Why do we fear aggression? We see it daily on social media, at work and home. Social media heavily influences how we respond to negative emotions, distorting our perception of love and commitment. Aggression comes from hurt and frustration. On the surface, it can appear as anger. Consequently, when the pressure accumulates, outbursts can happen. Heightened emotional distress often leads to less desirable choices of words and actions.
Our brain goes into a fight-or-flight response when we feel threatened. Like most mammals, we have built-in instincts to love, fight and defend. This instinct helped our forefathers navigate the rugged terrains to find food and shelter for the family. There are many misconceptions about aggression that prevents those that are vulnerable from getting the help they need.
Aggression – True or false statements.
1. Anger is aggressive behaviour.
False– Anger is an emotion; our bodily response typically includes raised heart rate, rapid breathing and sometimes tears. Anger can escalate into an aggressive outburst when continuously provoked.
2. Aggressive behaviour is hereditary.
Partially true– Aggression is our internal survival instinct. Modernisation has helped us refine our interaction abilities, lessening our aggressive tendencies. Aggression can be more visible in people that have gone through abuse in their childhood. It is a debate of nature vs nurture. Studies show (Avshalom Caspi et al. 2002) that some people can regulate their thoughts and emotions despite childhood maltreatment. Given the opportunity, they can heal and form better thoughts and feelings.
3. There is nothing wrong with microaggression. It is character-building.
False – It is an act of marginalising a person. The best example of microaggression is posting an opinion on social media about a person. Say a person witnessed a mum feeding her toddler soft drinks at a food court. You respond in the comment,” This is what happened when you are a young mum.” The post has a picture of the mum and her child.
Consequence may not be visible but the damage is done. Is it ethical to pass judgement based on a post? There is no consideration for the well-being of the person. Opinions on social medias can be harmful and not all posts can be moderated.
4. An aggressive person is also an abuser.
False – While aggression plays a part in an abusive environment, the driving force behind it is abusive behaviour. Abuse also comes from maltreatment in childhood. The survivors often end up with detrimental psychological effects that impact them even in adulthood. Prolonged exposure to abuse can affect how they perceive the world and develop cognitive aggression or unhealthy obsession. Abusive tendencies can include:
·Emotional blackmail and smearing
· Constant debilitating remarks to destroy one’s self-esteem.
5. Masculinity is a sign of aggression
False – Masculinity is another victim of social and cultural distortion. The traditional view of how men should be, stoic, risk taker, successful and sturdy, has put men in a terrible position in this modern society. The clashes below are some of the difficulties faced by men:
·No Sissy Stuff- Men should not be soft and emotional. Yet we need them to be in touch with their emotions but not so much that they might appear needy.
·Aim Big- Men should aim for high achievements, but too much of it can overshadow them as an overachiever. Yet men should be doing more house chores, but they must still be brilliant enough to be trophy husbands.
·Stiff Upper Lip- Men should be sturdy and robust, no quivering is allowed. Yet they are often accused of being emotionally unavailable.
All of the above are messages of toxic masculinity. We must drop these unachievable messages and allow them the opportunity to learn new experiences through love. Sometimes it is hard to achieve an intimate relationship because of persisting relationship issues. If things get tough, try talk therapy, such as counselling, to address immediate relationship issues.
Types of Aggression
Impulsive- Commonly known as reactive aggression, where negative emotions drive the actions.
Physical – Pushing, kicking, punching, slapping, and other physical violence. Common roughhousing does not constitute aggression unless a sinister motive is behind the accidental injuries.
Verbal – Shouting, swearing, mocking, throwing insults and hate speech. All spoken intentions are to cause pain and emotional distress.
Hostile – Stems from emotional reaction to hurt someone or their property.
Instrumental- Commonly known as cognitive aggression, using premeditated actions to cause harm to the person.
Relational – Bullying, spreading lies and rumours to others and online, gaslighting, manipulation and coercion to ruin a person’s reputation or relationships.
