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Section 3

Question 3 | Test | Table of Contents

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In the last section, we discussed four beliefs and how they relate to Anger Management clients: making good time; being number one; not letting the other driver get away with it; and certain drivers should not be allowed on the road. Obviously, certain circumstances enrage some drivers more than others.  In Anger Management clients, these often are events that threaten the client’s sense of self-esteem or worth. 

In this section, we will examine the role of self-esteem in Anger Management clients and road rage:  anger; inappropriate goal-setting; and replacing the source of self-esteem.

3 Aspects of Self-Esteem in Anger Management Clients

♦ #1 Self-Esteem and Anger
First, we will discuss the connection between self-esteem and anger.  Karl, age 32, was a pick-up truck driver.  One day, while sitting at a stop sign, Karl felt something hit the back of his truck.  Apparently, the driver’s brakes had failed and had slowly collided with Karl’s truck.  There not being any visible damage, the other driver moved on, but Karl followed him.  Eventually, when the other driver stopped again, Karl got out of his truck, and shot the driver and the passenger, killing the driver. 

Karl was convicted and sentenced.  Why had Karl reacted so violently?  When the other driver bumped Karl’s truck, Karl was not concerned with the damage done to the truck itself, but the assault to his own self-esteem.  Karl’s mindset had become, "I can’t let him get away with that."  When he pulled the trigger, Karl felt he had established himself as someone who couldn’t be messed with.  This drive to prop his self-esteem led Karl to react in an impulsive and angry manner. 

♦ #2 Inappropriate Goal-Setting
Second, we will discuss inappropriate goal-setting.  One of the most common ways clients increase self-esteem is through setting goals and accomplishing them.  Do you agree?  When an Anger Management client does not reach a goal, he or she not only suffers from a loss of self-esteem, but also a reaffirmation of their own low self-worth. 

As you know, many Anger Management clients view themselves as evil or not worthy.  Whenever an event leads to lower self-esteem, this fulfills the client’s own view of him or herself.  Coupled with a goal that would otherwise seem trivial, an incident on the road could escalate into an altercation.  Alice, a 22 year old Anger Management client of mine, had prided herself on being punctual.  When she arrived early, she felt elated and would brag to her friends about her ability to be on time. 

However, when she was prevented from this, Alice gave into her impulsivity.  One day, another female driver she happened to be following would not turn right on any red lights. Unfortunately, Alice’s path matched that of the other driver. On three occasions, the other driver neglected to turn right on red, slowing Alice’s progress. On the fourth incident, Alice was approximately five minutes behind schedule and becoming furious. She got out of the car and stalked to the other car’s driver side window. Alice began to bang on the window and shout obscenities at the driver, who was an elderly woman. 

After Alice got to her destination, not only did she feel upset about being late but also felt guilty about yelling at a defenseless old woman.  Alice stated, "She probably couldn’t really see that well, or her reflexes weren’t what they used to be. She was probably just trying to keep herself safe. God, now I’m the crazy bitch who yells at grandmas. I’m such a horrible person." As you can see, Alice’s goals had caused her to react in an impulsive manner, but her overreaction only affirmed her already-held beliefs. 

♦ Technique:  Driver Stress Test
To help Alice control her rage, I asked her to try the "Driver Stress Test."  I gave Alice a list of scenarios that commonly incite road rage.  I asked her to rate the level of anger she felt when these occurred from 0-10.  Zero, being completely peaceful, content, and calm and ten being as angry as one could get and ready to kill.  The list of scenarios we divided into Five Categories:
1. "drivers who put me at high risk"
2. "drivers who put me at some risk"
3. "incidents that slow me down"
4. "people who intentionally annoy me"
5. "people I observe putting other people at risk"

Those incidences that Alice rated a seven or higher included the following:
            Traffic jams
            Cars in the left lane that won’t yield
            Drivers who won’t turn right on a red light
            Drivers making inappropriate sudden stops
            Drivers making turns and lane changes without signaling

As you can see, several of these scenarios are ones that prevent Alice from reaching her goal.  A few weeks later, Alice stated, "Now that I know what pisses me off, I can stop myself before getting out of control.  I just tell myself to let it go.  I’m still annoyed and will sometimes cuss under my breath, but I don’t nearly have that surge of rage I used to have." 

As you can see, being mindful of her anger and those events that spark it gave Alice a new control over her impulsivity. Think of your Anger Management client with road rage. Could he or she benefit from the Driver Stress Test? In the next section, we will more thoroughly discuss stress and creating an "Anger Management Driver Stress Profile."

♦ #3 Replacing the Source of Self-Esteem
In addition to anger and goal-setting, a third aspect of self-esteem on the road is replacing the source of self-esteem. Instead of raising self-esteem through competition, I find that many Anger Management clients find new self-esteem through driving graciously. Instead of aggressively taking over the road, I asked them to be more gracious. To do this, I asked them to allow others to pass them on the road, to let other drivers in ahead of them, and to think of the other drivers as human beings and not just a competition

Alice stated, "It was hard for me at first.  I was so used to just jumping into the conclusion that the other driver was there to compete with me and didn’t want me to succeed in my goal. After a while, though, I decided to think of myself as a nicer person and began to let people in while driving in the parking lots and during traffic jams. I found out that I felt much better about myself for being the more gracious driver." As you can see, by replacing the source of Alice’s self-esteem, she could give up her competitive driving style.

In this section, we discussed the role of self-esteem in Anger Management clients and road rage:  anger; inappropriate goal-setting; and replacing the source of self-esteem.

In the next section, we will examine how to create a Larson Driving Stress Profile for Anger Management clients who experience road rage.  Also, I will present a technique for driving less stressfully entitled "An Enjoyable Driving Experience."

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Braly, A. M., Parent, M. C., & DeLucia, P. R. (2018). Do threats to masculinity result in more aggressive driving behavior? Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 19(4), 540–546.

Brewster, S. E., Elliott, M. A., McCartan, R., McGregor, B., & Kelly, S. W. (2016). Conditional or unconditional? The effects of implementation intentions on driver behavior. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 22(1), 124–133.

Liu, C., Moore, G. A., Beekman, C., Pérez-Edgar, K. E., Leve, L. D., Shaw, D. S., Ganiban, J. M., Natsuaki, M. N., Reiss, D., & Neiderhiser, J. M. (2018). Developmental patterns of anger from infancy to middle childhood predict problem behaviors at age 8. Developmental Psychology, 54(11), 2090–2100.

Massa, A. A., Eckhardt, C. I., Sprunger, J. G., Parrott, D. J., & Subramani, O. S. (2019). Trauma cognitions and partner aggression: Anger, hostility, and rumination as intervening mechanisms. Psychology of Violence, 9(4), 392–399.

Milyavskaya, M., Berkman, E. T., & De Ridder, D. T. D. (2019). The many faces of self-control: Tacit assumptions and recommendations to deal with them. Motivation Science, 5(1), 79–85.

Sundström, A. (2011). Using the rating scale model to examine the psychometric properties of the Self-Efficacy Scale for Driver Competence.European Journal of Psychological Assessment, 27(3), 164–170.

Wickens, C. M., Wiesenthal, D. L., Flora, D. B., & Flett, G. L. (2011). Understanding driver anger and aggression: Attributional theory in the driving environment. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 17(4), 354–370. 

What are three aspects to treating an Anger Management client’s self-esteem?
To select and enter your answer go to Test.

Section 4
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