Years of yoga and meditation have helped me a lot when it comes to overcoming my anger impulses. The one area of my life where my anger still tends to flare up and overwhelms me is while driving. I don’t know why, but I have never gotten more angry than I get at people driving like assholes on the highway. Road rage is such a perfect term because it does seem to go straight past anger or irritation and straight to blinding rage. I have really lost myself a couple times, blaring my horn, flipping the bird, driving recklessly out of spite, etc. Just some real stupid stuff. I always feels so embarrassed and ashamed of my behavior later, but in those moment I have completely lost myself.
Normally when someone cuts me off or is driving under the speed limit in the passing lane, I immediately jump to thoughts such as “what an idiot,” “this person is a complete fuck,” “why doesn’t anyone know how to drive,” “this person has no consideration for anyone but themselves,” etc. These thoughts continue to race through my head as I become more and more angry. Often one small incident can have me fuming for the rest of my 30 minute drive. I keep going over it in my head, justifying why I was in the right and the other person was in the wrong. Often even assuming that the other person was driving like as ass on purpose just to piss me off.
One thing I have been trying to do to address these triggering scenarios is to turn them into a game of sorts. I’ve tried this in the past a little bit, but I think I was still taking it too seriously. I would try to come up with excuses why this person may be driving the way they are, but another voice in my head is usually screaming “that’s ridiculous,” “it’s so unlikely,” “how can there be THAT many people with reasonable excuses.” It feels like I was missing the point of the exercise. Originally my goal was to inspire sympathy for the person. Now my intention is just to entertain myself and maybe even make myself laugh. The truth of the matter is I have no idea who this person is or why they may be driving the way they are. I’m certainly not a perfect driver and have made excuses for myself in the past. So instead of immediately demonizing them and listing off to myself all the reasons they are a garbage person, I’m going to start making up elaborate life stories for them instead.
This doesn’t have to be something you only use while driving either. You can use this technique for any difficult people you encounter in life. It doesn’t matter how “true” or “likely” the stories you come up with are. The point is to turn an angering situation into an opportunity to have fun and invite some levity into your life. Sometimes it even helps for me to imagine someone else is asking what that person’s story is and I am coming up with one to tell them. Get creative!
Your story could be as simple as what is going on in this person’s life today that has them out of whack, such as just breaking up with their girlfriend or maybe they have a new puppy they just adopted in their car distracting them. Your story could also go all the way back to the person’s childhood. This person was raised by wolves and just reentered society a few years ago, managing to get their license, good for them! Make it as realistic or utterly wild as you like, whatever brings you the most joy and serves best as a distraction for your anger.
Certain emotions just can’t seem to coexist. The opposite of anger is compassion, so if that works for you, make up a sob story for the difficult person. However, for me, it’s often impossible to switch off my anger with compassion in the moment. It is more easily diffused with humor. The most important thing is to remember your intention. I tend to take everything too seriously, so it can be hard for me to let go of what I have deemed the “reality” of the situation in favor of something more silly. Remind yourself that it doesn’t matter what the “true” story of this person is, you’ll never know it anyway. There is really no reason to assume your negative perception is more true than a funny or compassionate one. Ultimately the only thing that matters is how you want to feel.
Reality is often stranger than fiction anyway. I also genuinely believe that the vast majority of people are not intentionally trying to be problematic. We all believe we are the hero in our own story. We all have justifications for even our worst actions. As tempting as it is to paint ourselves as the victim and the other person as the villain, what good does that really do us? It is much more fun to take the opportunity to be lighthearted and play pretend, and that’s what life is really about, just finding ways to enjoy every moment. I’ve already wasted far too many being angry.