Dr. Seth Meyers, Clinical Psychologist

Dr. Seth Meyers, Clinical Psychologist

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Road Rage: When That Nutcase Is You!


Recently, I realized just how human I am: Out in my car, encapsulated in the comfort of A/C and the sound of music I’d chosen, I nearly succumbed to full-blown, certifiable road rage.

Provided that you own a car and actually use it, you’ve witnessed the sort of nutcases to which I refer, those who get sucked into extremely aggressive behavior as they navigate their way from Point A to Point B. Typically, we probably laugh at such silliness dismissively, identifying our supposed strength and wisdom that allows us to rise above such nonsense. Nevertheless, you know what I’m talking about: extensions of the middle finger, rolling down the window to hurl verbal diarrhea, and cutting another at all costs.

Sadly, the other day, I realized that said nutcase could be me. Looking for a spot in a crowded parking lot (because what other kinds of parking lots are there in Los Angeles ?), I found a seemingly innocent car waiting to take a spot from an exiting driver. Good citizen that I aspire to be, I tried to pull my car around the detour in order to let the waiting car take the spot. Well, from that point, enough said: all hell broke loose. Misunderstanding my actions as an attempt to…steal…his…spot, the waiting driver jerked his car to nearly hit mine, rolled down his window, and began shouting obscenities in my direction.

Yes, exactly, your thoughts mirror mine: I had no intention of taking his spot.Ultimately, it was just one big (or super-small) misunderstanding, right? Unfortunately, adrenaline must have gotten the best of me because I stopped my car and rolled down the window, not quite sure what I would do but certain that I would do something. After all, my dignity was all of a sudden up for grabs!

Given that I knew too well that this involved a misunderstanding, why did I feel so upset? How could I feel so triggered by something so trivial and childish? My hope is that, as a therapist, I could take my own advice, learn how to chill out, and opt to use my cerebral cortex over the more primitive parts of my frontal lobe as I make moment-to-moment decisions. The point: We all have a tiny bit of crazy inside us that typically lies dormant but can be awakened like a sleeping bear if the circumstances are just right (or wrong).

Fortunately, I had a rationally-minded friend with me – one who appeared to be rather trigger-free that day - who urged “Don’t say anything.” This quick intervention changed everything as I’d practically rolled up my sleeves in preparation for an old-school match of fisticuffs.

A moment of clarity later, I was able to take a deep breath and pull it together. And though five minutes later I had forgotten the episode altogether, the event itself reminded me of something important: We all need to watch ourselves closely when we have reactions that trigger the impulse for a true verbal lashing or a knock-down, drag-out fight. The next time you get triggered – because it happens to each and every one of us – use it as a reminder that it’s time to decompress. Plan a trip to the gym, a bike ride, or a hike with your pets or kids, because your trigger-happy moment is telling you that you need a serious dose of perspective.

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