From 1978 to 1982, the odd duo of Bill Bixby (playing Dr. David Banner) and body builder Lou Ferrigno starred in the TV Show “Incredible Hulk.”
Following the popular comic book series, the premise of the show was that otherwise mild-mannered Dr. Banner would transform into a powerful, raging monster if it got angry. The Hulk endures as a series of movies, as well as what they now call “graphic novels” (what we used to call comic books). The reason for its popularity is that it speaks to the universal human experience of the empowering transformative power of anger. As we have noted before, anger both energizes and anesthetizes. This neural hijacking is a classic case of “Shoot! Ready! Aim!”
So, what’s a person to do if he or she is getting hijacked?
Here are four ways to help deal with neural hijacking.
1. We often feel neural hijacking in our bodies before we recognize it in our consciousness. As you reflect on the last time you got hijacked (or the next time you get hijacked) be “mindful,” be aware of your body. Where do you feel dis-ease in your body: Stomach? Chest? Head? Notice this as an early-warning sign your body is trying to send you before you act (perhaps doing something you will regret).
2. Your mom was right, “Count to ten.” In fact, do anything that buys you some time is helpful. It gives your neocortex a chance to catch up to your hormones. Thus, it gives your values and commitments a chance to catch up to your impulses. Make it a habit to say, “Give me a chance to think about that,” or “Let’s take a break for a minute,” or “You may have a point there but I need to reflect for a while.” The reality is that very few things in life demand immediate responses on our part. Take your time. What are some simple ways to “slow it down” when you are entering or caught up in a potential hijacking situation?
3. “Trigger” Roy Rogers’ horse was named “Trigger.” He loved that horse so much that when Trigger died, he had him stuffed so he could keep him around. We all have triggers we love to keep around, just for old-times’ sake. Part of being an adult is learning to recognize and regulate our triggers—both internal and external. By internal triggers we mean things like H.A.L.T. (Hungry, Angry/Anxious, Lonely, Tired). When we are over-taxed, our emotional immune system is weak and we are more likely to overreact to stimuli which we would otherwise “let slide.” By external triggers we mean things like, “What is the setting? Is there an unspoken agenda? Is there a time constraint? Etc.”
Reflect on the last time you got hijacked? What was the setting? What was going on in your life, mind, heart JUST BEFORE you got hijacked? Looking back, what could you have done differently to structure yourself or the situation to minimize the chances of a hijacking?
4. Get curious, not furious (about self and situation) Curiosity is a wonderful gift. It is not threatening. If, instead of choosing to get angry when something happens, we can instead get curious, we can learn a lot, about ourselves and the other person. Some magic phrases are “Help me understand?” “Tell me more about that?” “Please let me warm myself by your fire on that for a while.” “You’ve given me something to think about. Let’s talk some more.” Think if the las time you got hijacked. What are some things you could have said that might have changed the situation? Write them down.