It happens in a moment.

You’re casually scrolling through your newsfeed. You catch a glimpse of someone doing or saying something you don’t agree with. 

Maybe you see a photo of a few people hugging after dinner at a restaurant…with people in the background sitting at tables that are closer than six feet apart…and servers who aren’t wearing masks?!

Before another thought enters your mind, you type a scathing comment: “It’s people like you who are killing people like me!” You feel like you did your good deed for the day. 

Then, you get a notification. Your  friend responded to your comment: “The photo was from a year ago. You should have read the caption first.” 

Oops.

You only lost your marbles for a moment, but the damage is done.

You got emotionally hijacked. I’ve been there before as well.

How you lose your mind

Critical thinking and rational thought occur in your frontal lobe. Emotions take place in your amygdala. 

When your amygdala gets triggered by good or bad emotions, it hijacks your frontal lobe. 

Emotions literally make you lose your mind.

If you’ve ever bought something and brought it home (or brought someone home) only to feel regretful after the fact, you were probably emotionally hijacked when you made that decision.

If you’ve ever said or done something hurtful you later regretted, you were probably emotionally hijacked, too. Or, maybe you’re just a jerk too, but let’s hope not.

You are more susceptible to emotional hijacking in stressful environments, where you’re bombarded with messages of fear, anger, and disdain, like the news or Twitter.

Studies have also found that the amygdala modulates the fear response in humans. Fearful stimuli including fearful faces, fear inducing images, and fear conditioned cues, have been found to activate amygdala in several brain imaging studies…

Kerry J. Ressler, Amygdala Activity, Fear, and Anxiety: Modulation by Stress

The point is, if you act before you get your emotions under control, you’re more likely to act in a way you’ll later regret.

To use common sense and critical thinking, you must first learn to tame your emotions.

Critical Thinking vs. Criticism and Condemnation

You can’t convince with criticism and condemnation. No matter how loud, offensive, or cruel you are, criticisms and condemnation only push people away and make you look like a jerk.

Belittling others makes you look small-minded, not those you try to defame. 

Why does one human treat another so…inhumanly? In my opinion, there are three possible reasons:

  1. They’re emotionally hijacked, and the only response they can come up with in such an emotional state is to slam and slander others.
  2. They name-call and criticize the messenger because they don’t understand their own position well enough to argue about the message itself. Instead, they try to eliminate the message by cutting down the messenger.
  3. They believe that by slandering someone harshly enough, the other person will be afraid to speak up any further. This one is a favorite among the Rules For Radicals followers: “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.”

Whatever the reason, choosing a harsh reaction instead of a respectful response is a childish way to treat another person.

If you’re on the receiving end of such childish criticism and condemnation, allow me to suggest a trick I learned long ago.

Smile

This past week, I was called a narcissistic a$$hole based on my belief that healthy people who choose to, should be able to get back to normal life.

I smiled.

Not because I enjoy reading stuff like that, but because I’ve found that’s the easiest way to shut down my own amygdala if I feel defensive, irritated, or angry.

I learned the smiling trick while growing up as a fat kid. My nickname was CP (Chubby & Porky).

When I got teased, I learned to smile. When I smiled, it changed how I was feeling and allowed me to think more clearly.

It’s almost impossible to remain emotionally hijacked while forcing a smile on your face. 

The faster you can turn down your emotions, the quicker you can turn up your critical thinking and come up with a solution. Sometimes that solution is as simple as a thoughtful response to the insult.

Give it a try. Smile when someone slanders you.

Like I mentioned in my article on behavioral priming, sometimes simply being aware of what’s happening can help you stop it.

Today, if you start a discussion about reopening America or the appropriate approach to COVID-19, it leads to more angry name-calling, moral judgments, and virtue signaling than anything that resembles a mature “discussion.”

Yet, these are the topics voter-eligible, mature adults should discuss. After all, we are responsible for building a solid country for the generations to come.

Skip the mindless slander.

Wait to add to the conversation until you’ve put your emotions in check.

Try smiling. 

Then, once you’ve regained control of your mind, you’ll be able to offer wisdom and insight to the conversation, rather than further poisoning it with anger, fear, and disdain.