May 03

When blood pressure rises, neck veins swell – and the rational mind is suspended. Aggression ‘beams’ us back to an early stage of our development … but once the adrenaline rush is gone, we often feel repentance over the damage we’ve done in our rush of emotions (be verbally or physically).

There are basically two categories of aggression: Affective Aggression (revenge, hostility, the tendency toward impulsive and uncontrolled behavior) and Instrumental Aggression (hunting, goal-oriented, deliberate behavior,). Empirical studies show that most people who have a tendency to Affective Aggression also have a lower IQ than those who do not.

Aggression is not synonymous for violence – but it can trigger violence. And there are cultural differences in the ways aggression is expressed. Studies have shown that people from the Southern states of America turn to physical violence more often than those in the Northern states than the Japanese, which prefer verbal conflict resolution. The same applies to people living in Northern and Southern countries of Europe. The murder rate is higher in these regions as well, and there is also a link between the tendency to violence and socialization. People who grow up in families with a high potential for aggression (verbal, mental or physical abuse experiences), adjust their behavior accordingly and have a tendency to outbursts of aggression later in their lives as well.

The same applies for the social acceptance of violence, such as violence against specific ethnic groups: a dynamic that is probably responsible for the never-ending spiral of violence in the Middle East. Many people also react aggressively when they feel they are not understood or taken seriously, or when they can’t achieve their goals and hopes. From a psychological perspective, this is mostly rooted in low self-esteem.

Many relationships are burdened by inappropriate expressions of aggression. Studies show that men are more likely to express aggression physically and directly, while women do it more verbally and indirectly. Relationship criseses often lead to escalating patterns – starting with a verbal exchange of blows, and at some point one partner loses control of himself/herself and injures the other one either physically or psychologically. The more regularly such processes occur, the more difficult it may be to resolve the conflict patterns in couples therapy, which again proves that the earlier professional help is sought, the more promising the results!

(This short article is part of a weekly series dealing with psychological expat problems and general mental health issues and was published in various newspapers and magazines in Thailand, 2011; Image

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