Have you ever gotten so angry that you felt like throwing things? Did you ever punch a wall? Scream at the person you’re angry with? Slam doors? Spread harmful gossip? Feeling angry is one of many emotions people experience, so there is nothing inherently wrong with feeling angry. Yet, the expression of this anger can sometimes lead to aggression. When that happens, either the person who is being aggressive or the other person or people involved can be harmed. Sometimes both parties are harmed.
If you or someone you know might be experiencing aggression – either being the aggressor or the recipient of aggression, read on to learn more about how this type of behavior can be managed and what to do when you’re on the receiving end of it.
What is Aggression?
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), aggression is defined as “behavior aimed at harming others physically or psychologically.” From this definition, one of the key factors of aggressive behavior is intent. Someone intends to do harm to someone else. This intent can be clouded by perception, for what one person views as aggression (intent to harm), another might perceive an absence of aggression.
For example, when a child pushes another child and that child falls and breaks their arm, was this aggressive behavior? One person might conclude that yes, this was aggressive behavior even if the child hadn’t broken their arm. The intent was to push to cause harm. Yet, another person might conclude that pushing is not really aggressive and the broken arm was an accident. The intent was not to break the arm but to give a little push. This difference of perception can also happen between countries’ governments. What one country considers an act of aggression, another will argue the opposite.
Are There Different Types of Aggression?
There is much information about aggressive behavior, including types of aggression. Some of these types are as follows:
- Affective Aggression: This type of aggression involves the emotions and can therefore be impulsive, involving little planning. The aggression isn’t carried out to achieve a certain goal, and the aggression can be misplaced. For example, a parent who’s angry with someone else will slap or yell at their child instead.
- Instrumental Aggression: Intent to harm that does involve planning and achieving a goal is instrumental aggression. Some examples of this are spreading harmful rumors about another person at school or work for a particular aim or causing physical harm to an opponent during a game with the goal of winning. Bullying and cyberbullying are other examples of this type of aggression.
- Hostile Aggression: Extreme physical harm that results from aggression is considered hostile aggression. For this type of aggression, there no clear goal outside of the desire to physically hurt or even kill someone. Road rage and bar fights are examples of hostile aggression.
No matter what type of aggression a person has or even a mix of aggressions, it’s important to learn how to manage this behavior. If a person is experiencing aggressive behavior (verbal or physical) from someone else, it’s also important to learn how to keep themselves safe. Before discussing options for managing and dealing with aggression, let’s first take a look at possible causes of aggression.
What Causes Aggression?
There is a genetic component to aggressive behavior when combined with other factors. For example, males have higher levels of testosterone and when combined with cultural pressures to act like a “man” (ex. acting tough and suppressing other emotions except anger), young males are raised to be aggressive. Another example of aggression stemming from genetics and the environment is when people are born with a specific intellectual disability – trisomy 21 (i.e., Down syndrome). When feeling frustrated, a person with this type of disability might respond with aggressiveness.
Other causes of aggression are intense pain a person is experiencing. Withdrawal from certain substances, which can lead to aggression when people try to obtain them, or even the ingestion of certain substances (ex. alcohol and LSD) can also be the primary factor for aggressive behavior. Some mental disorders such as PTSD, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia might cause aggression in people who have these disorders. Still, other factors can cause aggressive behavior like ongoing stressful situations (ex. poverty), intimate partner abuse, childhood and senior abuse and bullying.
How Do I Get Help?
If aggressive behavior is something you experience, finding its cause will determine what type of treatment you will receive. If you have a tendency to drink too much alcohol and find that this invariably results in aggressive behavior, then getting help to limit or even stop your alcohol consumption can keep you and others around you safe. If you have a mental disorder, then talking to your doctor is usually the first step in dealing with your aggressive behavior. Talk therapy can also go a long way in learning skills to manage your aggressive behavior. Whether from a notion of how a “man” is supposed to act or stress from family or economic factors, aggressive behavior can be addressed.
If someone you know is acting aggressively toward you, it’s important to learn how to stay safe. Therapy is an effective choice for talking to someone in private who will not judge you or your situation and give you the emotional space to explore options for dealing with aggressive behavior. A therapist will also teach you skills for how to handle this behavior now and how to eventually heal from having been treated this way.
Aggression can be dangerous – both for the person who is being aggressive and for those who are around that person. Yet, this sort of behavior can be managed in most cases. Depending on the root cause, either therapy or medication or both can help those who express aggressive behavior. Professional therapy or other types of support (ex. community support groups or trusted friends and family) can help people who are on the receiving end of aggressive behavior.
by Marie Miguel
Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health- related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with Mind-Diagnostics.org. With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.