Q. I’m in my early 50s. For the past few years, I have been experiencing increasing bouts of road rage, especially driving home from work. When traffic’s light, I’m happy and drive safely. But when the road’s crowded and/or I see dangerous moves or my personal peeves (failure to signal or yield), my temper flares.
I think this started after my Saturn died and I ended up with a sportier car. I actually scream to let off steam, loudly enough that I think others can hear. Last week I found myself doing 75 mph in a 45-mph zone after a taxi sped up and tried to cut me off (he won the biggest jerk contest). When I get out of my car, the anger goes away.
I think pressure at work is stoking it. I’m ashamed of my behavior, but I haven’t figured out how to stop. Reciting mantras (“I will not get angry, I will not let others get the best of me”) hasn’t worked. Do you have any suggestions on how to calm down? Therapy is not an affordable option right now.
A. Even though you say you can’t afford therapy, a professional evaluation and a couple of sessions could do you a world of good before you hurt yourself or someone else. One reason road rage is so dangerous is because if you lash out at someone equally raging, the resulting combustion could hurt a lot of people.
I wonder if the “mantras” you are choosing might be triggering your rage by reminding you that you actually do get angry; you do let others get the best of you. For you, screaming might raise your temper and temperature and be the opposite of letting off steam.
In the short term, try to decompress before you enter your car at the end of the day. Perhaps you could work out or take a yoga class, take a walk or have a snack and read your favorite section of the paper. Relaxing for as little as 15 minutes before entering your car should help.
You should practice mindfulness, breathing, and meditation techniques during times when you typically experience small frustrations. Successfully deep-breathing (not screaming) your way through a minor traffic tie-up will give you the important experience of successful control. Listening to podcasts or music in the car (not raging, noisy DJs) could keep you entertained enough that you’ll be more lighthearted and in less of a hurry.
Q. For a number of years, my family has been poorly treated by my cousin and her husband. This cousin is not on speaking terms with her sisters, who have also experienced maltreatment.
They now have a summer residence across the street from mine. They spy on the activities of my elderly mother, my brother, and me. They will not acknowledge us but will go to neighbors and spread rumors about us. When their son was married, my mother received a letter “dis-inviting” us! Not one person from our side of the family was invited.
This cousin’s father passed away a number of months ago. My mother, brother, and I sent flowers. Those, too, went unacknowledged. We invited them to 85th and 90th birthday parties for my mother. They did not RSVP and did not attend. We are very hurt by this behavior and seek your insight.
A. Your stress will diminish if you follow your cousin’s lead and act as if she doesn’t exist. Do not invite this couple to events — don’t ruminate on their behavior. You cannot seem to heal this relationship, so concentrate on the functional friend and family relationships in your life.
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