I was parked on the side of the road and about to pull out when a young man started to jaywalk behind my car. He swore, hit the corner of my car, and then muttered with his hands open, giving the impression that I was completely in the wrong and he was entitled to cross wherever he wanted.
That’s when I went ballistic–I started swearing at him, turned the corner, and slowly started trailing beside him while he walked. I kept pointing at him and swearing. He then came to the side of my car, spit on my window, and then kicked my car. I continued pointing and swearing at him until I realized that it was pointless and drove away.
This was out of character for me. I am normally considered a nice person, so why such a ferocious and sudden outburst of anger?
I really resonated with this query as I can relate so much. I, too, have totally gone ballistic in similar situations and I’m sure that many of you reading this have too. Unfortunately, I hear stories from clients every day about other people being rude, crude, downright mean, and nasty to them. I like the term I heard a long time ago for people like this: ANGRY WAITING TO HAPPEN. I honestly believe that the majority of people out there are wonderful, kind and loving human beings. But let’s face it- it only takes one asshole to ruin your entire day. And the guy you described sure sounds like he falls into the ‘asshole variety’ category.
I often tell my clients in similar situations that it’s extremely important to remember this in every situation we face with a challenging person: WE HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO CONTROL OVER THE OTHER PERSON’S BEHAVIOUR- THE ONLY THING WE HAVE CONTROL OVER IS HOW WE CHOOSE TO REACT TO HIM/HER.
The next thing I talk about is the human brain- the primitive brain (which governs our fight/fight/freeze reactions) and the bigger brain; the neo cortex (which allows us to consciously think through things, analyze, and come up with mature and rational ways to handle extremely annoying and frustrating people and situations).
I’m sure that I need not point out which brain you went with in this situation J It is the primitive, or “reptilian” brain that jumped in here and “went ballistic” on the guy. I’m going to take a guess that this came as a huge shock to you because you normally tend to go with your neo cortex and think before you react: “This was out of character for me. I am normally considered a nice person, so why such a ferocious and sudden outburst of anger?”
I think it’s really important that you not sit in a place of judgment or self-recrimination when reflecting upon your reaction in this situation, but instead, to become CURIOUS about what got triggered in you when this guy reacted so angrily towards you in the first place. Often, we go into fight/flight/freeze mode when we’re emotionally triggered by an event and we just REACT without conscious awareness of what or why we’re doing it at the time.
I believe that such situations are incredibly rich opportunities for personal growth if used in the right way. Here are some questions I offer you to consider asking yourself about that incident and your reaction at the time, which will hopefully help you to learn and grow from the experience and to do things differently next time:
Did that man remind me of anyone from my past? If so, who did he remind me of and why? Is there some emotional unfinished business I have with this person? (If so, try writing a letter to them and not sending it to get those emotions up and out).
What was it about the way he acted that sent me into such a reactive state? (i.e. Was it his extreme anger, the fact that he was in the wrong, or something else?)
Did my reaction towards him help the situation? Did it make me feel better afterwards? Worse? Why?
What would I do differently if it happened now? Would I handle it differently and why/why not?