“I can’t believe it you @#$&%$. I had right of way you *&%$@#*&. Where did you learn how to drive you stupid &%$#+$@?” And all this from the mouth of a Christian gesturing with his hand, as John Maxwell says, that the other driver is number 1. When called on the carpet for such a blatant violation of James 3:6-12, the brother or sister responds, “I can’t help myself. When someone pulls out in front of me, it just flies all over me. I have to do something.” That seems natural. It seems almost logical. We may even want to make an exception to God’s will about the tongue in this situation. But do we really have to do this kind of something? Or can we actually overcome road rage and other irrational expressions of emotion?
Yes, we can overcome. Keep reading to find out how.
Here’s the problem. Too often when someone cuts us off in traffic, questions our judgment, looks at us funny, we have this idea that their action absolutely necessitates our negative reaction. We can’t help it. Anyone would respond that way. And yet, we’ve all seen people that don’t. So why do we?
The reason is because there is something else to the equation. The actions of others do not lead directly to our reaction. There is actually something in between their actions and our reactions.
When something happens we tend to follow a few paths between what has happened and how we react.
We awfulize: That is, we exaggerate just how bad the situation really is. “When so-and-so does such-and-such, it’s just awful. I can’t stand it. I’m going to die.”
We catastrophize: That is, in a split-second we look into the future and determine that what has just happened is catastrophic. Our world will come to an end. Relationships will be destroyed. We’ll end up living under the bridge.
We villainize: The person who did this to us is wicked, evil, perverted, disgusting. Only stupid, awful, wicked villains would ever do this to us.
We victimize: How could this happen to me? My life is just one struggle after another. Something is always going wrong and it is never my fault. I’m just a victim and here’s one more example of how this happens to me over and over again. When will it stop?
We delegitimize: That is, we are certain that the only reason this happened to us is because we are somehow unworthy and illegitimate as human beings. We believe we must be losers. Or at least that whoever did that to us must think that about us. Then we begin to think it about ourselves.
Some or all of these things can happen in a split-second and it looks like this.
We are driving down the road and someone pulls out in front of us. Before we even react a whole host of things can happen. Our irrational thinking starts to act. It might even happen subconsciously.
“I can’t believe they did that. Only stupid, wicked, vile, evil, awful people drive like that. Don’t they know no one should get in my way while I’m driving? I can’t stand it when people do that sort of thing. They could have killed me. People are always taking advantage of me like that. I am such a doormat. Well, I’m not going to put up with that. I’ll show them.”
Then the conversation I started this post with happens.
If we don’t want the bomb to explode, we have to remove the fuse. The bomb is our reaction. The fuse is the irrational thinking. If we want to avoid the irrational expressions of our emotions, we need to rationalize.
We need to normalize: Instead of awfulizing and catastrophizing, we need to normalize. It really isn’t awful. Perhaps it could have been, but we have survived. The world will not come to an end and neither will our lives. Who knows what tomorrow may bring, but today we are still alive, food is in the fridge, clothes are on our backs. Our kids are still alive. Sure, we prefer for people not to pull out in front of us, but we’ll survive. We know that these kinds of things happen, but we’ll make it.
We need to humanize: Instead of villainizing and victimizing, we need to humanize. Whoever did this is probably not an evil person. They are probably a whole lot like us. They want to do right and drive properly. They want to have friends and be friendly, but we all make mistakes. How about attributing to them the best possible motives just like you would want them to do to you. Additionally, you are more than just a victim of circumstance or other people. You are a human being with human responsibilities. Even in whatever situation you are upset about, you likely have involvement. If not involvement, you can at least remember that you have made the same kinds of mistakes. Now you can consider your own responsibility about how to respond as a decent human being.
We need to legitimize: Rather than telling ourselves we are illegitimate, we need to realize we are okay. Whatever has happened to us doesn’t mean we are worthless losers. Even if we recognize our own mistakes, we are allowed to realize we are worthwhile people as children of God. We don’t have to beat ourselves up or play the martyr.
Recognize the Self-Talk
The fact is between the event that happens to us and the way we respond, there are a whole lot of beliefs and self-talk. We are telling ourselves something. Those beliefs and self-talk determine our reaction.
So let’s consider a different way of handling this event.
Someone pulls out in front of us and instead of what we saw above we say to ourselves: “I wish people wouldn’t drive like that. But I bet that person is having a tough day or may be behind on something and is in a hurry. You know, I’ve made the same kinds of mistakes, and I’m still okay. I can handle it when someone messes up. I’ll live. There’s no reason to make a scene with my road rage.”
Then you can smile at them and even pray for them. Obviously something is going on to make them drive like that. They need your prayers.
Now doesn’t that sound better?