Addressing Road Rage and Other Out of Proportion Reactions

road rage woman

By Matt W. Sandford, LMHC

Recently I wrote about the five reasons for road rage, and by the end I acknowledged that some readers may have identified a few descriptions that hit close to home. And so I offered that I would come back and speak to the question of, “what if sometimes that is me?” If you have found yourself during driving or other situations, to find yourself getting pretty reactive and maybe over the top angry, then let me share some thoughts on what may be going on and what to do about it.

What If Sometimes This is Me?

Maybe you can identify with one or more of the five from the last article. What then?

  1. Drugs or Alcohol Related

If this has been you, let me be frank. If you are driving while intoxicated in any way, you are endangering others, besides yourself. And it’s got to stop! Do you know the old Billy Joel song, “You May be right”? In it there’s a line in which he sings, “I made it home alive”, and maybe you have thought that and so it makes it easier to dare to do it the next time. But in that song he also calls himself crazy, okay? I think in your clear mindedness you know better. And that means you must prepare for these situations ahead of time. There’s a lot more at stake that raging at another drive here, as serious as that is in and of itself. And besides simply the wisdom of not driving while intoxicated, if I was sitting with you I would be curious about your usage or misuse of substances and would want to explore that with you, to help you to find healthier methods of coping.

  1. Projection

We all do this sometimes; it is a type of coping with situations in which we don’t feel we can respond or speak up – often due to intimidation or fear of consequences. And so, when we get around someone that feels safer or seems to be someone that we aren’t intimidated by, we bring out the emotion we pushed down. It’s not the healthiest form of coping and isn’t fair to those who end up being on the receiving end. There’s a lot more that needs to be said in terms of how to effectively respond in those moments. But let me suggest that it begins with self awareness. If you can reflect on your thoughts and feelings, you are less likely to be controlled by them and react in ways that haven’t been thought out. And the best way to prevent a reaction you will regret is to be more self aware ahead of time.

  1. Emotionally High-Jacked

It’s not fun to be emotionally flooded. This is another way to refer to the “flight, fight or freeze” response. It means that any of us can put ourselves into an emergency state when we interpret that we are in an emergency situation. Our mind tells our brain we are in an emergency and our brain tells our body to prepare for an emergency – by dumping stress chemicals like adrenaline and others into our body. And then we’ll be keyed up. We’ll experience tensed muscles, ragged breathing, sweating, maybe jitters. And it’s like a friend of mine says, it’s like a really full tea cup, just one more drop and it spills. You may not be able to prevent yourself from getting into such a state. But again, self awareness can help you get out. You need to focus internally and be aware of it, so you can slow yourself down, breath, and talk yourself down from level 10 on the 1-10 scale. And it probably isn’t so good to be driving in this state. Take the time to bring yourself down first, through reflection and deep breathing. And getting some time with a counselor to develop your ability to manage your triggers would be advisable.

  1. Your action by them is perceived as threatening

You’ve been mistreated before, shamed or embarrassed, and it was awful. And you’ve learned that to protect yourself from ever going through that again you need to launch an attack and shut down anyone who might bring that familiar feeling to the surface. You may think of yourself as tough, as taking no flak from anyone. But your stance is driven by your insecurities. There are healthier ways to protect yourself. And consider this; the tough stance very likely puts you into more intense and provoking situations than if you were to take an alternative approach. If this feels like it fits you, I recommend seeing a professional counselor to work through past wounds and make some shifts in your thinking and perceptions.

  1. They are crazy

There are those who fear that this is them, but really they fall somewhere in numbers 1-4. There are some though who do need psychological treatment and with help they can live and function very well.

Everyone reacts out of proportion sometimes. And there are many contributing factors. The goal is to grow in our self understanding and self mastery, so we can be our best selves. We all have challenges in life and sometimes we struggle with how to cope and deal with them effectively. And yet we still have to drive. This means that we are surrounded every day by drivers who are just like us; sometimes doing fine and sometimes having a bad day, or who knows what. When you are doing okay, be compassionate of others who are having their bad day.

And if you find yourself struggling, consider finding someone who can help to therapeutically work that out.

If you would like to see me for a counseling appointment, call our office at 407-647-7005.

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Matt Sandford is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and has been counseling for 8 years. Previously he worked in student ministry for 14 years, including two years in China. He has been married for 21 years and he and his wife are raising twins.


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