Self-Control, Self-Respect and Managing Emotions (DE Coast Press)

Man clenches fist with angry look while in car

Road Rage is one of the latest “diseases” to be foisted upon us by the mental health profession. To make it even more official, they’ve even named it: Intermittent Explosive Disorder. (IED for short. We love our acronyms.)

According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, IED might affect nearly 8 percent of the U.S. population. And though road rage isn’t IED’s only form, it is the most easily identifiable. We’ve all experienced it, either in ourselves or in others. People hammer on their horn, display the proverbial finger, or shout insults. Or (and this is the important part), you might have FELT like doing these things, but you had enough respect for yourself to not act on the feelings.

According to the standard psychiatric diagnostic manual, an individual must have had three (count ‘em, three) episodes of impulsive aggressiveness “grossly out of proportion to any precipitating psychosocial stressor.” The person must have “all of a sudden lost control and broke or smashed something worth more than a few dollars … hit or tried to hurt someone … or threatened to hit or hurt someone.” Three times, mind you.

Though some health professionals (and more than a few crafty lawyers) want to see uncontrolled anger classified as a physical disease, could it really be just a lack of self-control? In fact, “anger management” even implies that people should take responsibility for their anger. They might need professional help, but a chronically irate person must take responsibility for curbing his own feelings, just as the recovering alcoholic avoids bars or the compulsive gambler must stay away from casinos.

Dr. Emil Coccaro, professor of psychiatry at the University of Chicago’s medical school, begs to differ. “People think IED is bad behavior and that you just need an attitude adjustment, but what they don’t know … is that there’s a biology and cognitive science to this.” He cites a two-year National Institutes of Mental Health study that suggested that anywhere from 5 to 7 percent of Americans fit the diagnostic criteria.

So a lot of Americans are angry. But does this prove that it’s heredity, hormones and biology? Neither medical science nor psychology can answer that question. For people who struggle with anger, the solution, like it or not, is attitude adjustment. Using psychotherapy or maybe just common sense, people who struggle with anger must learn to say to themselves, “I have a choice. I can explode into rage. Or I can take a deep breath and try to think about it.” The difference between an IED person and a normal person is that the former has to work harder at improving his attitude. There’s no pill to make anger go away.

On the road, it’s normal and natural to feel a lack of control. But the question remains: How are we supposed to deal in the moment with feelings of rage that might stem from a sense of being out of control?

People who regularly cope with traffic tell me, “I put on my favorite music, or a book on tape” Or they give themselves extra time. Or, “I simply accept what I can’t control.” Sometimes they plan their activities at less busy times, or even consider relocating. Either way, there are solutions. The fact that we can’t control traffic doesn’t automatically mean that we can’t control ourselves.

Accepting and dealing with what you can’t control marks the foundation of successful attitude adjustment. Those who cope better with anger and rage (the majority, according to NIMH) have either successfully adjusted their attitudes and behaviors, or started out with better attitudes.

Labeling every distasteful trait and destructive behavior as a “disease” opens up a Pandora’s Box of needless medications, ridiculous legal defense strategies, and phony excuses. We can avoid this by “curing” ourselves through the power of independent thought and accepting responsibility for our behavior.


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