When Engagement Gets Emotionally Hijacked


From a friend’s Facebook page, apparently a meme made by another friend.

It is a putrid black cloud that descends on your soul when you realize you have become what you loathe most.  The advancing fog, born of your personal shadows, employs a stealth that defies intellectual understanding.  Toxic vapors insidiously distort your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.   And by the time you awake to the miasma’s presence, a sticky, rancid web of emotional slime has you affixed to a dark corner, in the nether regions of your personality.

It happened to me in college.  Growing up in Colorado in the ‘80s, I learned to greet strangers with broad smiles and open, friendly salutations.  A few years in Chicago taught me to look down while glowering and keep walking.  Trying to engage strangers in pleasantries would only disappoint.  I chose consciously to reject others before they could reject me; I felt angry and disconnected.  But before long my inner sun broke through.  I realized that my friendliness could actually brighten someone else’s day, and that has been enough to keep me smiling at strangers ever since.

The phenomenon recurred in certain relationships, when I became the dominating, fault-finding, nit-picking debater I had always despised growing up.  This was not a conscious decision, and the revelation in therapy was my first encounter with the hidden darkness.  I still dance with this menace regularly.

The repulsive Trump video of October 7th and subsequent avalanche of discovery triggered yet another mudslide into my internal abyss.  I became addicted to the analysis, provoked by every quote of men and women defending and minimizing his words and deeds.  The most inciting was his son saying, “Strong, powerful women do not allow themselves to be subjected to sexual harassment.”  Within 24 hours of reading that, the expletives in my Facebook posts increased by an order of magnitude, and my mood plummeted proportionally.  Looking back, it all makes sense.

I have witnessed and experienced male domination and intimidation my whole life.  My parents, each in their own ways, taught me to be the strong, powerful woman I am today.  Still, sexual harassment and assault mark my personal history, as they do so many, many others’.  I think back to the times, and one in particular, when I did not speak up.  I did not confront.   I felt weak and powerless—not me.  Eric Trump’s words slashed to my core fear, that I am actually not strong, that I am the opposite of strong: helpless and pathetic.

I know unconditionally, in my cognitive mind, that this is a complete lie, an absolute falsehood—not just about me, but about all victims of sexual assault.  The misogyny of others does not define us by a long shot.  But emotionally, it’s a soft spot.  So last week, out of the dissonance, arose rage.  Friends on Facebook who made what I perceived (in my acutely twisted state of mind) to be dominating and intimidating comments on my posts (but to which I replied calmly) fanned the rage flames to wildfire proportions.  The surly pedestrian and merciless debater emerged again in force.  The black shroud had draped me in full and I lashed out, if not overtly online, then at least in my head and with those closest to me.  I felt viscerally revolted, at both Trump-the-younger’s words and my own disinhibited reaction.  Such are the challenges of living a conscious life.

Thankfully, the cosmos has gifted me with a tight and loving circle of friends and allies.  They have proven themselves, once again, a formidable force of light.  They see the real me, value my efforts to confront humanity’s enemies, and hold the space for me to wrestle the demons within.   I am proud of the work I have done, grappling with my own specters, and I know I could never engage without my tribe holding me up.

This week’s emotional hijacking has resolved.  It will happen again.  The ghosts of our fears lurk ever around the bend.  But my posse and I are ready.  We grow stronger every day, especially when we stand together.  So bring it.  We’ve got this.

11 thoughts on “When Engagement Gets Emotionally Hijacked

  1. The lie in Trump junior’s words is that if women aren’t strong enough to defend themselves, then it is their fault if men prey on them. That is just one step away from saying that any victim of crime is to blame for that crime, not the perpetrator. Women do NOT have to justify themselves in that way.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Another thoughtful post, Catherine. It’s admirable that you are self-aware enough to analyze and understand the emotional hijack (or “amygdala hijack” as my friend Ann describes it). You’ve given me pause to wonder if we are experiencing an epidemic of emotional hijacking at the hands of some pretty master manipulators. If people can’t recognize how they are being manipulated (not to mention lied to), the rage they then express can be boundless and contagious, as well as massively destructive. It is my most fervent hope that the words and demeanor of Michelle Obama will inspire and prevail. If this election has a bright light, it is surely her.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Catherine you have put into words so many of the things I’ve struggled with lately. The Trump phenomenon is a giant tsunami of negative energy that is sucking us all under it’s wake. I decided a couple of weeks ago to deactivate my FB account and just breath. I am on a very restricted diet of media for the time being. It feels good, despite my compulsion to “be informed.”
    I already know who that man is and who is his opponent. I don’t need further revelations. We are living in a time of unprecedented political divisiveness. I hope we survive with our principles intact. Thanks for wading into the deep waters for us and for your genuine and thought provoking post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Ilona,
      Thank you for your comment, and for stopping by! I think I have read your posts before, through mutually followed bloggers.
      Since I posted this piece, I have continued to marvel at the depth of negative emotion that continues to swirl all around us–particularly inside me. It’s profound and alarming, and also an opportunity for reflection and growth. It’s certainly painful, too, but I hope that we can all sit with it a little longer, and learn everything we can from it all in the next several months–years, probably even. It will have all been for nothing if we cannot take this experience and use it to prevent a recurrence. Wishing you peace in the next 11 days and beyond We will all get through it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve been reading Alice Walker, “We are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For” and she speaks about the need to pause from time to time. That’s what I am doing right now, and hoping for the best Catherine, as I know you are.

        Liked by 1 person

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