Are You Or A Loved One Struggling With Hostile Aggression?

Published 06/27/2022

Aggressive behavior comes in many forms and can be expressed in a variety of ways, but no situation ever calls for it. In fact, aggression only makes the situation worse and prevents it from ever getting any better, which is why it’s so important to avoid it at all costs.

As damaging as aggression is to the lives of the aggressor, the victim, and the witnesses, it’s something that many of us experience often -- especially with the world we live in today. In many areas of our lives, aggression is almost encouraged and is often the first thing people turn to in moments of frustration.

Learning to control and deflect these aggressive impulses, reactions, and behaviors is vital to living a quality life. Since this is something so many of us struggle to do on a daily basis, we’re going to discuss everything you need to know about aggression.

More specifically, we’re going to look at a certain type of aggression called hostile aggression and how it compares to the other types. Knowing the difference is essential because they each need to be dealt with differently. Don’t worry, we’ll explain it all down below!

What Is Hostile Aggression?

Aggressive behavior is defined as any act or behavior intended to cause physical, emotional, or social harm to the victim. While that’s true with all types of aggression, the difference with hostile aggression is that it happens in the heat of the moment.

Hostile aggression refers to any violent behavior fueled by emotion, whether that emotion is anger, frustration, annoyance, or just pure hate. There’s generally no goal behind the aggressive behavior and if there is, the goal is to simply harm the victim -- physically, verbally, or socially.

With hostile aggression, the aggressor generally experiences a loss of control in that moment, which is what causes them to take the sudden leap from being in a calm state to being in a hostile state. It’s more reactive in its nature, but the reaction is never justified, as opposed to being in a life-death situation.

Research on Hostile Aggression

While researchers and psychologists are still working to understand the root causes of hostile aggression, there’s still a lot to learn. Some studies suggest it’s learned behavior from parents, siblings, friends, or even entertainment (more specifically, video games).

Other studies suggest that it’s genetic or even a neurological issue that’s causing the behavior. Many hostile aggressors also have mental illnesses or disorders such as ADHD, depression, anxiety, bipolar, schizophrenia, and much more.

Of course, it could be caused by any of these situations and it varies by patient. That’s why it’s so important to understand each victim, understand what they’re going through in life, what might be causing the behavior, and what the possible solution might be.

Examples of Hostile Aggression

Like we mentioned above, hostile aggression is something most of us experience, participate in or witness on a daily basis. Unfortunately, it’s becoming so common that it’s becoming a way of life for some people and it affects everyone around them.

Since hostile aggression can be expressed in so many different ways, let’s take a look at some of the most common examples of hostile aggression that many of us experience often:

  1. While there’s a lot of aggression in the game of football, a majority of it is within the rules of the sport. When tempers flare, however, and a fight or brawl breaks out, this is known as hostile aggression. The players were intending on playing football, not fighting.

  1. Almost every ‘road rage’ incident is considered an act of hostile aggression. When the driver gets in their car to drive, they don’t plan on having temper tantrums behind the wheel, but it’s what happens -- often for unjustifiable reasons.
  2. A majority of bar fights are acts of aggressive behavior, largely because no one intends on getting in a bar fight. At some point throughout the night, that person gets so agitated -- or drunk -- that they lash out at another bar patron.
  3. Anytime you punch a wall out of frustration, anger, displeasure, or annoyance, it’s considered hostile aggression. Most of us don’t wake up with the intention of punching a wall, but sometimes our emotions get the best of us. This is actually true most of the time we punch something due to a rush of emotions.
  4. Let’s say you enter a store -- that requires you to wear face masks -- without a face mask on. One of the employees stops you before entering and asks you to please wear a mask if you plan on entering. Instead of putting on a mask, you proceed to verbally attack the employee. That’s hostile aggression.

Whenever you see or experience aggressive behavior, you should always ask yourself, “Did that person wake up today with the intention of hurting someone else?” If the answer is No and they didn’t have any prior plan to hurt the other person, chances are that behavior is considered hostile aggression.

