Aggression is defined as any behavior that is hostile, destructive, and possibly violent. This term refers to a wide variety of behaviors that can result in physical and psychological harm to oneself, others, or objects in the environment. Aggression can occur in a number of different ways including mentally, physically, or verbally. Additionally, aggression can be focused inward, which is when an individual will direct belligerent actions towards themselves, or it can also be externally focused.
Inward aggression can be the result of individuals wanting to punish themselves, as an attempt to not harm another individual, or as a release. This means that instead of letting all of the angry feelings build up inside, they will release their feelings through self-harm or other aggressive behaviors. Those that display inward aggressive behaviors should seek medical treatment as it is often the symptom of an underlying emotional disorder. External aggression, on the other hand, is when an individual directs the action toward another individual. This type of aggression can be the result of social pressure or as a reaction to previous abuse, but it differs from person to person.
Types of Aggression
Aggressive behaviors can be displayed in a number of different direct and indirect ways, some of which are listed below.
Direct aggressive behaviors that people can display may include the following:
Aggression can also take a more indirect approach or may be combined with physical aggression. Indirect aggression may include:
- Excluding others
- Willful destruction of objects or items
- Passive-aggressive behaviors
- Spreading rumors
Causes for Aggressive Behavior
The development of aggressive behaviors can be the result of many different factors, from genetic causes that have been inherited from parents to learned behaviors through a series of repeated experiences. Additionally, certain types of mental health disorders or reactions to medication can cause aggression to appear in individuals who would otherwise be calm. Some of the most common causes include:
Genetic: Research suggests that there may be a genetic link to aggressive outbursts. In a study conducted on mice, results showed that those mice who lacked a certain gene were far less aggressive than the mice that had that particular gene. This gene is also present in human beings, which seems to support the idea of a genetic link to aggression.
Environment: Some individuals are exposed to certain environmental influences, such as growing up in a violent home, in which they learn to act in an aggressive manner.
Medications: Certain types of medication have the ability to cause a person to act in an aggressive manner. For some individuals, prescriptions pills, or even some over-the-counter meds, can cause irritability, nervousness, or other aggression-causing feelings.
Mental health disorders: A number of different mental health illnesses can cause a person to experience inappropriate aggressive reactions. Psychiatric disorders that are associated with an elevated risk of aggressive behavior include:
- Conduct disorder
- Anti-social personality disorder
- Borderline personality disorder
- Bipolar disorder
- Substance abuse
- Intermittent explosive disorder
Effects of Aggressive Behavior
If not properly addressed and treated, aggression can lead to serious consequences in many different areas of an individual’s life. Complications that result from aggressive behaviors can include physical, psychological, and even legal ramifications. Some of the long-term effects can include the following:
- Having difficulty keeping a job
- Being suspended or expelled from school
- Social isolation
- Legal problems or incarceration
- Substance abuse or addiction
- Family problems
- Divorce or separation
- Multiple physical injuries
- Overall poor mental health state
- Difficulty trusting others
- Low self-esteem
- Suicidal ideation or acts
Treatment for Aggression
Treatment for aggression will be assessed on an individual basis since the reason for this type of behavior can be the result of many different factors. Before any treatment process can begin, an individual will need to complete a thorough assessment in order to determine his or her exact needs and the reasons behind the existence of the aggressive behavior.
There are a number of different options available for the treatment of aggressive behavior, which may include an inpatient or residential treatment program as both have been shown to be effective at identifying and treating the cause of this inappropriate behavior. Through one of these treatment programs, individuals will be able to receive psychotherapy methods such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, which focuses on teaching individuals to better understand and control their behaviors. Additionally, therapeutic methods provided in treatment programs will help those with aggressive behaviors learn coping mechanisms that will allow them to properly process thoughts and feelings associated with their behaviors, as well as how to properly assess the consequences. Other methods that may be used in treatment include group therapy, family therapy, medication management, and experiential programming.