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Dealing with Aggression

Aggression is a complex subject, not least because what one person sees as an acceptable form of expressing anger or frustration may be seen by others as a violent act. 



What is aggression ?


Although aggression appears easy to recognise, defining it proves more difficult.  The difficulty appears to lie in distinguishing between acceptable aggressive behaviour which can occur when individuals are angry or frustrated, and violence, which involves the use of physical force and inflicts damage or injury to a person or property. 

Types of Aggressive Behaviour

Aggression can be distressing or harmful to the recipient. Types of behaviour that may be considered aggressive include the following:

  • Shouting
  • Swearing
  • Personal insults and name calling
  • Racial or sexual comments
  • Verbal threats
  • Posturing and threatening gestures
  • Abusive phone calls, letters, online messages
  • Other forms of harassment
  • Emotional abuse
  • Sarcasm

Theories of Aggression
The most influential theories of aggression can be broadly divided into the following:

  • Theories that see aggression as an instinct.
  • Theories that suggest frustration is an important factor in aggression.
  • Theories that suggest aggression is learned behaviour.

Aggression as an Instinct

There are a number of theories (e.g. the Psychoanalytic Approach, the Ethological Approach and the Biological Approach) which attempt to explain aggression by suggesting that aggressive behaviour occurs because each individual is born with an aggressive instinct. 

Such theories suggest that aggression is innate, i.e. inborn, and, therefore, unavoidable.  Outlets such as competitive sport and creative pursuits serve to reduce socially unacceptable aggressive behaviour.

 Frustration as a Factor in Aggression

The Frustration-Aggression theory proposes that aggression occurs as a result of frustration.


The inference is that if individuals are frustrated in achieving their aims, the most likely response is aggression.  Such individuals are motivated to be aggressive towards whoever or whatever is standing in their way.  While frustration often leads to feelings of aggression, critics of this theory have argued that it does not explain all the causes of aggression. 

Aggression as Learned Behaviour


The theory of aggression as a learned behaviour is called the Social Learning Approach. 


This theory argues that aggressive behaviour is not inborn, rather it is something that is learned, either through direct experience or through observation or imitation of others.  The more that an individual’s aggression is rewarded, perhaps by getting what is wanted or by parental approval, the more likely that person is to be aggressive in the future. 

Experiencing Aggression

In order to understand aggression in others, it is useful to consider your own feelings of aggression as this varies from person to person.  Reaching an awareness of your personal experiences will help you to monitor and control your reaction to aggression in others.
People are both physically and emotionally affected by aggression.  Emotions can alter their physical state, for example when feeling angry your muscles tighten, the heart beats faster and shaking can occur.



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