Likewise, you could ask yourself, “Was this an overreaction of sorts?” If the answer to that question is Yes, it’s most likely hostile aggression that didn’t need to happen -- but unfortunately did happen.

Instrumental vs. Hostile Aggression

When discussing hostile aggression, many people get it confused with instrumental aggression. Though they’re similar, they hold direct differences that change the way they need to be dealt with. It’s important to understand the difference before seeking a solution to the problem.

Since both types of aggression deal with an intent to harm the other individual(s), the main difference comes down to one question, “What is the goal of aggression?”

With hostile aggression, the main goal is to inflict pain in the heat of the moment -- often to satisfy an impulse fueled by intense emotion or loss of control. With instrumental aggression, the main goal is to achieve some sort of personal gain. The aggressors often don’t want to hurt anyone, but will if it means they obtain their goal.

A good example of instrumental aggression would be hurting an opponent prior to a football game, that way you gain an advantage on game day. The real goal here isn’t to hurt the other person, but rather to gain an advantage on game day.

Another example of instrumental aggression is robbing a bank. The real goal here is to obtain as much money as possible. While the bank robber doesn’t want to harm anyone, he will (physically, emotionally, or socially) if it means he gets the money.

In addition to hostile and instrumental aggression, there are three other major types of aggression you should consider when classifying different scenarios:

  1. Reactive Aggression - aggressive behavior acted out in response to a true threat or perceived perpetrator. Dogs partake in reactive aggression by growling if someone seems like a threat, whether they are or not.
  2. Expressive Aggression - the main difference with expressive aggression is the aggressor acts out because it makes them feel good. There’s a pleasure element to the aggressive behavior that ignites it.
  3. Accidental Aggression - not every aggressive incident is meant to be aggressive. Accidentally hitting the back of someone’s foot with the grocery cart is an act of accidental aggression. It’s aggressive, but you didn’t mean harm and was more an act of carelessness.

Since each type of aggression needs to be dealt with differently, the first step in finding the help you need is to determine what type you’re experiencing. Once you have that figured out, you’ll start to see progress towards a possible solution.

How Should You Deal With Hostile Aggression?

Hostile aggression affects more than just the victim. It affects the victim’s loved ones due to the physical, emotional, or social harm encountered by the victim. It affects the witnesses, who now have that situation playing in their head, over and over again.

Not only that, but it affects the aggressor. We can all agree that aggressive behavior is not how you lead a quality life. The longer they go without receiving the help they need, the more they’ll continue to hurt themselves and those around them.

Here are some tips we believe everyone should have access to when dealing with hostile aggression, whether you’re the aggressor, victim, or witness:

  1. When applicable, it’s always best to avoid these types of situations. Unless you feel like you can put an end to it, distance yourself from it and alert the authorities so a professional can deal with it.
  2. When dealing with a hostile aggressor, do whatever possible to avoid escalating the issue or making it worse. Emotions are running high and the littlest thing could spark a tantrum.

  1. If you find yourself engaging in hostile aggression, take a deep breath, and think about what you’re doing. Think about the consequences and instead of lashing out, do what you need to in order to find that happy place.
  2. If you see someone else dealing with a hostile aggressor, be their support. If you can defuse the situation, defuse it. If you can call for help, call for help. Whatever you do, don’t let it go unnoticed.
  3. Don’t be ashamed to seek help as a result of experiencing or engaging in hostile aggression. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about and seeking help is the first step to finding relief from the situation, no matter which side of the spectrum you’re on.

When dealing with aggressive behavior, you’d be surprised at the number of people ready to extend their arms out and help. While some people out there only mean to harm you, there is an overwhelming majority that will treat you like family -- especially when it’s needed the most.

Getting Help For Hostile Aggression

If you feel stuck or have nowhere to turn when dealing with hostile aggression, contact a medical professional immediately. If you’re struggling to determine whether or not you’re dealing with aggressive behavior, Mind Diagnostics is here to help.

We’ve created a comprehensive online aggression test -- one for males and one for females -- to see whether or not aggressive behavior affects your life. We also take pride in matching you up with the right therapist to further seek the help you need. Feel free to contact us today if you have any questions regarding our services.