Aggressive Behavior

Information on acting out aggressive, violent behaviors and habits

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  1. What is Aggressive Behavior?
  2. What Causes Aggressive Behavior?
  3. Diagnosing Aggressive Behavior
  4. Help for Aggressive Behavior
  5. More Information on Aggressive Behavior

What is Aggressive Behavior?

Aggressive behavior may be defined as unpredictable, impulsive behavior that is either physical or verbal and often involves violent, angry or harmful actions. Examples of aggressive behavior include hitting, pushing, kicking, pulling, hurting or biting another person. Verbal aggressiveness includes yelling, threatening, intimidating, swearing and ranting. Another characteristic of much aggressive behavior is damaging property or personal belongings of an aggressor or his victim by throwing, smashing or otherwise destroying objects.

Aggressive behavior often occurs when the aggressor feels he is being provoked by internal or external factors, like stress about work or money, mental health issues, dysfunctional relationships or other socioeconomic factors.

Levels of aggression vary from person to person. Some aggressive outbursts are short and clearly focused on an isolated set of circumstances; others can be more prolonged, often yielding severe repercussions. While some aggressive behavior may be intentional, it may also be unintentional, as can often be seen when aggressive behavior is linked to a behavioral or mental disorder.

What happens when you don’t know how to control aggressive behavior? Regardless of the cause, if aggressive behavior is left untreated, it can worsen and bring about unwanted harm and distress for everyone involved.

The symptoms and signs of aggressive behavior are often associated with:

  • Anger and hostility
  • Temper flares that involve screaming, shouting or using foul language or obscene gestures
  • Violent behavior
  • Intimidating body language used to bully or dominate someone

What Causes Aggressive Behavior?

A number of factors may be responsible for an increased risk of aggressive behavior in both children and adults, including:

  • Hereditary factors
  • History of violent or aggressive behavior
  • Exposure to violence at home, in the community or from the media
  • Use of drugs and alcohol
  • Being a victim of physical or sexual abuse
  • Socio-economic factors like poverty, unemployment, divorce or single parenting
  • Presence of weapons such as firearms in the home
  • Behavioral conditions such as ADHD, Tourette syndrome, bipolar disorder, ODD and PTSD

Usually the person who exhibits aggressive behavior is reacting to deeper emotional issues like fear, insecurity, feelings of isolation, loneliness or despair. Aggressive behavior is often learned from observing the actions of peers or parents who act aggressively. When children are taught that anger is an unacceptable emotion, they may become frustrated and not know how to express the difficult emotion, often resorting to aggression because they do not know how else to vent their feelings1. Children displaying aggressive behavior may become anti-social, have adjustment problems or develop learning disorders.

Diagnosing Aggressive Behavior

A doctor can determine if a diagnosis of aggressive behavior is appropriate based on the symptoms presented, a thorough physical examination and a review of the individual’s medical history. Certain diagnostic tests such as blood tests, X-rays, or scans may be performed to rule out underlying illnesses. The doctor will also look for signs of any other conditions that are associated with aggressive behavior such as ADHD, learning disabilities, depression, mood disorders, anxiety disorders and conduct disorder.

A referral to a mental health professional, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist, for a more comprehensive evaluation is often recommended. The diagnosis will be based on reports of the individual’s behavior from his or her spouse, parents and teachers, clinical observations of the individual’s behavior and psychological testing.

Help for Aggressive Behavior

How to go about treating and preventing aggressive verbal behavior and physical violence generally depends on the severity of the problem and the underlying causes if there are any. Many developmental, personality and psychiatric disorders — like ADHD, developmental disorders, bipolar disorder, PTSD and Tourette syndrome — associated with aggressive behavior may be managed with various medications, including mood stabilizers (lithium), anticonvulsants, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and beta blockers, which treat symptoms associated with aggressive behavior.

Occasional feelings of anger are perfectly normal, and isolated incidents of aggression can often be explained by acute stress and dealt with by resolving the stressful situation. Learning to recognize feelings of anger at their onset can help you manage them more effectively and avoid outbursts of aggressive behavior2.

However, if aggressive behavior is chronic and causing long-term negative impacts on your relationships, job or personal well-being, it’s important to consult a mental health professional for help as soon as possible2.

Regular exercise is also an important component of managing stress, anxiety and feelings of aggression. When we are stressed or angry, our body produces the hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Engaging in regular exercise helps your body regulate hormonal levels, alleviating spikes and dips in adrenaline and cortisol, while also producing more helpful hormones like endorphins, which help you feel better less angry.

Herbal and homeopathic remedies can play and important role in managing feelings of stress and anger. Including a remedy like Anger Soothe™ in a daily regimen can help relieve symptoms of anger, like irritability and frustration, as well as reducing frequent angry outbursts and calming tension that impedes restful sleep.

More Information on Aggressive Behavior

There are a number of helpful ways to manage and prevent aggressive behavior including:

  • Learn to recognize what triggers your aggression by recording your physical and emotional reactions in a journal.
  • Stay as calm as possible and try not to react to the person, situation or circumstances in any immediate way.
  • Identify negative thoughts and try to replace them with more positive ways of seeing things.
  • Find a good listener like a friend or family member who will listen and help you put things in perspective.
  • As you feel yourself becoming aggressive, remove yourself from the situation: – get a drink of water, go for a walk or just find a place to be alone for a moment.
  • Find a productive physical activity to channel your anger and aggression into and release frustrations, like hitting a punching bag, running, aerobics, kickboxing or dancing.
  • Go to a park or other appropriate spot and release a primal yell. Simply take a deep breath and shout as loud as you can to release your feelings of anger and frustration.
  • Practice deep breathing exercises: Close your eyes and visualize a positive experience until you feel calm.
  • Reduce aggression by meditating, doing yoga or having regular sessions with a massage therapist.

 

Resources:
1. Legg, Timothy. "Aggressive Behavior | Definition & Patient Education." Healthline. March 7, 2016. Accessed May 04, 2019. https://www.healthline.com/health/aggressive-behavior#in-teens.
2. 2011-2019, (c) Copyright Skillsyouneed.com. "Anger Management." SkillsYouNeed. Accessed May 04, 2019. https://www.skillsyouneed.com/ps/anger-management.html.
Reviewed by Master Herbalist Mary Ellen Kosanke