How to Manage Emotional Hijacking…Sleepless in Seattle

limitlis deviant art

“I have a shotgun and I will use it! Get out of my house!”

Sleepless in Seattle… Julie, my wife, and I couldn’t sleep. Nowadays we have air conditioning, but back then it was just us and the salty heat. It was mid-august. No breeze. Felt like the South even though we live in the Pacific Northwest. We were laying on our backs with a single sheet sticking to us. And then it happened. A distinct noise came from the living room. We had wood blinds on the window. Their rattling was unmistakable. And then a big “THUD!”

Julie and I both sat straight up in bed and looked at each other. “Someone is in our house!” In an instant, less than a second really, my pulse quickened, my heart started to pound, and my palms dampened. I looked over at my wife and said, “Look, you go check it out and I’ll provide cover and back up.” I don’t remember her exact response, but I am sure there were a few choice words in response to my battle plan. Then she asked me “Are you a man or a mouse, Steve?” I let out the biggest, most convincing mouse-squeak I could, but she wasn’t buying it.


Finally, I rolled myself out of bed and grabbed my grandfather’s shotgun from our closet (I’ve never shot a gun in my life!) I peeked out the door and down the hallway. Then, to my surprise, I saw him: two big beady eyes staring right at me. I yelled “I have a shotgun! I will use it! Get out of my house!”

I was in complete panic-mode. The hormone Cortisol was flooding my blood stream. It was an emotional hijacking on steroids!

I just knew that this guy was huge. He was a blood-sucking psycho! He was going to tie us both us and tear us limb from limb. I knew it. My mind was racing. My hands were shaking. My eyes were staring straight back into his unblinking eyes.

I flipped the light on.

To my utter and complete amazement, those two big, terrifying eyes were my own.

I had forgotten, at the end of the hallway Julie had hung a new mirror. I was staring at myself! No killer, no axes or being torn limb from limb. It was just little ol’ me with my empty shotgun and my boxers yelling at my reflection. So what was all the racket? Our cat, Amie, had jumped in through the open window.

"Hi!"

I know this is a silly scary story in the Halloween spirit, but it does illustrate a powerful Play Big principle. Not only do emotions drive behaviors but emotional hijacks take place quite often in our everyday lives. Not all of them involve shotguns and home invasions. Most involve husbands, wives, children, friends, parents, co-workers or managers. Everyday people in everyday situations.

Better known as “fight or flight,” emotional hijacking involves your emotional and physical body chemistry. When you or I feel threatened physically, emotionally, or verbally, our physical bodies react. The stress hormone Cortisol is released into our blood stream and POW! things change.  When we are in a normal state, the human mind is fluid, relaxed, and open-minded. When we get emotionally hijacked, it narrows down quickly out of defense.  Our heart starts beating rapidly and we can easily jump to judgment. Words can fly that we don’t really mean. Emails can be sent that we wish we could retrieve. Conversations can quickly escalate and potentially sabotage relationships in minutes that we have spent years building.

This is why it is called “Play Big.” It is not easy to Play Big, it takes real effort and practice. It is easy to let emotions hijack us and tear apart something that is worth keeping together.  It is obvious, then, why a little emotional self-management is needed. When you feel yourself getting to the point of emotional hijacking, disengage so that you can re-engage in a healthier and more effective state of mind.

Play Big Tips for Emotional Hijacking

  • Cortisol stays in the blood stream for about 18 minutes. Learn to recognize the signs of its release and stop, disengage, and regain emotional clarity
  • Breath. Oxygen actually helps defuse the stress hormone, Cortisol
  • Practice disengaging so you can re-engage more powerfully in a few minutes
  • Do not push into conflict with someone who has been emotionally hijacked
  • Watch for physical signs in your self and in others and learn to wait before acting
  • Sleep on it. This will give you time to calm down and re-evaluate your choices
  • Understand that emotions are a bit of a mystery and a God-given gift
  • Practice appreciation
  • Look for solutions after you are in a calmer state of mind

Play Big takes effort but the cost of not dealing with emotions correctly is even more costly- it’s huge. Learn the power of emotional self-management. It leads to greater potential success!

9 responses to “How to Manage Emotional Hijacking…Sleepless in Seattle

  1. Dude, This is hilarious. I am glad you didn’t shoot yourself GUT. Flips me SLAM out. Don’t get me wrong. It is so funny because I can imagine doing it myself. What I want to know is how you get BIG GREEN EYES in the dark. Man, you must have changed through the years. / More seriously, you are right we emotionally drain ourselves often by investing our energies in fight and flight syndrome and things that are not worth our effort. (Ouch. I resemble that). Thanks for the hard hitting factual understanding of how to avoid wasting effort and maximize our energy pursuits.

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  3. What a fascinating post and I love that it was actually yourself you were looking at ! Yes it teaches us to look inwards first and learn to control our inner voices – but as you say…. it’s not always easy. The first step is to detach for a moment or two. I teach the parents I work with to imagine that they are holding a remote DVD zapper in their hand and to imagine that they press the pause button. This helps to detach them for a moment from the situation so they can breathe deeply and relax – from here they can make a better decision and see things more clearly !
    It is not easy to Play Big but it’s worthwhile !
    Keep up the inspiring writing !
    Sue

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