Dr Jozelle Miller
December 22, 2015
Be angry, but sin not…. The psychology of aggression and anger

Aggression is a complex subject, mainly because persons differ on how they feel anger should be expressed. The difficulty in understanding aggression lies in distinguishing between acceptable aggressive behaviours showed when individuals experience feelings of anger or frustration, to the display of violence, which involves the use of physical force and inflicts damage or injury to a person or property.{{more}}

Difference between anger and aggression:

Anger is a feeling. Aggression is a behaviour. However, often the two get confused. At other times people use their anger as an excuse to behave in an aggressive manner. Anger is an acceptable emotion, just like happiness or sadness. Everyone feels angry sometimes. However, many people deny that they ever feel angry. For others, they tend to become angry to cover up other feelings, such as hurt and sadness.

Angry feelings can release endorphins, which are powerful chemicals within the body. This rush of energy can help people to relieve themselves from feeling sad or hurt. However, masking underlying emotions with anger is not a healthy coping skill. Feeling angry is okay; however, the behaviours people exhibit when they feel angry make a difference in whether or not they become aggressive. Aggression is a choice. Just because you feel angry doesn’t give you permission to treat others poorly.

Aggressive behaviours try to bully the other person into doing something, whether they want to or not. When people behave aggressively, they don’t acknowledge the other person’s feelings or needs. Instead, they want the other person to give in. If you have difficulty managing your anger, learn to separate your angry feelings from your aggressive behaviours.

Impulsive Aggression Is Different from Instrumental Aggression:

Psychologists understand aggression to be behaviour aimed at harming another member of the same species, and most psychologists distinguish between impulsive and instrumental aggression. Impulsive aggression (also known as irritable, angry, or expressive aggression) is marked by strong emotion, especially anger, and is aimed at hurting another. Instrumental aggression is cooler and the hurt delivered to another is not an end in itself, but only the means to some other end. Aggression in a theft, for instance, is aimed at getting the victim’s money; aggression against a terrorist is aimed at stopping an aggressor.

Types of Aggressive Behaviour:

Types of behaviour that may be considered aggressive include the following:

o Shouting

o Swearing

o Personal insults and name calling

o Racial or sexual comments

o Verbal threats

o Posturing and threatening gestures

o Abusive phone calls, letters, online messages

o Other forms of harassment

o Emotional abuse

o Sarcasm

Controlling Aggression:

The culture of violence is unquestionable in our country. Can aggression be controlled? The control of aggression and violence is a major challenge we are faced with. To some extent, violence may be controllable at the individual level through changing patterns of child rearing, the inculcation of values that are incompatible with aggression and the control of violent symbols through the media and TV. However, the control of violence also requires require social change aim­ed at promoting social justice and enhancing the significance and worth of all members in our society.

If children can be taught to use constructive and non-violent methods to resolve interpersonal conflict, they may be less likely to resort to violence to settle issues. Persons are likely to be effective in their relationships to the extent that they assume responsibility for their own thoughts, feelings and actions. Assuming responsibility for your feelings entails learning to express them, where appropriate, and to regulate them, where necessary. One set of choices in regard to regulating feelings entails accurately assigning or attributing responsibility for what happens in your life. This is something that needs to be learned. Apart from reflex reactions you always have some choice in how you feel. Even when others behave badly towards you, you still have a choice regarding your thoughts about what is happening and ultimately how you respond.

Ephesians 4:26: “Be aye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath.”

Dr Miller is Health Psychologist at the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital.