The Other Side of the Couch – Is Your Brain High Jacked?

Limbic Brain

I had an odd experience the other day.  I had made an appointment for an orientation to a wellness center, but when I arrived at the appointed time, my name could not be found in the computer. A little background would be in order – since I have a hyphenated last name, computers often struggle with me. However, they tried all possible combinations and nothing came up.  I was offered the opportunity to  a) come back an hour later, b) reschedule, or c) receive a free personal training session as a compensation.

What was interesting to me was my reaction.  I became tearful; my voice began to quiver; I stated that I was irritated and upset and that none of those options were acceptable, and I walked out.  As I walked to the car, I felt my heart pounding, and when I got to the car, I got in, slammed the door, and tried to figure out what on earth had happened.  I was reacting to this computer glitch as though I had been personally attacked and I was feeling hurt, powerless and angry.  My brain had been high jacked!

I knew that I was in the grip of an adrenaline rush powered by a variety of neurochemicals and that I was not responding rationally.  I also knew that something was powering this that was bigger than a computer glitch.  So I took a few minutes to sit with myself – but nothing came up.  I was still distressed.  I decided to leave and to check this out when I was a bit calmer.

Later, I looked again at what had happened and I discovered the iceberg beneath the seemingly insignificant experience.  For me, the iceberg included ambivalence about committing to an exercise program based on fear of injury (old stuff), a story that I was telling myself that said something like, “You’ll never be able to do this right. Why are you even trying?” (self-judgment), and a sense of hopelessness about my body.  Wow!  What I found out was that even getting in the door of this wellness center had been a huge stretch and that I was carrying a lot of self-judgment that was activated by this small disappointment.

I called and made another appointment, and I will take that free session as compensation!

This kind of experience is actually quite common in human beings.  Our limbic system, ruled by the amygdala and based on fear, can high jack our logical, thinking brain all too easily.

What can you do when your brain is high jacked?

  1. Recognize it – you want to react much more strongly than the situation warrants; you have physical responses – heart pounding, breathing quickened, voice changes; you want to react impulsively.
  2. Leave the situation if possible – take a break; drink water; go for a walk.
  3. If you are with a partner or a friend, explain that you need a time out.
  4. When the physical symptoms pass, sit with yourself and listen without judgment. Your body and brain know a lot about what has happened, and if you listen to yourself, you will learn.
  5. Do what is necessary to repair the situation.

Careful listening and self-compassion are the keys to a better understanding of your own brain.

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP:

Susan is a communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, and proud native Nashvillian. She has been in private practice for over 30 years. As she says, “I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts.” Contact Susan at

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Filed under Self Savvy

3 responses to “The Other Side of the Couch – Is Your Brain High Jacked?

  1. Nancy Coop

    Susan, your “high-jacked” post was so excellent! Never read a better explanation of how and why this reaction happens to us.

    Thanks, Nancy

    On Tue, Feb 10, 2015 at 5:00 AM, HerSavvy wrote:

    > Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP posted: ” I had an odd experience > the other day. I had made an appointment for an orientation to a wellness > center, but when I arrived at the appointed time, my name could not be > found in the computer. A little background would be in order – since I have > a hyp”


  2. Norma Shirk

    What a clear explanation of what I’ve experienced many times. Next time this happens to me, I’ll try Susan’s suggestions, including a little self-compassion.


  3. julia tanner

    Yes, thank you for this, Susan. I too, have experienced this and found myself thinking… what is wrong with me? I’m an adult and have no excuse for reacting in such an immature way! This is wonderful insight… and I will be trying your suggestions in the future, and not be so hard on myself.


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