Anger and aggression are regularly confused by nearly everyone. These two terms must, however, be recognized as independent of one another if each is to be correctly understood.
The term “anger” often has negative connotations in people’s minds because it is mistakenly linked with “aggression.” Although anger is a powerful, but neutral, inner state of preparedness, some persons assume that, like aggression, it is intrinsically destructive.
Aggression is a behavior, and it is intended to threaten or injure the security or self-esteem of the victim. It means “to go against,” “to assault,” “to attack.” It is a response which aims at inflicting pain or injury on other persons. Whether the damage is caused by words, fists, or weapons, the behavior is virtually always designed to punish. it is frequently accompanied by bitterness, meanness, and ridicule. An aggressive person is often vengeful.
Aggression is one form of anger expression. It is often aimed at forcing compliance with the aggressor’s wishes. Sometimes it is intended to be instrumental in the attainment of an objective, while at other times punishment and pain seem its only purpose.
A high percentage of anger expression in our society, and indeed throughout history, has been aggressive. This has contributed to the idea some have that there is no difference between anger and aggression. Thus, anger sometimes has a reputation of being consistently bent on destructive expression. This is very unfortunate.
Let me make my overall evaluation of aggression clear. In my opinion, aggression has long-term negative consequences almost all the time. Even when the use of it produces short-term gains, they are usually canceled out over the long term.
Sometimes clients ask if this aggressive behavior or that one might have positive consequences. For instance, they often ask about spanking or scolding children, or “getting something off your chest” with your spouse.
My answer is that research has demonstrated that aggression seldom produces any long-term gains. My own opinion is that aggressive behaviors between family members, community members, and nations may result in severe negative consequences.
If aggressive behavior is utilized, I recommend that it be kept under the strict control of clear thinking. Before acting aggressively, persons should carefully consider their acts for a long time before implementing them. Since the consequences of aggression are so seldom positive, impulsive expressions of aggression are almost certain to produce negative consequences.
When I see a parent, for instance, become angry and express that anger aggressively by slapping a child, I often predict that the long-term negative results of that behavior will substantially outweigh the positive.
It should be mentioned that there is a significant difference between assertion and aggression. Assertiveness involves the direct expression of one’s feelings, needs, or opinions. Aggression is characterized as the delivery of damaging stimuli to another organism. According to Alberti and Emmons, “. . . for aggressive behavior, accomplishment of end goals is usually at the expense of others while for assertive behaviors, neither person is hurt, and unless their goal achievement is mutually exclusive, both may succeed.”
Finally, you may wonder why so many people express their anger aggressively. I think it is a simple matter of learning. Aggression is regularly modeled in real life and on television. So the aggressive response is frequently available for copying.
Then because of factors discussed in earlier chapters, that same behavior tends to be consistently reinforced by short-term gratification. Thus, anger expression by means of aggression becomes learned.
But the main point of this chapter is that anger and aggression are significantly different. While anger is a physiological state of preparedness, aggression is but one way it can be expressed.
Anger has great potential for constructiveness. Aggression is seldom a means of expressing anger constructively.
-Warren, Neil, Make Anger Your Ally: Harnessing Our Most Baffling Emotion, Doubleday & Company, Inc.: Garden City, 1983.
Reflection Exercise #4
The preceding section contained information
about how anger is different from aggression. Write
three case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section
in your practice.
According to Alberti and Emmons, what is the difference between aggressive and assertive behavior? Record the letter of the correct answer