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  • We all act aggressively from time to time—say while sitting in traffic or in the midst of an argument—but some are more aggressive than others.
  • There are several reasons we engage in aggressive behavior, which also help to explain why some people display aggression more often.
  • These causes include instinct, hormonal imbalance, genetics, temperament, nurture, and stress.
  • If there are excessively aggressive people in your life, like a loved one or coworker, you can learn to cope or deal with their behavior effectively.
  • First, try keeping your cool, empathizing, and expressing your concern—these actions should help you to navigate the interaction and make it more pleasant.
  • If these strategies don’t prove effective, consider distancing yourself from the overly aggressive person; your wellbeing should be your priority.

Aggression is hostile or violent behavior. It’s a woman yelling at her son for spilling his milk on the carpet. It’s a child pushing his friend down on the playground because she was playing with his favorite toy. It’s a girl snapping at her boyfriend because he didn’t invite her out with the guys.

As you can see (and probably know from personal experience), aggression can take many forms. We all act aggressively at some point or another in our lives, whether it’s yelling at the black Sudan that cut us off or getting into it with family or friends. But some are more aggressive than others—quick to react or engage in hostile behavior. Which begs an important question: why?\

What Causes Aggression? 6 Origins

Sure, traffic can spur aggression, as can a disagreement with a coworker. But what’s the psychology behind this behavior? There are actually a few reasons we become aggressive, which also help to explain why some people are more aggressive than others:

1. Instinct: Aggression is one of our many survival instincts. According to Sigmund Freud, aggression continuously builds up until it releases as aggressive behavior, at some point or another. Some individuals can suppress this aggression and use other survival instincts instead, but others simply react and release.

2. Hormonal imbalance: A hormonal imbalance in an individual can certainly contribute to aggressive behavior. For example, high levels of testosterone contribute to high levels of aggression. This explains why males are characteristically more aggressive than females.

3. Genetics: Aggression can also be passed down genetically. Children are at a greater risk of adapting aggressive tendencies if they have a biological background for it. Time and time again, father and son both display aggressive behavior.

4. Physiological illness and temperament: Serious illness can have a major effect on an individual’s mood and behavior, as the stress and other mental effects may bring about greater aggression. Additionally, one’s temperament can play a role in aggression. People with bad tempers typically become aggressive more quickly than calmer individuals.

5. Social learning: Aggression can be learned. Some become more aggressive due to personal experiences or observational learning. For example, children are always looking for cues on how to act, as illustrated by the Bobo doll experiment. They learn to act aggressively when they watch someone else commit violent acts like in movies or video games.

6. Psychological frustrations: It’s human nature to become frustrated when life just doesn’t seem to be going so well. This frustration may involve work or love, for example, and can lead to an all-around feeling of negativity. This negativity then represents a threat, which can lead to aggression.

How to Cope with an Aggressive Individual

Dealing with someone who constantly lashes out in hostile or violent behavior is tough—especially when it’s someone you’re close to like your boyfriend or mother, or someone you can’t get away from, like a coworker. In any case, the following can help you deal with the aggressive people in your life more effectively:

  • Keep your cool. The last thing that will alleviate this situation is another aggressive individual. Maintain your composure and use your better judgment to handle the situation. Aggressive people often seek to intimidate and upset others. You have to ensure this doesn’t happen and instead of reacting with rage like they want you to, take a moment to count to ten and think of a better way to deal with the situation at hand.
  • Put yourself in their shoes. Even if the aggression seems unwarranted, take a moment to imagine yourself in their position. Maybe they grew up in an overly aggressive household. Or, maybe they have a lot on their plate and they’re reacting to the stress with aggression. This will help calm your own negative feelings down and empathize with the individual. Then, maybe you can turn the aggressive attack into a productive conversation.
  • Express your concern. Maybe there isn’t an obvious, underlying cause of the individual’s aggression. Once you’ve taken a step away and you’re both calm, express your concern for them. They may not realize the severity of their aggression or its effect on those around them. It could take someone like you bringing it to light for them to make that realization and make a change.
  • Distance yourself. Sometimes, these aggressive individuals are just not worth it and don’t deserve a place in your life. You have to prioritize your wellbeing and if that means cutting them out of your lives, then so be it. And if cutting them completely out of your life isn’t very realistic (think, an aggressive aunt or uncle that’s at every family reunion or your coworker who doesn’t look to be going anywhere anytime soon), then just distance yourself as best you can. Avoid them.

Ultimately, you have to decide if it’s worth dealing with the aggressive individual. If you decide that it’s not, kick them to the curb and distance yourself from them. But if you decide that this individual is worth it and could maybe use your help, do your best to sympathize with them and determine the underlying cause of the aggression. This will help you both moving forward.

Taylor Bennett

Taylor Bennett

Taylor Bennett is a staff writer at Thriveworks. She devotes herself to distributing important information about mental health and wellbeing, writing mental health news and self-improvement tips daily. Taylor received her bachelor’s degree in multimedia journalism, with minors in professional writing and leadership from Virginia Tech. She is a co-author of Leaving Depression Behind: An Interactive, Choose Your Path Book and has published content on Thought Catalog, Odyssey, and The Traveling Parent.

Check out “Leaving Depression Behind: An Interactive, Choose Your Path Book” written by AJ Centore and Taylor Bennett."

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