Passive-Aggressive – Stonewalling, sarcasm and silent treatment or redirecting blame, aiming at relaying indirect negative feelings to hurt the person.
Occasionally we have outbursts because we see, hear or feel things that make us explode or momentarily lose control. These are commonly known as triggers. Sometimes it is intentional, and other times it is unintentional. The source of stimuli can be any of the following:
·Experience painful emotions- Affairs, loss of loved ones, childhood mistreatments.
·Personal violation- To prevent someone from violating your rights.
·Ambition is an intense desire or intention to own, dominate or win, no matter the cost. Whether to find love, a career, a financial goal, or to purposely destroy a person’s reputation.
·Retribution- Breakups, betrayals or wanting revenge on the person who hurt you the most.
·Past trauma- Abandonment, abuse, personal injury.
·Fear- Anxiety or specific phobias, health scares.
·Stress- Work-related, family, finance and health.
Knowing that you have triggers is the first step if you want to work on reducing your reactiveness.
Phases of aggression
1. Triggering event- The unpleasant messages or acts you witness, leading you to react emotionally. It may stem from anger, frustration or intimidation.
2. Escalation- Your fight or flight response. Your thoughts and emotions intensify as your brain floods your body with adrenaline. It can cause rapid heart rates, quicker breathing and rising blood pressure which alters your behaviour.
3. Crisis- Intensified aggression/outbursts due to the need to release the pressure/energy build-up. In crisis mode, two pathways are likely to occur:
·Your outburst may likely hurt yourself, other people around you or nearby objects in the way.
·Turning to alcohol and/or drugs to numb the offending emotion and thoughts.
4. Recovery- Aggression will likely subside, but you may still be fully wired for the next trigger.
5. Post-Crisis- As your vital signs return to normal, you may experience exhaustion and post-crisis depression. You will likely feel remorse and shame after the event. These negative feelings can lead to the confirmation of negative beliefs of self-worth.
How can aggression impact your relationship?
Continuous aggression within your relationship can lead to the following:
·Breakdown of communication
·Inability to trust each other
·Lack of intimacy
·Increase in apathy, feeling sorry for yourself more, and less concerned for your loved one.
·Increase in negative thoughts about your loved one.
·Your respect for your loved one diminishes rapidly each day.
·When was the last time we had intimate moments together?
·Why are the kids so restless?
·When did we enjoy a night out/in together?
·Does he/she still love me?
·Why do they not care?
·How can I move on from this?
Prolonged aggressive episodes can change people. Running away from addressing your issues can lead to the following:
1. Domestic violence impacting everyone in the family.
5. Alcohol and drug dependency.
6. Poor well-being physically and mentally.
1. Take a moment to think about what you have heard or seen. Process the information in front of you.
2. Check your vitals and safety. Take a deep breath and count to 20. Ask yourself:
·Am I ok?
·Do I feel safe right now?
·Do I need some space and time to process this?
·Who can I safely talk to right now about this?
·Where can I go to think things through?
3. Use ‘I’ statements when you want to respond. Try the following lines:
·I need some time to think away from here. Can we please go home?
·I don’t feel good right now. I need to leave.
·I don’t feel safe. Can we please go?
·I get annoyed when I am not heard. Could we find a time to talk more about it?
4. Get air, exercise, and walk to clear your thoughts. Using up your adrenaline more positively can boost your overall mental composure. If it is wet outside, try getting some time out in a separate room in the house doing gentle meditative breathing with soothing music.
5. Write your thoughts and emotions down. Writing is an ancient form of comfort. It is a way to transfer your pent-up frustration onto paper. Writing your feelings down can help you see what is troubling you.
6. You can also seek professional help, such as counselling, to safely process your thoughts and emotions.
What are your relationship goals? Deciding on your goals when you are 16 years old can be different from what you will need as a 25-year-old or 40 years old. Our views on a relationship can change over time. Each of us has our idea of how a relationship could be. However, that is often very different to reality. You may feel less fulfilled in your relationship when you lack physical or emotional needs.
