Is Your Road Rage a Sign of Other Issues?

Flying off the deep end may signal deeper emotional troubles

Toddlers aren’t the only age group that regularly throws temper tantrums. Put a seemingly well-adjusted adult behind the wheel, drop her into bumper-to-bumper traffic, and watch her explode in a similarly dramatic fashion. Recently, NPR explored the adult hissy fit known as road rage. And, according to some experts, blowing your gasket over a forgotten turn signal or other bird-brained moves may be a sign of deeper emotional issues.

The condition is called Intermittent Explosive Disorder, said University of Chicago psychiatrist Emil Coccaro in his interview with Morning Edition. According to Mayo Clinic, IED -- not to be confused with ED -- is “characterized by repeated episodes of aggressive, violent behavior in which you react grossly out of proportion to the situation.” Besides road rage, people with IED may also put their fists through walls and be perpetrators of domestic abuse. Yep, that person who just rear-ended you on purpose might be speeding home to take it out on his wife. (No, we’re not exaggerating: An annual survey by AutoVantage found that one percent of drivers have actually retaliated by “slamming into the car in front of them.”)

While that might be a little extreme, I think most of us can admit to losing our cool over a Mr. Magoo-like move -- especially during the crazed holiday season. Someone cuts you off, or worse, steals your parking spot at the shopping mall, and suddenly you find yourself gesticulating like a TV evangelist -- though the words coming out of your mouth are by no means holy.

Does that mean we’re all just a little bit crazy or prone to exploding intermittently?

Before I moved to New York, I used to commute on the California freeways every morning, so I'm familiar with road rage. Even in New York City, where we walk all the time, we experience the ire of disgruntled commuters, too. We just call it sidewalk rage. Yesterday, I saw a girl stop in her tracks and step out of the way for a man who was on her heels muttering like a madman, because he couldn’t get by and, I assume, didn’t know how to say “Excuse me.”

Regardless of whether I’m traveling by foot or by wheels, I’ve found that my patience for the people in front of me is directly proportional to my frame of mind at the time. If I’m in a good mood, I can more easily forgive someone else’s transgressions. But if I’m cranky, irritable or hungry, forget about it. Usually, I’ll try to talk myself down and rationalize the situation before I go full-speed to crazytown. The trick is knowing your hot-button triggers, and being able to recognize that you’re getting worked up before you’re too angry to care.

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