Shedding Light in the Darkness

America’s Amygdala Has Been Hijacked


With the extraordinary outpouring of fear generated by Donald Trump’s election victory, it feels like America’s amygdala has been hijacked.

Coined by psychologist Daniel Goleman, an amygdala hijack is an overwhelming, intense emotional response that activates the fight, flight or freeze response. During an amygdala hijack, the amygdala shuts down the neo-cortex, stopping rational thought. With so much fear rampant now across the nation it would appear like a collective emotional brain hijacking.

Google Trump and fear and you find an onslaught of terror predictions. Slate – “Fear, Anxiety, and Depression in the Age of Trump … Victims of Trump-induced anxiety describe nightmares, insomnia, digestive problems.” The Guardian – “President Trump fills world leaders with fear.” Foreign Policy – “For Muslim Americans, Fear and Shock at a Trump Presidency.” Vox – “Fear is a totally rational reaction to a Trump presidency.”  Politico – “Journalists fear for their profession.” Variety – “Hollywood Grapples with Fear, Dismay Over Prospect of Trump Presidency.” The Economist – “Fear Trumps Hope.” New Republic – “Republic of Fear.” Huffington Post – “It’s Not Melodramatic to Fear For Our Safety.”

At least Oprah tried to reel the panic in by tweeting a photo of Trump at the White House with President Barack Obama with the caption “Everybody take a
deep breath! Hope lives.”

Of course fans fueled with righteous anger and some celebrities turned against her following her optimistic note. “Time to boycott @Oprah” one tweeted. Another responded: “Let me get this straight. Oprah tweets “everyone take a deep breath, hope lives” and gets an online backlash from Clinton supporters because she is not completely supporting the “world is falling” narrative.”

Therapists have also been stirring the pot. The Atlantic published an article on Oct. 10 with the provocative title “America’s therapists are worried about Trump’s effect on your mental health.”

Quoted in The Guardian, Joan Cook, an associate professor of psychiatry at Yale University, an expert in traumatic stress, suggested that Trump’s hardcore supporters are in the grip of “traumatic bonding,” as with Stockholm syndrome – an emotional dependence forged through abuse.

Then there’s Jonathan Shedler, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Colorado school of medicine, who suggested that Trump’s appeal relates to how in times of stress, people revert to a childhood desire for an omnipotent protector – an understandable need in young children, but dysfunctional in adulthood.

The Lions Roar website contacted a number of Buddhist teachers for their reflections. Pema Chodron, author of books like “When Things Fall Apart,” suggested:  “During difficult times like this, I’m feeling that the most important thing is our love for each other and remembering to express that and avoid the temptation to get caught in negative and aggressive thinking. Instead of polarizing, this is a chance to stay with the groundlessness. I’ve been meditating and getting in touch with a deep and profound sadness. It’s hard to stay with that much vulnerability but that’s what I’m doing. Groundlessness and tenderness and sadness have so much to teach us. I’m feeling that it’s a time to contact our hearts and to reach out and help in anyway we can.”

Forbes magazine has an opinion piece by Carlos Jose Caro, a grad student at Columbia. “I am Hispanic. And I am not at all afraid about the event that transpired on the morning of November 9. People need to give Donald J. Trump a chance. He has not even assumed office and many think its doomsday. People need to accept the dissatisfaction from millions and millions of Americans who feel like they have been cheated by the Washington D.C establishment. People need to both support and pressure Donald J. Trump to be an inclusive president. If he faults, then you protest.”

To close Slovenian-born Marxist philosopher Slavoj Žižek has some rather interesting observations. He suggests that while he is “horrified” by Trump, he believes a Trump presidency could result in a “big awakening” that could set into motion the formation of “new political processes.” By contrast, Žižek said he saw Clinton as “the true danger”–pointing specifically to her insincerity, her ties to the Wall Street banks, and her dedication to the “absolute inertia” of our established political system.

“Trump is a paradox: he is really a centrist liberal, and maybe even in his economic policies closer to the Democrats, and he desperately tries to mask this,” says Žižek. “So the function of all of these dirty jokes and stupidities is to cover up that he is really a pretty ordinary, centrist politician. America is still not a dictatorial state, he will not introduce fascism. But it will be a big kind of awakening. New political processes will be set in motion, will be triggered.”


One response to “America’s Amygdala Has Been Hijacked

  1. Claude Robichaux January 29, 2017 at 4:43 am

    *smh* …. just a mere week in, tsk tsk tsk.
    “Amygdala hijack”, clairvoyance or just plain keen and astute to the realities of what lay ahead with such a horrific facsimile of a human being at the helm?
    The apoplectic resistance (along with the Indigenous Peoples, immigrants and voiceless good citizens) deserve apology for such insult(s) and bombastic underestimations of the damages that could or would be done. -but better yet, they deserve assistance.


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