Like a house, our relationship requires maintenance so that it does not fall apart. But differing opinions and resources can often delay repair or worsen the issue. Do you have problems getting on the same page as your loved one? Relationship counselling offers a safe space for you to be heard and understood. Counsellors.co.nz can offer online relationship counselling with flexible time frames to suit you without going on a waitlist.
How to pick good relationship goals? it all comes down to your priority. Some people prefer to fill themselves with ambition and drive. Others prefer harmony and peace within their relationship.
Below are some relationship goals to consider:
Relationship Goal 1: Happiness
Happiness is a good relationship goal to contemplate on. Conveying what makes you happy is as important as knowing what makes your partner happy. Some people find joy in physical touches, and others in acts of service.
· When was the last time I was happy?
· What did he/she do to make me smile?
· When was the last time I saw him/her smile?
· What is your idea of happiness?
· What was my favourite moment in our relationship?
· What can I compromise?
We all grow up with our own version of happiness. Sharing memories can significantly increase your connection with each other.
Relationship Goal 2: Intimacy
Intimacy is akin to connection. As humans, we learn to love through our family and our community. There are four types of intimacy – Emotional, spiritual, intellectual and physical touch. Intimacy can be a want and a need.
· Is there excitement?
· Should I spice things up?
· When was the last time we spent hours just talking?
· Why am I so reluctant about going home to him/her?
· How can I show him/her more love?
High levels of stress and anxiety can kill the chemistry you have for each other. Lack of intimacy can corrode your mind, allowing negative thoughts to take over your positive mindset. It is worthwhile to look for signs of distress in the relationship that prevents you from getting close to your loved one. When you find yourself and your partner in a gridlock, consider seeking professional help.
Relationship Goal 3: Security
A healthy and secure relationship requires a solid foundation of trust. Trust can accumulate over time through shared experiences of happiness and challenges. Every couple has its own set of boundaries and rules to feel secure in their relationship. Our past and present experiences of love and safety can significantly influence our idea of emotional safety.
One of the biggest challenges is setting boundaries and values that fits the need of both of you. There are so many messages on how you ought to live and love. These messages can be overwhelmingly loud, preventing you from seeing your priorities.
· Family- Having a house, kids and pets because it is what you knew growing up.
· Wealth- A high-paying job because that is what your parents always told you.
· Presentation- You have to clean the house in case of visitors constantly. A messy house means you are lazy.
· A compatible spouse with a good job- because that is what your parents had done.
· Travel- Don’t worry about income. Travel as you earn, says social media.
All the messages above are different from reality. In real life, some of us come from broken homes, lack of income to make ends meet, nor have the opportunity to get a better education or travel. The best thing coming out of all that is surviving and becoming an adult.
Security is all about having a good level of emotional and physical support.
Emotional support (psychological)- Words of affirmation, gratefulness, companionship and empathy.
Physical support (physiological)- Shelter, warmth, food and income.
Each of us has different levels of needs and wants. Fulfilment of initial requirements can cause desires or wants to appear. If you are in doubt about your relationship criteria, ask yourself:
· Do I feel confident about us?
· Can I talk to him/her about my fears?
· Am I comfortable with him/her interacting with their friends?
A good friend is hard to find. Connection keeps us motivated to wake up daily, hoping for a smile or a hug to fill our emotional tank. Having your loved one as your friend for life has its benefits:
· A companion for physical activities aside from sex.
· Someone to be there for you when you need help getting things from the top shelf or lifting a piece of heavy furniture.
· Someone to dine with or compliment you on the food you have prepared.
· Someone to listen to your wildest fantasies or take you on your adventure to cross off your bucket list.
· Someone to help you uphold your values and work together on your relationship goals.
