Like a gladiator jumping over a wall into the middle of a battle, that uneducated, ancient part of your brain has the final say regarding what you need to do to survive. Simply trying to think your way out of a panic will not help. Once the amygdala releases those fight-or-flight hormones into your system, it is all systems go! Have you ever tried telling someone who was yelling to calm down? A lot of good that did, right?
How long does it take for your amygdala to have your head spinning? Less than a second. For my women readers of a certain age, if you have ever had hot flashes, you can verify that they seem to come out of nowhere, very quickly, without provocation. Actually, hot flashes are due to a thought that just triggered a fear or concern, and it happens even when you are sleeping. You never noticed it because even a small concern causes your amygdala to react. While these chemicals are in play, you will feel very justified as you yell or have a tantrum, but when they dissipate, you wonder, “Why did I react like that and get upset over something so trivial?” You did it because your brain thought your life was in danger, and in the blink of an eye, you reacted instinctively.
In a social context, people with similar fears and frustrations will feel validated as they join together in groups, gangs, or cults. When the dreaded “group mentality” kicks in, a dangerous momentum can take place.
Your brain likes to be in agreement with others because staying with the crowd thousands of years ago gave you protection. Have you noticed that when you have a disagreement with someone, each of you is in defense mode? Your brain reacts as though the physical you—and not just your opinion—are in danger!
In this context, people may even join gangs or other groups with which they have very little in common other than their outrage, yet that one common factor can result in them taking violent political positions or engaging in all out war. All of the violence in the world can be traced back to an amygdala that screams, “Kill or be killed!”
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