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Robert Leahy, Ph.D. Headshot

The Road Rage Warrior

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Karen felt like her life was in danger every time Phil was driving. He treated a drive on the highway as a challenge to his honor and manhood. If someone was driving slowly in the left lane, he thought it was his right to tailgate, flash his lights and blow his horn. "Teach them a lesson -- they can't do that." If someone cut him off too closely he would chase them on the highway, trying to overtake them, and then slow down to keep them from getting ahead again. It was a battle. Phil would yell out the window, give the finger, bang the dashboard. It was a constant war for him. Unfortunately, his wife and daughter were terrified. Luckily he hadn't had an accident yet, but Karen felt that she couldn't continue being a passenger. She finally left him, much to his surprise, but she felt she had to get out while she was still alive and while her daughter was still safe.

In a recent incident, a couple was arrested for firing a gun into a vehicle after an accident. With their SUV driven off the road, Bradley Turner got out and threw a punch at the other driver -- who then beat him up. Turner's wife then handed him a pistol and he shot into the vehicle.

Do you think it was worth it for Turner and his wife to retaliate? They are now facing multiple felony counts. What was gained?

This is not a unique story. Road rage kills people -- and, even if you don't have an accident, you are endangering yourself, your family and the innocent people on the road. Statistics show that road rage is more common among young males between 18 and 24, males more than females, and -- ironically -- people with children compared to people with no children.

It's not easy driving in traffic with people cutting you off, traffic backing up, and people disobeying the traffic rules. It's easy to get angry. But the reality is that you are driving a 4,000-pound vehicle at 65 miles per hour with almost no room for error. There are innocent people out there. No one deserves to die because someone violated a traffic rule. The highway is not a place to have a duel.

Think about your own behavior and its impact on you and others. If you tailgate, blow your horn incessantly, give obscene gestures, drive with the intention of intimidating, flash your lights to harass others, or suddenly speed up or slow down to teach someone a "lesson," then you are a road warrior. Like many warriors, you may die fighting the battle.

Be honest with yourself. Don't tell yourself that there are other people who are worse. You are the one with the problem. And the people around you are already having a problem with you. I remember many years ago when I was in college a friend of mine was driving aggressively and his girlfriend was badly injured. She became a paraplegic. Did she deserve that? How do you think he felt for the rest of his life?

OK. Now that you have recognized that you have a problem, you might want to start changing your behavior. Here are five simple steps to take today.

  1. Examine the costs and benefits of your road rage. You may believe that the benefits are that you are standing up for your rights and teaching others a lesson. You may feel like a tough guy, macho, strong, someone people don't mess with. What are the costs of your road rage? Or the potential costs? Is it worth risking turning someone into a paraplegic, alienating your wife or husband, terrifying your children, killing an innocent family on the road? Acting out with rage only leads you to feed your hostility. Can you imagine someone saying, "Gee, I wish I had more road rage over the past 10 years"?
  2. Examine your provocative thoughts. Like many road warriors you are seeing personal provocation everywhere. If someone is driving too slowly, they are doing this to you. You take it personally. If you are delayed for four minutes, it's a catastrophe, rather than an inconvenience. If some doesn't do what you want them to do, they aren't following your rules. You think of yourself as the rule-maker. Your thoughts infuriate you, but how rational and helpful are they?
  3. Challenge your provocative thinking. I doubt that anyone got into a car on Tuesday afternoon at 1:45 and thought about how to provoke you. After all, these are strangers! I doubt that the delay of a few minutes is of any consequence at all. And I doubt that you have been selected as the one to teach people a lesson. The more you challenge these angry thoughts, the more calm you will be.
  4. See yourself as others see you. How do you think your family and friends see you when you are screaming, banging the dashboard, and cutting people off? Do you want them to see you as out of control and dangerous? If you think you want to be cool then equate "cool" with self-control. Cool is not the same thing as an exploding volcano of anger.
  5. Practice the opposite. Rather than trying to race against people on the highway, practice getting into the slow lane and letting people go past you. If you feel provoked, practice stepping away from your anger, let it go, put it in perspective, don't take it personally, and "give up" for a few minutes. Do you think you will feel like a "loser" if you let someone else "win"? What are you losing? Whenever I practice this "opposite action" -- letting the other person ahead, letting them "get away with it" -- I feel more in control, more adult, and even higher self-esteem. If you base your self-esteem on being in control of yourself, then letting someone else rage away and pass you by might be the best strategy.

Try these tips for 30 days. Then check your pulse. Check with your loved ones. See if they respect you more or less. And see if you feel better about yourself and more in control.

For more by Robert Leahy, Ph.D., click here.

For more on emotional wellness, click here.

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