Aggression and Anger

Aggression: Aggression can be defined as any form of behaviour that is intended to injure someone physically or psychologically (Berkowitz: 1993).

Anger: Aggression has to do with behaviour that deliberately attempts to achieve another goal. Anger does not necessarily have a particular goal and refers only to a particular set of feelings.

 Causes of Aggression

All human behaviour is complex, there are no simple explanations. The views concerning the “causes” or nature of aggression are no exception. On the one hand, aggression is seen as innate “you are born that way”, on the other, it is seen as learned (comes from culture). These opposing theoretical perspectives have resulted in numerous theories as to the cause of aggression each useful to a point. However, when these theories on the causes of aggression are boiled down we are left with a number of pragmatic reasons why people threaten to injure themselves or others:

  • Fear. When people feel they are under attack or will lose something or someone of value to them they may respond with aggression.
  • Frustration. Pent up frustration may lead to destructive aggression against people or property.
  • Manipulation. In order to force others to give them something they want or to draw attention to themselves some individuals may become aggressive in a deliberate calculating way (e.g. appear to lose control in order to get their own way).
  • Intimidation. Some people may calmly threaten injury to persons or damage to property in order to gain what they want. This may include hostage taking behaviour.
  • Pain or Altered States. Aggression may also arise as a result of pain/illness, brain damage/dysfunction, psychiatric illness or drug abuse.

Sometimes knowledge of the aggressors’ past history, personality type and social class background may give clues as to which of the above reasons is precipitating the current situation. However such knowledge needs to be tempered by a close observation of the current context and behaviour of the individual.

Appropriate Intervention

This involves adopting strategies that fit the particular context. Knowing the reason for the aggression whether from fear, frustration, manipulation, intimidation, pain or impairment, can be helpful when determining the appropriate intervention in a particular situation.

In general there is a continuum between fear, frustration, manipulation and intimidation in terms of the amount of support and limit setting provided by the intervener. The balance of the support/limit setting in pain or impairment aggression will depend on each individual’s response (e.g. pain may cause someone to act in a fearful or a manipulative way).

For more information on how to deal with aggressive behaviours through appropriate intervention techniques please contact me.