Tuesday, March 9, 2010

When Anger Becomes A Weapon

This past Sunday, my son Alex and I were getting out of our car in the driveway. It was mid-day, and the beautiful sunny day was suddenly interrupted by the skidding of tires and the eruption of a man with a loud voice at the intersection near our house.

The man was screaming at the driver in front of him, as they were stopped at a red light. Periodically, people display road rage in the most inappropriate places (is there ever an appropriate place for road rage?), and this was one of those moments. The poor man in the white car in front of this screaming man was trapped between a road rager and a red light. He had nowhere to go until the light changed.

The angry man got out of his car, slammed his door shut and taunted the man in front of him, "I dare you. Put it up. Put it up." The entrapped driver did his best to ignore the raging, fist wielding man behind him, and thanks to good luck, the light changed and he drove away.

Unsatisfied by his first encounter, our road raging protaganist pulled his car over, blocking the car in back of him, and went at him. I could not hear his initial screamings, but could feel the venom and contempt in whatever he uttered. The man in back of him, driving a green truck, yelled back, telling him to "shut up."

This only further inflamed the road rager, and he got out of his car, once again, and said, "I dare you. If you were a REAL man, you'd fight me." He said many other things, which I refrain from printing in this blog, including racist and sexist comments, a fine selection of swears and put downs, and about everything he could drag in to taunt the man behind him to engage in a fist fight. He then got back in his car.

The man in the green truck refused to take the bait, commenting that he would be put back in jail if he gave this man what he was asking for. The road rager chose to take this as fuel to his fire and then started verbally assaulting the man behind him about why he might have been in jail before and how worthless he must be to have ever been in jail. He got out of the car a second time, this time approaching the driver's window with his fists, and I am very impressed at the self-control the green truck's driver exercised in the face of this very direct threat.

Finally, the light turned green again, and the man in the green truck was spared further psychological abuse. The road rager decided he'd had his fill of raging at other drivers, got in his car, turned around awkwardly, and started driving down the street our driveway is on. I walked closer to the edge of the driveway to get a look at this man who felt such a need to verbally assault and taunt other drivers--just because they were there. I was a bit afraid myself, that if he saw I was watching, he might come after me with a vengeance. I tried to be inconspicous, hiding in the shrubs a bit, and he drove by.

All I could say was, "wow!"

Anger is a primal human emotion, and being able to feel and express appropriate anger is very important for defining our boundaries, defending our position when under attack, and having a sense of entitlement to take up space, have a voice or be treated with respect. Rage is different than anger, and most often appears when someone's boundaries have been violated and there is the need to "redraw the line" back, further away from the intruded upon or wounded party.

The image of having a neighbor throw their trash across the fence into your yard, and your politely, yet firmly, taking the trash and returning it to the source, is a healthy expression of anger. Anger need not be violent. Anger need not be cruel. Anger need not involve verbally hurtful statements. Anger can be clean, grounded and contained and deliver its message elegantly and even respectfully.

When anger becomes a weapon, as it was for the road rager at the intersection near my house, the person doing the raging is often taking a deep hurt from past experience and projecting it forth into the present. Sitting on a raging volcano, the slightest provocation unleashes the emotional lava which simmers just under the surface much if not all of the time. The rager does not think about the implications of his/her behavior on his/her target. The rager does not think about the consequences of his/her action. The rager just spews his emotional lava with great intensity, as though purging himself of a hot potato, without making the connection between the source of this anger and the incident in the here and now.

While the road raging man could greatly benefit from therapy, introspection and some anger management tools, I am afraid he is unlikely to encounter them unless he ends up in jail after "going off" on another innocent person at the wrong time. Would the road rager have behaved the same way in front of a police officer? Or is he smart enough to know that then he would likely be held accountable for his conduct and stopped?

Uncontained anger, sadly, is a weapon that is passed on from "victim" to "victim" in an unconscious chain of actions. Pain brings more pain. Victim becomes victimizer. Until one's wounds are held, honored and explored safely in a healing setting, it is very hard to put the "weapon" down.

I hope the road rager one day finds a healing place. But until then, I wouldn't want to be in front of him or in back of him at a traffic light!

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