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Road rage is on the increase.
A study by the American Automobile Association revels that incidents of violence while driving are increasing by 7 percent per year.
For every reported incident of road rage, of course, there are hundreds of more minor situations that go unreported. Driving is not nearly as safe as it once was when people approached it with more courtesy.
Although tough laws have begun to address the problem of drunk driving, the legal system has not yet made a similar effort to address the problem of drivers who use vehicles as a means of dealing with their anger.
The frightening thing about road rage is that any of us can become its victim, either as the aggressor or as the one who suffers from someone else’s aggression.
Road rage comes in many forms: blocking other drivers, aggressive tailgating, flashing headlights, verbal abuse and obscene gestures.
In more extreme manifestations drivers have been assaulted with weapons and run over with vehicles. Although young men are the most common perpetrators, violent driving has been found in every age group and in both men and women.
People who resort to road rage are those who feel endangered by someone else’s driving. They feel vulnerable and threatened and a natural reaction to these feelings is to get angry.
People get angry when another driver is expressing his or her own road rage or when the other driver breaks traffic rules or shows a lack of courtesy.
The other driver is seen as being anonymous or, if one is angry, an enemy, and research shows that we feel freer to show aggression when the enemy is “faceless.”
Our society does not generally encourage us to learn how to handle our anger adaptively.
We often learn that anger is simply not to be expressed at all and when it is, we view it negatively. The problem with this approach toward anger is that we never learn to acquire healthy tools for expressing this emotion.
It is difficult to work with something that we do not know.
People who engage in road rage are expressing their anger in a very destructive and sometimes even deadly manner. They show little understanding of the healthy expressions of anger.
If you truly know your own anger, you may never have to become a victim of road rage.
Your anger can motivate you to constructively confront the situations that initially aroused the anger and in a manner that does harm to nobody. You can think differently about the things that trigger your anger. You may decide that there are some things that just are not worth getting angry about. And you can learn to communicate your thoughts and feelings effectively when anger is present.
Anger tends to cut us off from other people.
We see others as the enemy and feel that we have to overcome the threat that they pose. Make up a story in your mind about the other driver. Maybe you were cut off because the other driver had to rush to a hospital or to an important business meeting.
Perhaps the other driver flashed her bright lights at you because she cannot see in the dark. Even if the story you make up is not true, your body will react as if it is.
The important point here is that we all have the capacity to feel for someone else and to be helpful. Rather than blocking the other person’s behavior, try to cooperate with him or her. Give the other person the space to do what they have to do. Forgive the other person. Your cooperation will make the situation safer for everyone.
Anger is perhaps our most powerful emotion.
It is the emotion that causes us the most difficulty in our relationships with others and it has a powerful effect on our physical health. Deflecting our hostility and developing healthy alternatives takes considerable understanding and practice. Through the help of a trained therapist, we can come to know our anger, what it means in our lives, and how it can help us to live better.
As the holidays and high season begin, please drive safely and responsibly.
J.M. Evosevich, Ph.D., LMFT, CADC, BCBA is a psychotherapist with a private practice in Palm Springs. He works with individuals and couples helping them deal with the stress that life brings so they can have happier, healthier relationships. If you have a question you would like to see answered in this column, call (760) 778-4929 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org