Getting in Fights with Strangers

Two strangers  having a fightI saw a video on Facebook. Two drivers, apparently contesting a parking space, were ramming each other’s cars. They were using their vehicles like bumper cars at an amusement park. But there was nothing amusing about the video.

Below the video, people had left thousands of comments.  Many decried the stupidity of the combatants. I don’t think low intelligence had anything to do with it. I saw rage.

And I’ve been there.

I’ve never rammed someone else’s car with my own, but I have felt like it. Wanted to do it. Fantasized about it.

It Takes Two

Scenes like the one caught on video, in which so much physical damage is done, aren’t commonplace. But that’s not because the impulse is rare.

Usually at least one participant manages to grab hold of their last scrap of rational thinking and hold on tight.

Either that, or fear gets in the way. Fear of immediate harm or later punishment.

Statistics don’t favor both opponents letting go of reason and caution at the same time. One normally ends the madness by restraining their behavior.

Even When You Win…

I’m ashamed to say I’ve been involved in unfriendly disputes with strangers before. No matter what the outcome, I always feel like a loser afterwards.

When I let a stranger’s poor behavior influence my own, I lose my sense of being an okay person. For the rest of the day, I’m stuck on a skewer of shame for having participated in something ugly.

Whether you win or lose a rage-fueled contest with a stranger, you lose.

That’s why I feel sorry for the women (both drivers turned out to be women) in the video. They both drove away in cars that were wrecked. But I suspect the damage went deeper than that.

Road Rage

The real culprit in this story is rage.

Rage takes no prisoners. It tries to destroy everything and everyone, including the rager.

I think rage comes from two places:

  1. Chronically suppressed anger


  1. Childhood emotional injuries that have become triggers.

In my case, I have a trigger. My anger tends to take over when others “assert themselves at my expense.”

I put quotes around that because those words have burned themselves into my psyche, I’ve repeated them to myself so many times trying to figure out my reaction.

There’s something about someone asserting themselves at my expense that takes my anger from zero to sixty in no time flat.

I suspect it has something to do with having had an older sibling who took my toys. It’s that basic.

Emotional Reactivity

When we suffer injustice early in life, a pattern of emotional reactivity can be established in our brains.

Overcoming irrational impulses fired by that trigger takes time and effort, yes. But mostly it takes awareness.

If I physically attack someone because they’re being an a-hole to me, that person is NOT the problem.

The real problem is that I can’t handle myself around people who are acting like a-holes.

Rage steps in, urging me to pillage and burn instead of taking a step back.

I don’t know the stories of those two aggressive drivers on the video. But I know it was rage that made them do what they did.

And I can imagine how they felt afterwards.

The words, “There but for the grace of God go I” come to mind.

9 thoughts on “Getting in Fights with Strangers”

  1. I’ve had this problem, too. And in my case, I attribute it to both #1 and #2. I have two older siblings; a brother who is 3 years older and a sister who is 8 years older. I don’t think they took my things so much in jealousy, but more rather to enjoy being mean. Often my brother would destroy something if he got his hands on it, so there was no getting it returned, either. Nor would it even get replaced. I started “sharing” my sister’s bedroom when she was 8 years old, and I was made well aware that it was her room, not mine. If my sister decided that I was done with one of my toys, or even my clothes, then they would disappear, no questions asked.

    As well, my mother’s way of dealing with it was to tell me to stop crying. If I didn’t I was either sent to my room, outside in the back yard which was fenced in, (in the 60’s, that wasn’t much of a concern to be left alone that way as far as kid-napping goes) or to make stand in the corner until I stopped crying. Which, by then, often took a long time since I was in a full-on bawling fit by then. I was such a “cry-baby”! My father was in his own world, doing his own thing most of the time. So I had no protection from all of that, either.

    Fast-forward to today, I have not surprisingly not only had a tumultuous adulthood but also I am an easy target for those who like to blame others for the things they themselves do. As it turns out, there are a lot of those on this planet! I am not ashamed of my fights and outbursts and “instinctive” reactions. Except, perhaps, immediately after they happen. But I believe that immediate feeling is due to being shamed in the past, not because I have just done something shameful. So in effect, the past is still haunting and controlling my ill-fated life. I don’t say that, feeling sorry for myself or as an attempt to blame them and allow myself to live a perpetual victim, but as making the connection necessary for being capable of becoming aware of the source of those feelings of shame, rage, and fear.

