The theory of intergenerational transmission of violence posits that exposure to violence in the family of origin is a strong predictor of partner abuse. Although there are exceptions, most studies find support for this theory.
How partner violence is transferred across generations is relatively unexplored. In this paper, we examine anger expression style as a variable that mediates the relationship between exposure to family violence and dating violence perpetration by adolescents. Anger is frequently the emotional precursor to dating violence. Social learning theory posits that children may learn anger expression styles from observing how people around them respond to anger. In a dating situation, adolescents may respond to anger in a way that they have learned from their parents. Findings indicate that both male and female adolescents are perpetrators of dating violence, and that the association between exposure to family violence and dating violence perpetration varies by gender.
Anger Expression Styles
Anger expression style refers to the way one typically responds to anger. Several anger expression styles have been identified, mostly from cardiovascular disease research. The anger expression style “anger-out” has been defined as anger directed outward away from self or as taking anger-out on others. The “anger-in” expression style has been defined as anger directed inward or suppressed anger.
“Anger control” refers to the control of angry feelings regardless of the direction of expression, such as “control my temper”. People with an anger discuss style tend to talk about their anger to friends and relatives or to talk over problems with people without letting them know they are angry. Harburg et al., (1979) identified the anger expression style “reflective” from studies of anger and blood pressure. “Reflective” can be thought of as first controlling one’s anger, then discussing it. In his research on love and anger in marriage, Mace (1982) describes four anger expression styles: venting anger, suppressing anger, processing anger, and dissolving anger. Venting anger is viewed as “putting up a fight” either verbally or physically (Mace, 1982). Suppressing anger is described as “avoiding the issue” (Mace, 1982). Processing anger is described as both parties sitting down to look at the situation objectively. Inherent to processing anger is obtaining feedback from each individual. Dissolving anger is described as the process of detaching oneself from the situation and accepting “no concern about it nor involvement in it” (Mace, 1982). However, Mace contends that dissolving anger is not an available method of expressing anger in an intimate relationship.
Holt (1970), in yet another conceptualization of anger expression styles, categorizes anger expression as constructive or destructive. Constructive anger expression includes positive ways to express anger and involves “an interpersonal transaction in which there can be more than one winner” (Holt, 1970). Thus constructive anger expression can be thought of as similar to the anger discuss, reflective, and anger control styles, and to Mace’s processing style. Having a constructive anger expression style category provides an avenue for viewing anger expression as a positive trait and teachable skill. Conversely, Holt describes destructive anger expression as a situation in which “the angry person wants to win at any cost.” Destructive anger expression is similar to anger-out, anger-in, and to Mace’s venting, suppressing, and dissolving anger expression styles.
In this paper, we measure three anger expression styles that incorporate the above styles. They are labeled constructive, destructive direct, and destructive indirect. A person with a constructive anger expression style tries to make the situation better, by either discussing it with the person who is the object of anger or someone else or calming oneself before taking any action. This is like Holt’s conceptualization of constructive anger expression, and the styles anger discuss, anger reflection, anger control, and Mace’s processing style. Destructive direct anger expression style involves behaving aggressively toward the person who is the object of anger. Destructive direct responses to anger most closely resemble the anger-out conceptualizations of anger expression. Destructive indirect anger expression style is anger that is not directed at the person who is the object of anger. Destructive indirect responses closely resemble Mace’s suppressing anger and anger-in responses because most of these responses are kept inside, such as fantasizing about yelling at the person.
Social Learning Theory
Social learning theory asserts that responses to anger can be learned through modeling. To model behavior, it first needs to be observed and attended to. Second, the observer needs to remember the behavior. This often involves mentally rehearsing the behavior. Third, the observer must have the physical capabilities to perform the observed behavior. Finally, rewarding and punishing consequences usually determine whether a behavior becomes modeled. Bandura (1973) theorizes that rewards not only motivate a person to action, but also alter the retention of what has been observed, by motivating individuals to mentally rehearse behaviors that have a functional value.
The family is one of the primary sources of modeled behavior. Because many children spend a significant amount of time with family members, they may learn how to respond to anger by observing how family members respond to anger and thus establish an anger expression style.
Children who are exposed to family violence may develop different anger expression styles than children who are not exposed to family violence. Adolescents who have experienced family violence have obviously been exposed to destructive direct anger expression. When feeling angry, the adolescent exposed to family violence is likely to react spontaneously on the basis of previous experience. The anger is felt, the response has been mentally rehearsed, and through learned and rewarded behavior, the adolescent lashes out. It is also possible that adolescents exposed to family violence do not want to use destructive direct responses to anger because they do not want to be like the parent. However, adolescents exposed to family violence may not have had the opportunity to model constructive anger expression styles. In this case, adolescents exposed to family violence may suppress feelings of anger and use destructive indirect responses to anger, such as fantasizing about yelling at or hurting a person.
One’s anger expression style may influence dating violence perpetration. An adolescent with a constructive anger expression style may be less likely to respond to anger with violence toward a partner. In a situation in which the adolescent is angry, the adolescent is likely to calmly discuss the situation or ask someone for advice on how to handle the situation. Conversely, adolescents with a destructive direct anger expression style are apt to use dating violence perpetration because these adolescents typically attack the object of their anger. A destructive indirect anger expression style may also result in dating violence perpetration. As Holt (1970) notes, “when anger has been suppressed for a long time, it is likely to take especially severe and grisly forms when it is finally released.” As such, an adolescent may consciously try to avoid destructive direct responses to anger, but after suppressing the anger for a period of time, may aggress even more violently than one who directs the anger outwardly immediately.
- Wolf, Kimberly A.; Foshee, Vangie A. Journal of Family Violence, Vol. 18, No. 6, December 2005
Reflection Exercise #3
The preceding section contained information
about family violence, anger expression styles, and adolescent dating violence. Write three
case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section in
In his research on love and anger in marriage, what are the four anger expression styles Mace describes?
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