The list of benefits is endless. Companionship helps prevent loneliness, a growing global mental health epidemic. Without sufficient dependable connections, your mental well-being can decrease significantly. When your mental health is low, you will likely feel more depressed and anxious. High anxiety may cause you to be more homebound.
Relationship Goal 5: Reciprocity
For love to thrive, you need reciprocity. It is the love and supports you give each other. The give-and-take principle of the mutual exchange strengthens the overall relationship. There are three types of reciprocity: Balanced, Generalised and Negative reciprocity.
Balanced Reciprocity- Giving and receiving. Gifting an item or a service with the expectation of receiving a gift back.
Generalised reciprocity- Giving or offering a service out of love without hesitation or condition. It is about altruism, giving freely out of mutual respect and connectedness. This reciprocal relationship exists in the people you love and trust deeply, such as family, friends and close co-workers.
Negative reciprocity- The opposite of generalised reciprocity. It is about doing the bare minimum within the relationship but reaping the more significant benefit. This type of exchange is the least healthy for the relationship as it needs to have the essence of love and cares towards those that had to strive to offer their best to you.
Building reciprocity requires a few rules:
1. You must have the commitment and accountability for creating and nurturing reciprocity.
2. You will need the bravery to speak up if there is injustice in your relationship.
3. It would be best if you respected each other’s effort to raise issues and suggest ideas and excitement.
Practising reciprocity is about investing in the relationship through a high level of maturity and self-awareness. It will only work when you can cooperate as a team, with no one claiming superiority over the other partner.
Relationship Goals are more critical than Relationship Boundaries.
Relationship counselling can help couples focus on their relationship goals. Relationship goals is about focusing on what you want and not what you don’t want.
The relationship goal for most people in our society is to find a partner; this is a positive goal about getting what we want. Once we take an interest in someone (or they take an interest in us). The plan often moves towards commitment, but what that commitment looks like is usually less straightforward.
There is a difference between committing and controlling a relationship. Committing is something you give to the relationship, and controlling is something you take from the relationship. But what happens when it feels like you are offering more commitment to the relationship than your partner? Here is where things might start to get complicated. Before going there, let us take things back to the start and understand love.
What is love?
Love is a set of emotions and behaviours driven by our desire to be with someone. Love can flow intensely or mildly or change altogether, depending on your circumstances.
Literature and social media tell us that falling in love is lovely and exciting. It sells the idea of how love, at first sight, can change your world into a positive one with instant fulfilment.
Why are we crazy about love?
There is a scientific explanation as to why we fall in love. According to neuropsychiatrist Dr Trisha Stratford, when you see someone you like, your optics signal your brain. Your brain then starts to create dopamine and serotonin. Combining these two hormones creates a warm and fuzzy feeling, giving you a natural high. Dr Stratford also pointed out that the brainwave, if scanned, looks similar to someone high on heroin. Your brain creates this natural high state through activities such as cuddling and orgasm.
Why is it difficult to stay in love?
Staying in love for an extended period is one of the relationship goals all lovers hope to achieve, and this is why most people seek out relationship counselling. Love and desire are interconnected. If you have regular conflicts, your passion for each other can diminish. Life challenges create significant stress in your relationship. When stressed, your brain starts to create cortisol instead of the love chemicals. A high cortisol level limits your ability to feel intimate with your loved one.
How can you and your partner reduce your stress levels?
Why do I resent my partner?
According to relationship psychotherapist Esther Perel, a positive illusion is about you forming a sentimental bias towards your partner. You see that your relationship adds value to yourself socially or professionally.
Positive illusion can be a motivator, but it can also be a deterrent. Having a positive frame about your partner is great, but it is not fair for your partner to be responsible for your self-worth. Positive illusion is better when it is mutually shared to help each other grow.
When you commit to the relationship, you tell yourself that you have made the right decision, despite the flaws you see (or choose not to see). You may have thought your partner would change for you with enough time. When things do not change, it is often time to discuss boundaries.
How do I set up good boundaries in my relationship?
