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What Makes People Snap?

Sometimes it's road rage. In one case it was a customer at a fast food restaurant throwing a burger at a cashier when he discovered they'd forgotten to add the pickles. What triggers the proverbial "straw that breaks the camel's back?"

Why do adults throw tantrums over small provocations? Shouldn't we have learned from childhood that indulging in a fit of yelling, whether at a customer-service rep or a spouse, never helps? In fact, sometimes these actions hurt OURSELVES, since they alienate the people who are supposed to help us.

In the October 16th edition of the Wall Street Journal, Elizabeth Bernstein quotes social network CEO David Katz as saying, "The feelings that linger after an angry outburst usually make the person who exploded feel worse."

Researchers have compiled a list of unwritten laws of behavior, such as: We're not supposed to be rude or inconsiderate; we are supposed to be polite, fair, honest and caring. Don't cut in line. Drive safely. Clean up after yourself.

Bernstein quotes psychologist Mark Leary as saying, "We can't have successful interactions in relationships, mutually beneficial to both people involved, if one person violates these rules. And we can't have a beneficial society if we can't trust each other not to lie, not to be unethical, not to watch out for our general well-being."

We don't want to "snap," so how can we avoid it? One good method is to stop and THINK before we press that email "send" button. Experts advise people who are prone to outbursts to recognize the behavior, then learn to be "personal scientists," identify "triggers" and work on changing their response.

If you have too much road rage, leave for work earlier, so you'll be less rushed. Find a different route, even though it may take you longer to get there. Many companies now have "flex time" (or you can suggest it yourself), so that people can arrive and leave the office early and miss all that traffic. Practice anger management. Breathe and count to 10. Think of something pleasant.

Bernstein quotes psychologist Stephen C. Josephson as saying, "You can't avoid the noxious stimuli of life. You need to not respond to every provocation."

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We live in a world of 'reality' shows, and some of the more popular ones center around totally dysfunctional people. Many of these shows, presented as 'entertainment', include melt-downs, rudeness, and verbal abuse as if this is acceptable behavior. It must be acceptable behavior, because we are giving these people our attention in the form of TV ratings.

So, is 'art' imitating life, or is it the other way around?

Why do adults throw tantrums over small provocations?

They are not adults; they are just children who got larger. Psychologists say our self-representation "hardens" by about 3 or so and unless we undergo radical training, it stays more or less the same throughout life. Many people are carrying around frustration and stress they have never resolved, and the pain remains to get restimulated by events.

I have found it is next to impossible for my husband to experience road rage when we are playing Siriusly Sinatra on the satellite radio. Needless to say, I have invested in a long-term subscription. Music really does soothe the savage beast.

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