and amygdala hijacks.   

And this is where our prefrontal cortex plays a crucial role. It helps us when making decisions and to control impulses. When the alarm goes off, we must decide for ourselves how to respond to it. Given that the reptilian brain apparently takes over from us at such a moment, it can help to wait a few seconds until your prefrontal cortex, which was temporarily shut down, is back online.   

What reaction are you allowing yourself to have? Jumping out of your car and scolding the other driver in scenario 1? Watching paralyzed as the Wi-Fi signal disappears and taking no action in scenario 2? Those don't seem like the best options.   

In the webinar, we were explained how to regulate ourselves and effectively reprogram our brains.   

It turns out there are some options for dealing with extreme stress situations in an emotionally intelligent way. By rationally naming what is happening, for example, or by taking a step back and literally counting to ten, allowing the chemicals in your blood to break down again through the alarm phase. You can also ask yourself in retrospect what exactly was the trigger for your reaction. How did you react? What is the root cause of your reaction? So that you can teach your neuroplastic brain to neutralize the amygdala hijack in exciting but not life-threatening situations.  

Fascinating subject! And interesting to apply the next time you are about to lose it in a meeting with your colleagues or a discussion with your partner.   


Would you like to be invited to the next YouLearn? Let us know!  

Like to know more about this interesting mechanism?   
"Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ", Daniel Goleman 



Source: What to know about amygdala hijack”, Adam Rowden, 19 april 2021, Medical News today.   



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