Being able to track the current state of the body means you can make far better decisions. When you get amygdala-hijacked you will be able to step outside the situation where a high functioning part of you will observe – “My armpits are cold and sweaty. Oh look at that – a wave of hot blood feels like it washed over the top of my skull. Aaah! I’m in panic mode. The fight/flight/fear response is already taking hold. Not what your body feels like when it’s going into panic. Everybody’s tell signals are a little different.
Ok, everything’s ok… What’s the panic mode protocol? Right. Exhales twice as long as the inhale. Stop at the bottom of the breath and find the center. (Takes a few deep breaths.) Ok, what’s next? Umm… oh right, don’t make any big statements or decisions in this moment. I’m either stuck in fear, shame, or something, and I don’t even know what’s happening. Chances are my brain pattern matched on something as dangerous, and the reality is there’s no immediate threat to life or limb. Even though it feels like it, there’s no sabre-toothed tiger chasing me. I’m not seeing reality clearly. Any pressure for me to make decisions because they feel in this moment as SUPER URGENT – chances are it isn’t that urgent. Calm down. Proceed with caution until I can get more centered in myself
All of this inner dialogue takes place in my head in a few seconds. I cycle through my mental checklists of good habits to keep very close check on whether my arousal/stress level is rising or falling. It might seem like a long list, and it is, but it feels like bullet time from the Matrix when Neo goes into super slow mo and can dive and weave around the bullets. It’s so much calmer than my previous internal dialog which cycled through a bunch of bullshit hypotheses and half-cocked responses on loop. At least my new inner monologue is helpful. It’s as though a the highest part speaks to me kindly, as my ally to help me through whatever difficult situation has triggered me.
You can cultivate this helpful voice in your head. Speak to yourself like you’d speak to a friend or a frightened child. See if you can stop the amygdala hijack from getting worse. My helpful voice grants me permission to escape the situation wherever needed.
If you get hijacked by an emotional trigger, chances are nothing you’re going to do or say is going to make the situation better. The God Brene Brown practices this statement over and over so when she gets triggered she has it ready – “This is not productive, I’m going to have to reschedule.” Because it’s not.
Once your brain is hijacked, the protectors have come out and your higher self isn’t running the show any more. The protective parts of yourself smash and grabbed the attention away so that the frightened child part of you can’t be hurt by the other person. If you’ve ever had the experience of doing something in a moment of fear, shame, or anger and then looked back and wondered how you possibly did or said those things – that was a moment when the protective parts of yourself were running the show. It sometimes feels in more extreme versions of this like someone else is inhabiting your body. In a sense, that’s true. Different facets of us have access to different value structures, opinions, and even facts about what happened and beliefs about why. We hear this in our language as “on one hand I think X, but on the other I think Y.” The most extreme case of this is in multiple personality disorder where the facets of being may not even know about each other. The different protectors have become so strong that they create separate identities with different names, tones of voice, taste in clothing. When a protector
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What would allow you to come into your center in this moment? First observe how far away from center you already are.
Where is the pain? Heart, throat, head, belly?
What’s the texture of the pain? Anger, tightness, exhaustion, hot or cold, bursting outward or collapsing inward?
How intense is the pain? The more intense, the further you are pulled from center. Before you can move towards center, you must fully be with the pain exactly as it is. For a moment, drop trying to push the pain away. See if you can get curious about it. Ask it to whisper to you whatever your heart needs to hear.
What’s the earliest memory you have of feeling this pain? You may have to rummage around in the junk drawer in your brain to find the earliest. Try to go back to five or six years old - the earlier the better. Stay with the search until you can dig something up from childhood.
What would it take to bring you back to center?