Aggression is most broadly defined as a behavior or disposition that is hostile or attacking that may occur with or without provocation or in retaliation to someone else’s actions or words. Aggression may take a variety of forms and can be communicated verbally (such as by yelling at another person) or physically (such as engaging in physical violence). Aggression is distinct from assertiveness, although these terms are often used interchangeably. It is worth noting that aggression is not the same as conflict, which is what happens when two or more people have opposing views. Conflict is often resolved in different ways, such as through negotiation, persuasion, or taking turns. Aggressive behaviors may be involved in some conflicts, but not all conflicts will involve aggression.
Behaviors that can be considered aggressive include, but are not limited to, the following:
Aggression can also take on an indirect form. Indirect aggressive behaviors may also be categorized as relational aggression, as it can cause friction in a relationship between two (or more) individuals. Indirect aggressive behaviors can include:
- Spreading rumors
- Excluding others
- Destruction of objects
Causes for Aggression
The causes for aggression have long been a topic of debate among professionals in the field of mental and behavioral health. The frustration-aggression theory for aggression maintains that when people are frustrated and cannot reach their goals, they become angry and hostile and behave in an aggressive fashion. The social learning theory has received the most acceptance in today’s view of aggression and states that individuals learn to behave aggressively based upon the environment and may use it to achieve their goals. It is commonly accepted that the manner in which one responds to frustration likely depends on what has been learned from others.
Aggression in adults can be the result of many factors working together, or as a symptom of a mental illness. There are a number of mental illnesses that can lead to the manifestation of aggression in adults. The most common mental illnesses that can evoke aggressive behaviors include:
Antisocial personality disorder is a personality disorder that is characterized by a long-standing pattern of disregard for and abject violation of the rights of others. This may be caused by a decreased sense of morals or conscience, and a history of criminal behavior, legal problems, as well as impulsive and outwardly aggressive acts.
Bipolar disorder may cause individuals to act aggressively during a manic episode of this disorder. Additionally, while struggling with a depressive episode, individuals who have bipolar disorder may become highly irritable, which can lead to outbursts of aggression.
Borderline personality disorder can cause those who suffer from this illness to be prone to significant emotional instability, which can cause them to lash out at others both verbally and physically when angry.
Histrionic personality disorder is a personality disorder that is categorized by patterns of extreme emotions and attention-seeking behaviors. If the sought-after attention is not given, individuals who have this disorder may lash out to obtain the wanted attention.
Intermittent explosive disorder involves a pattern of impulsive, violent, aggressive, and angry outbursts that are distinctly out of proportion to the situation. Individuals who have this condition may attack others or their possessions, causing injury or property damage.
Schizoaffective disorder includes symptoms of schizophrenia (hallucinations and delusions) and symptoms that resemble bipolar disorder. During a psychotic episode, individuals who have schizoaffective disorder may become violent and aggressive as they respond to internal stimuli.
Schizophrenia symptoms do not include violence towards others or things, though occasionally psychotic episodes may cause an individual to respond to internal stimuli and act violently or aggressively toward others.
Substance use disorders may cause an individual to become aggressive while intoxicated or when going through withdrawal. Methamphetamine, PCP, and alcohol, for example, are all known to cause people to become aggressive when under the influence, which can elicit a number of harmful consequences for the individual and those around him or her.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause for dementia in senior adults. As this disorder directly affects the brain by systematically destroying the areas involved in emotional regulation, many adults who struggle with Alzheimer’s disease engage in aggressive, and sometimes violent behaviors, as the disease progresses.
Dementia is not a single syndrome, but rather a group of syndromes, that can trigger certain aggressive behaviors. Adults with dementia may lash out at caregivers and others in response to benign stimuli, while others may become violent out of fear or anxiety stemming from the confusion they are experiencing.
Treatment for Aggression
Depending on the severity of an individual’s aggression, as well as the possible cause of it, certain forms of care may be recommended. Inpatient treatment, for example, is an appropriate type of service for someone who may be at-risk of causing harm to him or herself or others. Within this level of care, a person is prevented from causing him or herself injury and is given the support and attention needed to learn to manage anger and other triggers for aggression. Various forms of therapy and certain medications may be recommended so that a person can both identify possible triggers for acting out in a violent or verbally hostile manner, and so that an individual can develop skills for controlling angry outbursts in the future.
If an important person in your life is demonstrating aggressive behaviors that elicit concern and could possibly jeopardize his or her ability to live a healthy and productive life, look no further than Riverview Behavioral Health for help. We are here to assist men and women in understanding the root causes of aggression and to offer them the care and attention they need to make positive changes in their lives.