Anger, Violence and Keying Cars

Dr. Rob,

My girlfriend gets angry. When is her anger inappropriate?

-Anonymous


Anonymous is certainly brief and to the point, which I like. That being said, a bit more information would have been useful for this question, such as how often she gets angry, what she does when she gets angry, what are the triggers for her anger and so forth. Since we don’t have much to go on here, let’s discuss inappropriate anger in general. I think we all can agree that, for example, drop-kicking a poodle across the street because you lost $5 when your college football team didn’t cover the spread would be “inappropriate,” so let’s consider a more subtle example:

Dr. Steve drives a very expensive car. A Lexus or BMW I think. He parks it across two spaces so that it doesn’t get scratched by other cars, despite the fact that parking is somewhat limited at the office suite. I myself have many times needed to park across the street at a fish market, traverse on foot across a four-lane highway that is packed with fast cars and, coincidentally, angry drivers, only to see Dr. Steve’s vanity license plate “P$ych” staring at me. Smugly.

One day Dave, a long-term client of mine, and I arrived at the office simultaneously. We each needed to park at the fish market and run across the street together. This could be an awkward situation for some therapists (read: Dr. Pete), but I’ve gotten comfortable over the years with making idle chit-chat with clients outside of the therapy room. When we reached Dr. Steve’s car, he said “Who’s the asshole who keeps parking across two spots?”

“It’s someone in my office.”

“I thought as much with the license plate and all.”

As we began the session, it was obvious Dave was having trouble concentrating on our usual work. “You know,” he said, “that’s just wrong.”

“What is?”

“Dr. Dickhead parking his car like that. Who the hell does he think he is?”

He thinks he’s someone better than you or me because he’s rich. “This really bothers you, huh?”

“Yeah, it really does. It’s like…like…he doesn’t care about other people.” Normally a very calm man – too calm in fact, as most of our work was on assertiveness training – Dave started to get red in the face. “Why do people do that? Common courtesy says not to do that!”

“It does, but not everyone is courteous. That’s just an unfortunate fact of life.”

“I’m just…man…people suck. Why can’t they just…man, this is gonna screw up my whole day!”

I was really taken aback by this anger. “It’s interesting you say that, and I agree with you that his actions are not very pro-social. But I’m curious as to why his rudeness and sense of entitlement would dictate your mood for an entire day.”

“Because he’s wrong!”

“Yes, of course he’s wrong. But it’s as almost as if you’re saying that people must never be wrong, that if people are inconsiderate or rude or even flat-out evil then you can’t enjoy life. That seems like a hard way to live.”

“You know what? I’m going to key that fucker.”

“You’re going to key Dr. Steve?” As much as I dislike Dr. Steve, I wouldn’t want him permanently scarred or anything. A massive kick to the testicles wouldn’t be so bad, but not the dude’s face.

“No, I’m going to key his car.”

Therapist Rule: when a client is an imminent danger to himself or someone else, authorities must be notified. When a car is in danger, however…well, I don’t know who to tell, if anyone.

Dave and I went back and forth for awhile on this whole keying concept, ultimately with him agreeing to suspend his new parking rules for at least one week. That gave me enough time to speak with Dr. Steve. I found him between clients, caressing a stack of patient invoices the way a James Bond villain would stroke his evil cat.

“Steve, I think you should move your car starting next week.”

“Why?”

“I just think you should. Trust me on this.”

“That’s ridiculous. It’s my car and I do with it what I please.”

“Steve, you’re not getting it. Someone complained about you taking up two spaces.”

“Complained? Well I hope that you explained to this philistine that a vehicle of such magnitude needs to be taken extra special care of.”

“Are you insane? I’m not going to defend you on that. I agree with the guy. It’s annoying to see your car like that, and my car smells like halibut all the time now.”

“Well you and this person are going to have to adjust then, aren’t you?”

“Steve! Someone is going to key your car if you do that again!” I shouted.

“My…good Lord. Really?”

“Yes, so please start parking like everyone else from now on if you don’t want to have to get a new paint job.”

Sure enough, the next day the Steve Mobile was in a single spot and has remained that way to this day.
Dave was of course pleased.

“You said something to him, didn’t you?”

“Yes. I felt like Dr. Steve needed a chance to make amends.”

“That’s good. I don’t think I would have done it anyway. What you said makes sense and the truth is that if I had gone through with it, I wouldn’t be any better than he is. Maybe worse in some ways.”

“That’s good insight, Dave.”

“If you keep up good work like this, maybe you’ll be successful someday like your buddy Steve!” he laughed.

The lesson here is that anger has a purpose. Anger is a potential signal to assert yourself and protect your rights. If we didn’t experience anger we might simply get stepped on by anyone who wanted to take advantage of us. That being said, most mental health professionals would say that anger becomes “inappropriate” when it impairs your quality of life and/or leads you to engage in extreme behaviors that are damaging to yourself or others (or others’ cars). I couldn’t have cared less if someone had keyed Dr. Steve’s car, but I didn’t want it to be Dave doing it. Dr. Steve would probably just raise his fees to pay for the new paint job, because I’m sure the cost wasn’t coming out of his own pocket. And if anyone has tips for getting the smell of fish out of your car, I’d like to hear those.

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24 Responses to “Anger, Violence and Keying Cars”

  1. Anonymous says:

    How do define success Dr. Rob?
    Because the dictionary says: to attain a desired object or end
    I know your Mom & and client doesn’t seem to think so… but haven’t you acheived this already?
    BTW, sprinkle coffee grinds under the seats of your car! A charcoal brick will absorb odor too!
    Dr. Rob Note: I think the client here is referring to Dr. Steve’s “success” in a joking way (i.e., he’s rich and sees himself as great, yet is totally clueless to how others see him), not directly to me. And by the dictionary’s definition, then yes, absolutely. Getting to do that job is success enough.

