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Get a grip on that pointless fit of rage

Exploding with anger at someone who grazed your fender is highly irrational. Even more deviant is trying to run someone over for tailgating or refusing to give you parking space.

health and fitness Updated: Jan 16, 2011 00:15 IST
Sanchita Sharma
Sanchita Sharma
Hindustan Times
Sanchita Sharma

Exploding with anger at someone who grazed your fender is highly irrational. Even more deviant is trying to run someone over for tailgating or refusing to give you parking space. All this and more takes place on India’s roads every minute each day, prompting armchair commentators to sit within the safety of television studios and pontificate on the fragility of urban consciousness when faced with the multiple stressors of work, commute and relationships. As also the urgent need for meditation and counselling in modern lives.

They are partly right. I’m sure that if someone took the trouble to collate it, data would show that more accidents are related to road rage on India’s roads than drink driving. Here’s why: unlike drink driving, road rage incidents are always somebody else’s fault. Everyone you meet has a horror story to tell about a driving misadventure and it never, ever their fault. Raging drivers are almost always extremely self-righteousness, a trait that makes them insufferable, obnoxious and highly dangerous all at once.

The fact is that road rage is just one aspect of behavioural problems, with the textbook definition being the umbrella term ‘intermittent rage disorder’ to describe uncontrolled bursts of anger on the road, at home or in the workplace. They underline that while a little anger is healthy, even if you are the one at the receiving end of a rant, it becomes destructive as soon as it goes out of control.

Simply put, your harshly pulling up a colleague for missing a deadline is normal, but your throwing a file or a chair at him is clearly not. Similarly, it is normal to argue in meetings but it is not to stomp out in rage if people refuse to see your point of view.

You don’t have to be a grump to fall victim to rage. Unconrolled temper outbursts, including road rage, equally affect even-keeled temperament as unpleasant scrooges, which makes it even more difficult to deal with. When a person who rarely loses his cool finds himself in a murderous rage for a scratched taillight, he tries to rationalise the situation and blames it on everything from his mother-in-law’s indigestible cooking to his neighbour’s dog before doing his best to forget it.

More than counselling and meditation, what people with sudden uncontrollable bursts of anger need are prescription drugs that are now routinely being prescribed to treat behavioural problems. Like depression, rage-related problems also involve the inadequate production or warped functioning of the happiness-hormone called serotonin, which regulates mood and behaviour and can be easily managed with drugs.

How angry you feel also depends on your genes and socio-cultural environment that you live in. Children who are aggressive and anger easily usually come from families with little or no communication about feelings. Since anger is a negative emotion, people do not want to acknowledge the problem and may go through life without learning how to handle it or channel it constructively. Interestingly, psychologists say most parents taking children to counsellors for treating aggression go there not because the parents think they need help, but because the school system find them too disruptive.

Letting off steam to let yourself go escalates rage and aggression and does nothing to make you feel better or resolve the situation. Leaving anger unexpressed doesn’t help either, as it causes hostility or passive-aggressive behaviour that makes you get back deviously instead of confronting people head-on.

Expressing your angry feelings in an assertive, as opposed to aggressive, way is the way forward. And if you have trouble checking your rage, get a doctor to prescribe some pills to prevent you from tipping over the edge.