Aggression refers to a range of behaviors that can result in physical and psychological harm to oneself, others, or objects. More specifically, aggression violates social convictions and is defined as any behavior that is hostile, destructive, and possibly violent. Aggressive behaviors can vary greatly from emotional regulation problems to severe, manipulative behaviors. Additionally, the expression of aggression can occur in a variety of different ways, including mentally, physically, or verbally. Two common subtypes supported by research are overt and covert aggression. Overt aggression involves outward or open confrontational acts of aggression, such as physical fighting, verbal threats, and instigating bullying. Covert aggression, on the other hand, is more hidden and secretive. Examples of covert aggression include stealing, starting rumors, excluding others, and arson.
While anger is a normal and healthy emotion to experience, uncontrolled anger and aggression can destroy relationships, cause problems at work, and can lead to engagement in risky behavior. Aggressive behavior can be extremely difficult to control, not only for the individual, but for all loved ones as well. However, in most cases, aggressive thoughts and behaviors can be reduced when properly treated by a mental health professional.
Causes for Aggressive Behavior
Aggressive behavior can develop as a result of many different aspects, from genetic causes that have been inherited from parents, to behaviors that are learned through a series of repeated experiences. Additionally, certain types of mental health disorders or reactions to medication can cause aggression to appear in individuals who would otherwise not engage in such a manner. Some of the most common causes include:
Genetic: Research suggests that there may be a genetic link to aggressive outbursts. In a study conducted on mice, results showed that those mice who lacked a certain gene were far less aggressive than the mice that had that particular gene. This gene is also present in human beings, which seems to support the idea of a genetic link to aggression.
Physical: The amygdala is the part of the brain that has been shown to be an area that causes aggression. Stimulation of the amygdala results in augmented aggressive behavior, while lesions of this area greatly reduce one’s competitive drive and aggression. Another area, the hypothalamus, is believed to serve a regulatory role in aggression.The hypothalamus has been shown to cause aggressive behavior when electrically stimulated but, more importantly, has receptors that help determine aggression levels based on their interactions with the neurotransmitters serotonin and vasopressin. In some cases, aggression can be the symptom of a serious or life-threating condition such as alcohol withdrawal or traumatic brain injury. Additionally, individuals who have a history of migraines, strokes, epilepsy, or other physical conditions are at a higher risk for developing aggressive behaviors.
Environment: It is thought that certain environmental factors such as living in poor neighborhoods with high crime rates or having familial discord while growing up can both lead to aggressive, problematic behaviors. Additionally, poor parenting practices and adolescents with difficult temperaments are also at an increased risk.
Medications: Certain types of medication have the ability to cause a person to act in an aggressive manner. For some individuals, prescriptions pills, or even some over-the-counter meds, can cause irritability, nervousness, or other aggression-causing feelings.
Mental health disorders: Psychological disorders are the most common causes of aggressive behavior. While almost any mental health disorder can lead to the development of aggression, some of the most common underlying causes of aggression include:
- Schizoaffective disorder
- Bipolar disorder
- Anxiety disorders
- Conduct disorder
- Substance abuse
Effects of Aggressive Behavior
If not properly addressed and treated, aggression can lead to serious consequences in many different areas of an adolescent’s or adult’s life. Difficulties that result from aggressive behavior can include physical, psychological, and even legal ramifications. Some of these effects can include:
- Poor adjustment
- Difficulties at work
- Poor academic performance
- Family difficulties
- Withdrawal from family or friends
- Financial problems
- Substance abuse and addiction
- Conduct problems
Treatment for Aggression
If you or your loved one are displaying signs of aggressive behavior, it is important that you consult with a mental health professional as soon as possible in order to get a complete physical and psychological evaluation. Since the reason for the development of aggression can be the result of many different factors, treatment for aggression is conducted on an individual basis. The goal of entering into a treatment clinic is usually focused on helping an individual learn how to control his or her anger and frustration in a more appropriate manner. Additionally, treatment rehabs teaches individuals to be responsible for his or her actions and come to accept consequences of their actions.
There are a number of different options available for the treatment of aggressive behavior, which may include an inpatient treatment rehab that has been shown to be effective at identifying and treating the cause of this inappropriate behavior. Through an inpatient treatment clinic, individuals will be able to receive any therapeutic interventions needed to address any underlying mental health disorders that may be causing the aggressive behavior. Additionally, patients can get any medication they may need and will be under constant supervision to ensure safety while they get their behaviors under control. Other methods that may be used at a mental health clinic include group therapy, family therapy, and experiential programming, all of which can address any additional issues.