Stop Being the Victim of Emotional Hijacking

emotional hijacking

Have you ever felt like you’ve been the victim of an emotional hijacking? In other words, have your emotions ever overridden your brain in a particular situation? Perhaps you acted from your emotions and later realized you could have handled the situation better.

The following story a reader sent me about her realization of her own emotional hijacking may ring true for you too:

“When I read your recommendations in handling discipline problems, I can agree. But when it comes to implementing them at the time of need, I find myself overcome with anger and forget your recommendations. In other words, theoretically, I agree with your recommendations of behavior but when it comes to practice I have to deal with my own issues first. Let me give you an example of what I mean.

“Last night I requested my daughter who is 14 years old to assist me with unloading the dishwasher and loading it again with dirty dishes. She said she would do it but had her own timetable as to when. She said in five minutes and continued to watch TV.

“By then I had already requested her help four or five times.

“Suddenly, out of sheer fatigue and irritation (I am diabetic and sometimes I express myself this way out of sheer exhaustion), I yelled at her that I needed it to be done ‘right now.’ She yelled back at me.

“On reflecting I thought maybe I could have handled it more calmly. But I am unable to impress upon both my daughter and husband that I need help in the household chores because I am unable to cope with the stress of managing diabetes, substitute teaching, and a smooth running of the household. I do explain this need to them very calmly and they listen to me calmly. But when it actually comes to action we all lose it.

“I would appreciate any insight you can shed on my situation and advice you can give me on handling this situation.”

My Tips to Avoid the Emotional Hijacking

First, to help stop the emotional hijacking you notice, practice the impulse management technique of the traffic light. Practice it a few times a day. Then when you feel yourself becoming emotionally highjacked, the already established neural connections will kick in.

In the situation with the dishes, the daughter is responding as so many teenagers do these days: Under duress, they do less. With this in mind, you could first ask yourself whether there is anything you can do for the next five minutes until your daughter said she would help you.

Also, asking your daughter to help with the dishes when she is already reclining watching television usually results in a negative reaction. But if you ask her when she is up and on her feet, the chances of success increase.

Finally, remember that the key to changing behavior very often starts with a change of your own behavior. I am assuming that you shop for the meal, prepare the meal, and serve the meal. The family eats it, and you are also cleaning up. The other members can share responsibility for at least helping you clean up. The following may be very difficult for you but consider it.

Let them know that you will continue to shop, prepare, and serve but you will only clean your own dishes. They will test you. Be prepared to live through the mess for a few day.

Another approach is to be proactive. Before setting the table, have a family discussion. Inform them that you need their help and then establish the procedure before food is served.

Playing the role of victim in terms of an emotional hijacking doesn’t help any situation. But when you recognize the triggers and have a plan in place to deal with it, you can keep your emotions in check. Learn more stress reducing techniques in my new book Live Without Stress: How to Enjoy the Journey.