  2. Charles says:

    I really don’t think I’m surprised at all that Dr. Steve would double park, that bastard.
    Try the old trick of a dryer sheet under your driver seat. Just make sure it is a sheet you like the smell of.

  3. Wayland says:

    I had a dream last night in which my friend David had killed himself. I cried in the dream and almost wake up to cry too. It sucked. My friend used to smoke in his vehicle and he had this spray stuff that he got at gas stations or convenient stores. Other than that I’m no help on this subject. Funny article. You’ve got to be the best psychologist for some people man : )

  4. Jeannine says:

    Febreeze always seems to work when I’ve used it before. But, you need to air your car afterward, so there’s a trade-off.

  5. rien says:

    If you have or can rent a steam-cleaner, squeeze a few lemons’ worth of juice into the water (just make sure you clean it out with soap before returning it!). The chemicals that produce “lemon” scent and “fish” scent will react and neutralize one another. The charcoal brick should also help. Good luck!

  6. Colin says:

    Poodles are exceptionally loud and annoying. Appropriate.

  7. Brian says:

    Why didn’t you confront Steve before this incident. If your reason is, “well if I just complained he would have blown me off.” Then maybe you should have fabricated a lie similar to this true story.
    I’m more confused by your behavior.

  8. Dan says:

    If the smell of fish is in the interior of the car, I’d try Febreeze first. Not too expensive and it generally works on everything.
    If it’s on the exterior, just get the car washed. I have no idea how often you look under the hood, but there may just be a dead fish underneath the hood of the car.

  9. Scootah says:

    I would boil down some whole, unpeeled shrimp to stock, and then use a hypodermic needle to inject a liberal quantity of the boiled down stock into the door seals of Steve’s car.
    Nothing will kill the smell of Halibut in your car, like the faint wafting odour of hell and damnation coming from Steve’s car.

  10. Tina says:

    A few years ago, before marriage and kids and becoming a responsible adult, I had a Jeep Wrangler. My Jeep had large metal, tubular “running boards” on the side. Because of the height of the Jeep and the running boards, I was essentially immune to the “door dings” aquired when someone parks too close and bashes their door into your car.
    Tell Dr I’m Too Good To Park Like A Normal Human that I used to take great joy in finding some self-centered….person taking up more than his fair share of spaces. Because of the size of the Jeep I could usually fit into what was left of one of the spots and I did it as often as possible. Heck, it wasn’t my door that was going to get “dinged” when they tried to get in their car.
    Passive-Aggressive, I know, but I just couldn’t resist.

  11. Captain Canada says:

    Back when I was in high school and had to sneak smokes in my car, I found that a third of a Subway sandwich left in the car can cover up damn near anything. Although it always got me hungry when I had to go somewhere….

  12. rien says:

    Well hell, if you’re just going for cover-up, you might as well leave a latte in the cup holder for a few weeks 😛

  13. Jenna says:

    Sometimes when I see people parked like that I park right next to them in the half spot (i have a skinny, shitty car) and open my door real hard.

  14. Gumby'sPokey says:

    I keyed a car once. Some bloated ape in a jeep nearly ran me and this other woman over. Laughs getting out of the car, him and a buddy — both huge testosterone-pumped beasts.
    I waited until they went in a store and then I keyed the door forEVER. A good long scee-ratch. And I’m still just kooky happy when I think about it. Bet when they saw that scratch they remembered the two women they almost killed.
    Now: would that be inappropriate, I wonder? Why shouldn’t they pay a little fine (as it were) for nearly flattening me? Certainly no one else was going to address this otherwise unwitnessed injustice.

  15. Kacper A says:

    Interesting. Coming from a town of 15 000, and there wasn’t a terrible shortage of space in parking, I had a friend who literally took up as many spaces as possible as a recreational activity. I think his record was 6, two being handicap parking spots (he parked his car perpendicular to the standard stall position).
    He wasn’t ignorant of the ramifications of taking up handicap spots, or to the fact that he would get ticketed or keyed or otherwise damaged. It was just his thing, I guess. You find strange people in small towns.

  16. […] at length on the curtains in the office or complaining about the poor parking situation at Dr. Steve’s office suite (which, for the record, is completely understandable as the parking is horrendous there), these […]

  17. […] of the yelling it crossed my mind that all four of them out there had anger management problems. As discussed, anger has a purpose. It’s an alarm, a potential sign to assert yourself and protect your […]

  18. Santos Wilkins says:

    I’ve been looking through your blog. You have some interesting posts on here, especially this one – I really liked it…nice post. Consider yourself bookmarked

  19. […] ad infinitum on this site, I generally do not befriend other mental health professionals. Between Steve’s narcissism and John’s incessant April Fool’s Day phone calls, I simply don’t need any more […]

  20. […] she said. Not knowing what ‘contumelious’ meant I had no counterargument. And Dr. Steve? I’m just glad he doesn’t use the internet much, otherwise there would probably be hell […]

  21. […] week, I was sitting in Dr. Steve’s office while he was at lunch, wondering how someone with so much money could have such disgusting, tacky […]

  22. Tippy says:

    Fish smell?

    I once left a container of catfish stink bait in the trunk of my black car( this was before the whale dream, when I still fished) during the Texas summer.

    Had to get rid of the car.

    I can’t believe Dr. Steve has vanity plates that read “P$ych”.
    That’s disgusting. If I were his patient/client and I saw those plates, I would discontinue my relationship with him.

    I’m surprised some clients haven’t done so. Doesn’t sound like he hides his car, or anything..

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