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Emotionally Hijacked: Burning Down the House

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Burning Down the House

Burning Down the House

Have you ever found yourself emotionally hijacked and in the middle of a situation where had you been in your right mind, you would never have been?  You know, the guy in the red Ferrari thinks it’s his God-given right to take the parking space you’ve been patiently waiting for grandpa to back out of?  And you snap when he cuts you off and snatches it up.  Suddenly, you find yourself in the middle of the parking lot screaming like a crazy person.

“Well, how did I get here?”


Or the water company has sent you a bill for $2000 and now you are yelling and swearing into the phone because, of course the clerk on the other end is responsible (guilt by association?), right?

Unfair situations arouse strong emotions.  Injustice incites anger.  And they are blessings.

Sometimes the quickest way to discover the parts of ourselves in need of healing is to notice what feels unfair to us.



I call this brain hijacking “burning down the house.”  It’s when we want to throw the baby out with the bath water.  It’s when you want to burn down the house of the ex who fucked around on you with your best friend, because you’ll be damned if you’re going the two of them live in a place you poured your heart and soul into.

It’s when you can’t see straight.  The vengeful part of you goes ballistic.

When you are “burning down the house,” the ego is riled up!  It claims victimhood for itself.  “I’m the  wounded party here”.  It no longer sees how we are all connected, it believes in victims and perpetrators.  It believes in righting wrongs, and it is willing to burn down the house to correct them.  No regard for consequences; no care if it’s as detrimental to itself as it is to the other party.

And if we can stop ourselves long enough to regain our sanity, we may notice that it’s the part that needs tenderness and forgiveness; recognition that just because our brains hijack us, doesn’t mean we are bad people.


It’s actually part of our reptilian brains.  Daniel Goleman referred to it as amygdala hijacking.  It’s the fight or flight part that literally acts before conscious consideration has the opportunity to kick in.  Emotions override our thinking selves.  We lose it; we become screaming banshees.

But here’s the good news: we can train ourselves out of it.

I can’t remember the last time I nearly burned down the house.  I’m sure my son was in the equation.  He helped train me out of it actually.  When he was a teenager, I had lost it so completely that I threw a marble rolling pin in his general direction (not close enough to make contact, thank heavens) and chased him up the stairs.  In the middle of my tirade, he took me by the shoulders and told me, “Mom, I don’t make you mad.  You make you mad.”

It was one of my proudest moments as a mother.  He’d actually been listening all of those years.

Because we can notice when we’ve been hijacked, and in that moment of recognition, we can stop.  This is where spiritual practice kicks in; where we train ourselves NOT to burn down the house.

But before we can get there, we must be willing to choose love-kindness over being right.  (Not always easy; most of us like being right.)  We must own our shit.  Take responsibility for how human we can be.  We must choose our own well-being because going to jail for arson doesn’t make for a happy productive life.

This is where I remind myself of the truth of who I really am.  Not a mom who is trying to inflict bodily harm on her only biological child but a woman who taught him to be responsible.  Reminding myself of the truth of who I am (an expression of the divine) is the hook I use to train myself out of bad behavior.  During the old count to ten routine, you can give yourself a moment to calm down, you can remind yourself that you don’t really want to go to jail for burning down the ex’s house.  I personally find that imagery helps.

So, next time you find yourself hijacked by your brain, take three conscious breaths and remind yourself to choose peace.  You may not end up feeling peaceful exactly, but with practice you will stop being completely hijacked.  You may still want to burn down the house, but with time, you will feel much less likely to channel that energy into something destructive.

(Oddly enough, many folks reroute the feelings of injustice/anger towards themselves which may lead to overeating, getting drunk, high or whatever one’s addiction of choice is.  Addiction is a numbing technique.)

With practice, you may even manage to send love to the bitch who stole your boyfriend.  You may even bless her for showing you his true colors before you married the bastard.  You may even get to the point where you’ve forgiven them both completely.  You stop being a victim.

Then one day, you’ll find yourself thanking them one day for setting you on the path where you no longer felt inclined to want to burn down the house.  And when that day arrives, you know you’ve taken back your power.

Funny how the seeds of healing were in the middle of it all along.

Namaste, my friends, Namaste.



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