Befriending Your Fury: 5 Tips To Addressing Anger (especially when driving in L.A.)

Driving in Los Angeles is a great place to practice my anger. Yes, I said “practice” it. For many, anger is an emotion we’re not particularly proud of yet one we’re ready to express at a moments notice in this fast-moving world. We don’t want to admit to it because losing our temper often means losing control. For me, anger is a natural emotion and I learn from it every chance I can…especially in L.A. traffic.

There I was, stopped at a red traffic light behind another car closest to the signal, both of us in the left lane. It was a bumper-to-bumper Friday afternoon in the Beverly Hills area and I was late for a meeting. According to Siri and my Apple Map on my iPhone, this would be the last bit of congestion before hitting my destination. So when the light turned green, the driver in the ride in front of me proceeds to enter the intersection then stops as if they’re now planning a left turn. “This can’t be happening!”, I thought. One, the sign hanging from the signal clearly states “No Left Turn between the hours of 4pm and 7pm”. My clock read 4:53pm. Secondly, the driver did not even turn on their left blinker to warn me or let alone drivers now honking behind me. As if the Universe were playing some cruel joke, as soon as the words “You can’t do this! You didn’t even signal!” exited my mouth, the left turn signal on the car ahead of me starts to blink. By this time, I’m not just angry, I’m furious!

So what happened between those agonizing moments of trying to get over to pass this “jerk” or painstakingly waiting for them to turn, which they eventually did, and arriving at my appointment still late but surprisingly calm and cooler? (The benefit of being a personal confidant, “I listen to people for a living”, is I get to practice Power Communication, a wellness process based on the teachings of Marshall Rosenberg, Ph.D., the forefather of Nonviolent Communication. I coined the term Power Communication because it’s a technology that more often than not, helps me get my power back when I feel out-of-sorts, like the moment I had just gone through). What’s my secret? I had done what NVC certified trainer, Jorge Rubio calls Rage Work. Here are 5 tips I use and you can too to scale down the scorn the next time your anger alarm goes off. These steps are no guarantee you’ll dissolve your angst instantly, but they can be extremely helpful:

  1. Express It. Congratulations! You’re angry and it’s ok. Be with it. You’ve heard the saying, what you resist persists? The next time you’re angry I suggest you express it; verbally, by writing in a journal, or calling a friend who’s willing to hear you out. Note: Expressing your fury to the person(s) who tipped you off or remaining angry, is not recommended. A third party, please. In my case, I created an imaginary person in the empty seat next to me and let them have it. This is called Offloading and can be very helpful when I’m heated. Feel free to let the expletives fly.
  2. Confess It. Be honest. I gave myself permission to be bummed. That’s right. I call this meaningful mourning; my willingness to accept my rage and disappointment on what took place. I confess my distress by mourning what didn’t happen. “They shouldn’t have…They should have…I’m so pissed off, right now!”, etc. In short, I accept my anger. And I accept that this traffic snafu actually happened. I don’t try to undo it. Now this honestly doesn’t help lower my pissed-offness, but the next step tends to do the trick.
  3. Undress It. What was underneath my anger? What’s fueling it? After I offload and mourn, I ask myself what did I want to happen instead of focusing on what I was be pissed off about that didn’t. Saying something like, “I’d like that driver to take a long walk off a short pier”, is not exactly what I’m talking about. The question I ask myself is not about what They Did or Didn’t do or Should or Shouldn’t, but what is important to me. I disconnect from the stimulus as best I can and look underneathe for what I would’ve liked to have experienced. For me it was consideration and respect for my time. I like it when drivers pay attention to the traffic lights and signs. The point is, when I can separate the value of what I wanted from the person or incident, I get back in contact with the power plant inside my body. I name qualities / values instead of airing accusations. I identify what I value; awareness, competence, respect vs. “They should be more respectful”.
  4. Guess It. This next one is by no means easy but ultimately liberating. I’ve expressed, confessed, undressed and next, guess. I empathize on what may have been going on for the person(s) in the car ahead of me…not to mention, the drivers behind me, as well. Perhaps that driver was looking at their phone. Perhaps they didn’t know where they were. Maybe they were busy being an idiot…that last one snuck in, but it’s ok, looping back to Tip #1“Express It” is fine. The truth is, I don’t know what was going on with that person, ( and may not even care), but staying mad is not going to help them or my health. I take a stab at guessing because they’re busy being human too and chances are they weren’t suddenly turning on their signal to spitefully turn me into the Incredible Hulk. (And if they were, I can still use these tips too). This isn’t giving the folks who wrong us a pass of any kind, it is, however, giving myself an option to address my anger / disappointment in another direction, and ultimately a healthier one.
  5. Bless It. Lastly, hating that driver for their actions does more to affect my own physiology than it does to punish that person. Once I feel the benefit of offloading, mourning, exploring what’s important to me and, if I’m game, guessing what may have been going on for them, I’m more apt to wish that driver well. Why is this important? Selfishly, I’ll admit, it’s more for me than them. When I’m agitated, blood pressure rises, when I’m at peace, my heart rate regulates back to an ideal, healthier state. I can only wish them well, if I truly feel that I’ve moved beyond my rage for the moment. This doesn’t mean I’m walking on Cloud Nine. I may, in fact, be irritable for a while, however learning to befriend my fury has been a far more sustainable strategy than merely holding my grievances or worse, unleashing them upon that driver.

I agree with the late Marshall Rosenberg in that anger is an alarm clock, it lets me know what’s going on inside of me. I actually learn from it and thus, don’t fear having a fury attack nearly as much as I used to.

I didn’t get respect or consideration for my time at that intersection, but by the time I got where I was going, I was on the road to embracing my anger, learning from it and wishing that L.A. driver well. Ok, two out of three ain’t bad.