Rages: When Shadow Puts the Pedal to the Metal
There is no manifestation in our modern lives of what Jungians call “the shadow” that is more dramatic or potentially more deadly than road rages. In its Wednesday July 9/08 edition, the Toronto Globe and Mail reported on a particularly tragic and deadly incident which occurred in the town of Milton, here in Halton Region.
Apparently, two vehicles raced each other on the James Snow Parkway in order to be first onto the access to the eastbound 401, a major highway in our area. After a struggle, one of the vehicles suceeded in getting ahead of the other, and it appears that the enraged driver then put on his brakes extremely hard. The other vehicle swerved to avoid rear-ending his car, and ended up crashing into the highway median and rolling three times, with a tragically fatal outcome. So a few moments of uncontrolled rage has led to the death of one man, and to terrible legal and personal consequences for the other.
I cannot be sure, but I would bet that, if we knew all the details, we would find that the two main players in this incident were decent, ordinary citizens. How did they end up here, with this incredibly sad outcome?
We go through our lives, and we see ourselves in a certain way, and we present ourselves in a certain way to others. As we develop and are socialized, first by the family, and then by the wider society, there are important aspects of the individual’s personality that become repressed, and that we no longer acknowledge. For all of us, this includes a whole range of emotions, feelings and thoughts that we learn first to keep to ourselves. Then, later, if they are unacceptable enough, they recede totally into the unconscious, and we are often unaware or perhaps only barely aware that they are even there.
The contents of the psyche that reside in the unconscious can be quite dangerous, because the ego — that’s the main conscious part of us — has no capacity to come to terms with these feelings, fantasies or thoughts as long as it remains unaware of them. Often, if these thoughts are enough at odds with the way the ego views the world, or with the conventional morality of the society around us, when these things start to surface, we feel revulsion or repellance, to the point where we are not prepared to look at them. But that doesn’t mean that they go away, or that they stop trying to influence our outlook and behaviour.
All it takes is a moment when our conscious awareness is low, or when the ego, for whatever reason — tiredness, strong emotion, alcohol, physical illness — slips into a state of lessened alertness or control. Then these unconscious forces can soon be released to influence our outer, conscious lives. Sometimes, the results of such an eruption can be truly disasterous.
If you find yourself subject to incidents of road rage, or other sudden, volatile or otherwise inexplicable feelings of anger or rage, it’s important for you the people you love and others in general that you take these feelings seriously, and do something about them. It’s easy to tell yourself that all that is needed is a deep breath and a little more effort at self-control. But there are definite limits to self-control when you are dealing with unconscious factors as some people tragically find out.
If you are struggling with this kind of issue, it is essential that you realize that this is not psychologically abnormal. It is also essential that you get the help of an appropriately trained and qualified therapist. Both you and your shadow are in the driver’s seat, and the two of you need to come to an understanding that keeps you and everyone else safe.