The Amygdala - BFF or Evil Twin?

This is by far one of my favorite topics – brain functions! Yes I know gray brain matter doesn’t look as appealing as let’s say a pair of red bottom Louboutin shoes. However the reason your feet hurt in those shoes….or the memory of the pain rests squarely in the Amygdala!


The Amygdala is the area of the limbic system in the brain that is truly the repository for all emotions, memory, and survival instincts. To put it plainly, it is your library of all things that have ever happened to you with opinions about the memories. Like any library the way those emotions and memories are managed are totally up to the librarian. In this case, you are the librarian to your own emotions. How well you manage them are up to you and you alone.


All of the time. Constantly reminding you how to feel, react, and live. Crazy that the Amygdala is all that but it is. Truthfully you’re only as good as your Amygdala lets you be good. Seriously! Why do I say that?
Ever heard of the Amygdala Hijack?
This is a phenomenon when the brain senses a tense or extreme situation and the Amygdala takes over and in essence says, “I got this”. Most of the time during a “hijack” your Amygdala does NOT have it.


Physiologically your adrenaline output can more than triple during this time causing extreme stress on your blood pressure, heart, and other organs. People have passed out from fear. Some people have reacted “outside of their body” as if it was someone else during that time. Unfortunately during a hijack the other more sensible parts of your brain are shut out of the decision making process. That means you are acting on pure emotions with no other inputs from things like your eyes and ears. Is that a good thing? Well….if you’ve mastered cataloging your emotions – it may not be so bad. If you’ve been a bad librarian to your emotions, the Amygdala picks the “go to” reaction – and it just may not be pretty.


There was a family in Houston, TX – mom, dad, and daughter. Mom and dad were going out to dinner and perhaps dancing. The daughter was going to be at a sleep over down the street for the night. While mom and dad were out the daughter went home to get something she forgot. While she was in her room, she heard her parents return. The mom and dad heard someone in the house and felt as if there was an intruder. The dad instructed the mom to stay downstairs as he grabbed his gun to go check out the noise. As the dad walked into his daughter’s room, the mom heard her daughter yell out “Surprise!” The next sound was that of her husband discharging his gun. I hate to tell you what you already can guess, the dad shot and killed his own daughter. The mom asked her husband, “didn’t you hear her voice?” And the dad said he never heard anything. He said he walked into the room and saw a figure lunging at him and reacted. That’s the Amygdala Hijack. All other senses were impaired. The dad’s sense of reality warped because he was acting on the emotion that there was an intruder in the house. The mom could hear her daughter because she was not under such an extreme hijack. The father lived with inconsolable regret that he couldn’t hear his own daughter’s voice before he did the unthinkable.
 Are you paying attention now? The Amygdala is Powerful
The Amygdala is not always a bad thing. It is designed to protect us as well. Remind us of danger. It can help curve us from making the same mistake. It all boils down to your ability to master your emotions. Your success in life sometimes depends on how you react under extreme circumstances. Being “cool under pressure” is a fancy way of saying you know how to react. Getting a stronghold on your emotions is going to be the best strategy for success you could ever implement.


I’ve studied EQ for many years and how the brain interacts with a person’s overall emotional intelligence. The best thing we could ever do for ourselves – to protect or increase our emotional intelligence is to understand the Amygdala (and treat it right).
Incidentally if you’ve been touched with Alzheimer’s in your life like I have with my grandmother, the disease attacks the Amygdala first – which is the reason people with the disease begin to forget history or their emotional learning about different topics and people. The brain can be retrained in cases of head trauma. Advances are being made with the reconstruction of the brain as it relates to diseases like Alzheimer’s. In a healthy brain the neurological term is “plasticity” to describe retraining the brain. I say all this to say if right now your Amygdala is your “Evil Twin” you have the ability to retrain it to be your “BFF” – and it will take work. Be willing to do the work for the sake of your own success.

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