    I don’t believe these people are “asserting themselves at our expense”, but I do believe that what they are taking is not just our possessions, but our power to assert our own selves to keep that from happening. In other words, our own personal power is being pirated. They are not asserting themselves, but they are taking a very part of our own selves from us. And I think when that happens, it is human nature to turn and take someone else’s power from them to replace what was lost to us. Round and round it goes, until over generations, kids are shooting other kids at school and burning buildings down. I don’t know if this is true for everybody, but in my family, those who have treated me this way have also gotten themselves a huge ego in denial and think in general that they know what the world is like and how to function in it. When in reality, their “you’ve got to lie to get by” philosophy keeps tearing down people, families, and society in general.

    That is my theory, anyway. Not that I think we would do that knowingly, but I think collectively we are all contributing to that effect. I think it is far time for us to all learn to stop; not out of blame and shame, but out of taking each one of us our own responsibility for our own adult selves and creating a social living environment that will foster a safe place to raise our children and a safe place for future generations to do the same.

    • Thank you for that incredibly thoughtful comment, Snowburst. It’s good to hear your perspective.

      Just the fact that you’re commenting about this is a welcome reminder that, regardless of the cause or details that go into this experience, I’m not alone in having it.

      Thanks again for taking the time to convey your thoughts so eloquently.

  2. Hi! I Know this entry is a few years old but I found this after getting into a verbal tiff with a stranger and found myself feeling really awful And distracted about it. He was probably technically in the right but he said things in a very rude, condescending way which triggered me to abandon looking at things from his perspective in a logical way and just hold my ground. And I was wondering why, because I’m normally really nice And reasonable. If he had made his request nicely I very likely would have agreed with a smile but the tone filled me with rage. Your piece helped me understand more about what it is that triggers me and it’s def the sense of someone asserting themselves at my expense. I was bullied a lot as a kid and in early adulthood was super passive and only in my thirties found my voice and confidence but as a result am quite sensitive to feeling like others are asserting themselves at my expense. Would love to read more about how one handles situations like these constructively without becoming our lesser selves.

    • Thank you for leaving a comment, Wendy. Let’s hope never to be part of a bad scene with a stranger ever again in our lives. The feeling is just so awful afterwards.
      I think to ensure our own good behavior, we need to have something at the ready, some mantra or protocol for when we feel incited to respond to rudeness with rudeness.
      If you have a business and you’re very customer-oriented, it might help to view that person as a customer. This is my go-to these days.
      Thanks again for your comment.

  3. I got into an argument a few days ago with two women who blocked me from getting in my driveway and I’m still angry about it now! It’s not that they blocked me but their attitude about it. Either way, it’s done now and I’ll likely not see them again but I’m still very annoyed and keep replaying the scene over and over. And then I go calm and randomly it’ll pop back into my head to enrage me once more. It’s ridiculous.
    The verbal part barely lasted 30 seconds but still, days later I’m upset.

    I think your right about the repressed anger but I think for me it’s also to do with being right and it not being accepted? I can’t really explain.

    Those two women were clearly in the wrong and the fact they gave me attitude about it and then had the audacity to say I had an attitude is what’s really getting in my nerves. It almost feels like I was disrespected outside my own home, about my own property. Like they felt they were entitled to be on it I must wait for them and then treated me in said manner.
    Yes, I definitely think it’s the lack of respect aspect for me. Anytime I feel disrespected, I absolutely blow-up. I hate it. I’m usually calm but then can “be made” to be horrible. Yes these people have aggravated me but I should know if, when and how to respond.

    I honestly couldn’t say where this stems from but I’m recognising it.

    Thanks for this great article, very eye-opening.

  4. I found this from a quick google search… a very interesting read.
    I would ask – how do we try to do deal with our emotions in such scenarios? (or control ourselves).

    I was triggered for a similar reason to Firecracker, I think my triggers were a number of things, the woman was telling me what to do, refusing to listen (when she was in the wrong), and arguing with my family (and for me family is the biggest trigger).
    I’d like to learn how to deal with the emotions or control them as I’ve realised my family trigger a lot of these reactions in me and I end up having to stick up for them even if I think they are wrong.

    • I practice mindfulness regularly, so that I can notice my own reactions soon enough to make a choice about my behavior. I’ve also got a couple of personal mantras that I recite in my head at the first sign of trouble. Your mantra or mantras (no more than 2, I would say) might be something about how people can be wrong and also lovable. Or something. Good luck. This is not easy!


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