Relationship boundaries are how we tell others what our limitations are. Some factors influence how your values and beliefs shape your relationship boundaries.
Culture, race and ethics- What is your origin, and where do you belong?
Physical self- What constitutes your personal space? How comfortable are you with physical contact with others or showing affection in public places?
Intellectual and mental- Sharing ideas and beliefs can boost your self-esteem. How do you want to share it with others?
Emotions and thoughts- This is part of your inner circle. Your feelings and thoughts make you human. Consider how you want to regulate yourself when interacting with others.
Money and materials- What is your attitude towards money?
Time and energy- What do you want to do with your time? What fulfilment are you after?
Setting rules and boundaries within your relationship can take time. If one of you has too much say in the boundary-setting agreement, it can disempower the other party. Negotiating and discussing boundaries in couples counselling can be a fairer and more rewarding process as both parties are guided by a counsellor who works on the side of the relationship to bring about a fair outcome.
Relationship boundaries come in 3 forms – Rigid or non-negotiable, open or loose boundary, clearly stated.
Rigid or non-negotiable boundaries
Open or loose boundaries
Clearly stated boundaries
I finish work at 5 pm. I do not want to talk about work after 5 pm.
When I finish work at 5 pm, I might just check my emails periodically, in case there is anything urgent.
I can work till 5 pm. After that is my time.
I will not talk to strangers. Because they might think the way I talk is weird.
I can talk to strangers. I do not mind them hearing my voice.
I am okay with having a few people to talk to all the time.
I hate spending money. I do not want to spend money on travel and dining out. I get stressed if I don’t set aside savings each week.
I can save money when I want to. I don’t mind if I don’t have any money saved, week to week.
I set aside $50 of my pay each week, so I could buy myself a car.
I do not like working with people.
I do not mind working with people. I can work alone too if need be.
I can work with people as long as they are not disruptive.
My kids must have a tertiary education. Without a degree, they will be a nobody.
My kids do not have to attend university if they do not want to. I will be here for them.
I will help you finance your tertiary studies. You will need to make sure you complete the studies with a qualification at the end of it.
It is essential to determine what boundaries are good and what ones will hurt the relationship. We tend to have a combination of rigid, open and clearly stated boundaries to help us navigate our interaction with others. Understanding our physical and emotional limitations can help us build better autonomy and self-confidence.
How do I apply boundaries and rules?
Your relationship does not stay the same all the time. Your emotional need connects to physical and financial or material needs. These needs will change or grow when you get a promotion or new job, get older or have kids. When setting relationship boundaries, you must consider the suitability of those boundaries to your relationship goals. Again, you need to communicate to each other about the limit and rules you want to have instead of assuming or keeping things in your head.
Consider these questions the next time the two of you engage in an intimate conversation together:
What do I like the most about being together?
What can we do better as a couple?
What dreams do they have that I can help fulfil?
How can I change to be the better version of myself for myself and my partner?
What goals can we work on together?
As we ask ourselves these questions, we can start to see what we can do for the relationship and understand better how we can live together. We see how relationship boundaries and relationship goals are intertwined. If, as a couple, we have decided to stop doing something because it makes one or both of us uncomfortable, then look at what we can do instead. The relationship goal naturally takes us away from the relationship boundary.
What does it take to stay in love?
The reality of your differences allows you and your partner to get to know each other better. Staying in love requires communication, compromise and commitment to each other. Communication is about more than just hearing the words. It is about acknowledging their values and beliefs as they have with yours. Emotions can sometimes get in the way of good communication, and couples counselling can help work through some of the surface emotions.
Acceptance of each other’s differences is high at the start of the relationship due to the common attraction and desire to be together. Some couples live together happily for years living with their differences, and others do not. It is important to remember to be honest with yourself about what you can or cannot do. Couples that communicate effectively do not have to live with resentment and can resolve their issues. Being in a relationship is about building a lifetime alliance for love and companionship.