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How to handle aggression

Sarah Horrocks
by Sarah Horrocks Published on 19 January 2009

It’s not always easy to stay calm in a tailback or neverending queue without losing your cool. We encounter stressful situations every day, though, so instead of doing a Naomi we have to learn how to control and manage aggression to make life easier.

What is aggression?

The simplest definition is ‘a hostile and threatening disposition tending towards confrontation.’ Psychologists see it as an expression of a natural defence instinct to assert yourself in front of others.

Why do we need to control aggression?

You may think that insulting the traffic warden who fines you will release your anger, but it does nothing. It's a waste of energy and in the long term it can cause you harm. No-one likes a big mouth, at work or at home. When you let your aggression get the better of you you give across a negative image of yourself and you and other people will see you in a different light. Getting angry, screaming and cursing is not the answer. When you control your aggression it can be a source of pride and a small personal victory too.

Learn to channel your emotions
Aggression is born from stress, frustration and dissatisfaction. It's easy to be overcome by your emotions; here's how to channel them instead.

- Attacking someone will lead to surefire conflict, so use dialogue to defuse the situation. Putting yourself in the other person’s shoes is essential. Understanding the ins and outs of the demands or attitude of the person in front of you will let you understand what is annoying you so much. If you think about what the other person wants, the tension will go away and you'll be able to communicate more peacefully.

- A second technique that can help you cope with aggression is whispering. If you find yourself yelling, lower your voice and tone, reducing the speed of your speech and the volume gradually. The person in front of you will do the same without even realising, and you can start a constructive, composed dialogue.

Exercise

Easy said, but how do you transform aggression? There are so many situations that can cause anger that it is sometimes difficult to be zen. To stop trivial annoyances from turning into a source of anger, try exercise. If you suffer from a lot of anger, a martial art could help you channel your energy and transform it into self control and knowledge. Respect for others is also a large part of martial arts. If your aggression is caused by a stressful lifestyle, exercise can be a real outlet. Try sports like squash, badminton, jogging or swimming which will help you relieve nervous tension.

Therapy

If you've had enough of yelling games, non violent communication (NVC) therapy could help. Based on a win/win relationship, it helps participants understand their expectations and needs and understand themselves better. If you know what you want, negotiation doesn't have to turn into a conflict. More broadly, NVC is a life philosophy that will help you in day-to-day life.

If your aggression is a real handicap, behavioural therapy can help you find immediate solutions to use in real situations. But to put your finger on the underlying causes and origins of your excess aggression, psychoanalysis is advised.

Remember that getting angry because your friend is an hour late or because you're stuck in a queue isn't really detrimental and totally normal, as long as these are isolated incidents.

by Sarah Horrocks

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