Aggression: One hidden weakness in our relationship.

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:

· Scheming

· Gaslighting

· 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

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.

Aggression Triggers

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

· Increase in negative thoughts about your loved one.

· Your respect for your loved one diminishes rapidly each day.

· Secrecy

Ask yourself:

· 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.

2.       Loneliness

3.       Isolation

4.       Depression

5.       Alcohol and drug dependency.

6.       Poor well-being physically and mentally.

Managing Aggression


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 is Anger? Anger is a secondary emotion. What is a secondary feeling? It is the emotion that others see, like sad, happy, surprised, Bad, Fearful and disgusted.

What sits under the anger? Let us look at an example, say road rage (meaning we have all had moments of this, maybe at different levels to others). Let’s start with waking up, running late, getting in the car, and halfway to work, you realise you left an important document at home. What do you think you would be feeling? They will vary depending on what experiences you have endured in your childhood. How you have seen others manage moments like this throughout your life. 

Some of the things that you could feel would be: Frustrated, cause now not only have you forgotten the documents, but the traffic is also going slow. Where do you focus that anger on? the other drivers. When you break it down, there is a frustration for forgetting the document; when you get to work, the boss will ask for the record, and you could feel either humiliated or annoyed. So at the moment, you are in traffic, and all these things are going through your head, the car in front is taking too long to take off, your mind is racing with thoughts or shouts like: OMG, hurry up, oh for fuck sake, drive your dick, what are you doing, some of these comments could sound familiar. Imagine what is happening to your body, like what is physically happening; do you notice the knuckles getting tighter, your breathing changes, your shoulders are tenser, and your jaw is clenching tight. On top of all of this, your emotions are getting even more heightened by Adrenaline.

If you have read this far, I would like you to stand up and loosen up your body, give it a shake, and see what you notice about how you reacted to that.

Right back to the car, now that you have stood up and had a shake, what was the cause of the anger? Was it the other drivers, or were you running late and forgetting the document that set it off to remember how your day started? What happened throughout the day? When did it change if it did? I know you correctly said well wouldn’t have been so bad if the driver was to hurry up. Maybe if we got up earlier or sorted stuff the night before, would the morning have gone differently? 

Self-awareness is a part of recognising when and how a situation has impacted us.

When we are Angry, we have Emotional, Physical and Mental changes. We feel, our body tenses, and our thoughts change in our minds. When this happens, do we see reason? Are we being realistic? What is it that we are Angry about in this situation?

When I work with someone with anger, I like to talk about the culture, environment, childhood, values and beliefs. Explore what ticks them off and what is it about that situation. Also, encourage acceptance and accountability. Cause let’s face it, our reaction is our responsibility. Correct, we can not control what someone else says, But we can manage how we react.

I am going to leave a list of different emotions that sit under anger and would like to challenge you to express those next time you are feeling angry and look at what it is that is sitting there.

Let down, Humiliated, Bitter, Mad, Aggressive, Frustrated, Distant. Critical. Betrayed, resentful, Disrespected, Ridiculed, Indignant, Violated, Furious, Jealous, Provoked, Hostile, Infuriated, Annoyed, Withdrawn, Numb, Skeptical, Dismissive.

Remember, this is my perspective, things I have noticed in my work. Anger is not a destructive emotion; what we do with it can make it a negative emotion.