Healthy Ways to Deal with Aggression

Instructor: Millicent Kelly

Millicent has been teaching at the university level since 2004. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice and a Master's degree in Human Resources.

Aggression is a behavioral response to anger and can be harmful. This lesson will define aggressive behavior and discuss strategies that can be used to manage aggression in a healthy way and prevent it from resulting in violent behavior.

Road Rage

David has always had difficulty managing his anger. As a teenager, it was not unusual for him to respond aggressively to situations that made him angry. He would frequently put his fist through doors, throw things, and raise his voice defensively. As an adult, David has tried to temper his emotions, but occasionally still falls into old habits.

Last month, David was driving to work. He was running late and was irritated at being stuck in traffic. Just as traffic eased up a bit, an elderly man in a Buick cut David off and caused him to miss the green light. David was furious! He looked left, then right, and drove straight through the light in pursuit of the Buick. He caught up to the car, pulled in front of it, and slammed on the brakes. The man in the Buick crashed into the back of David's car. David got out, grabbed the man by the throat, and soon thereafter found himself in the back of a police car.

What is Aggression?

David's road rage is a prime example of aggressive behavior that's out of control. David's inability to manage his emotions and anger end up getting him into trouble with the law. Aggression is a behavior that typically stems from anger. Anger is an emotion that is present in all of us.

Like David, none of us particularly like being cut off in traffic. Experiencing this event can invoke anger, but unlike David, most of us can diffuse this anger without aggressively responding to it. Experiencing anger is normal. It's how we respond to this anger that determines whether it is adaptive and useful or maladaptive and detrimental. As a general guideline, an aggressive response to anger tends to be maladaptive.

Aggressive behavior can be obvious, such as David's reaction to the driver, or it can be more subtle and hidden. An example of subtle aggression would be deliberately telling lies to hide the truth. In either case, aggressive behavior has significant potential legal consequences.

Healthy Ways of Dealing with Aggression

Because aggressive behavior can have severe consequences, it is important to find healthy ways to deal with aggression. Below are some methods that can help keep aggression in check:

  • Resist the temptation to respond to your anger in the heat of the moment. Wait for the anger to subside and then respond to the event.
  • Hit the gym or take a walk - exercise is a powerful way to manage anger and alleviate stress.
  • Walk away - sometimes taking a break from the situation will put things into perspective.
  • Use ''I'' statements - try not to get defensive. ''You'' statements tend to deflect blame onto others for the situation we find ourselves in.
  • Forgive - holding onto anger is not healthy and induces stress. Find the power to forgive.
  • Breathe - use deep breathing techniques and meditation to relieve stress and diffuse anger.
  • Talk about it - talking to a trusted confidante about your anger can help resolve it.
  • Replace negative thoughts with positive ones.
  • Laugh at yourself - laughter is incongruent with anger. Even if you fake it, laughter can help with anger management.

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