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What is Aggression?

Violence, verbal and/or physical hostility, and forcefulness in one’s own needs or wants are the most common characteristics of aggression. Aggression may also be defined as confrontation or actively seeking conflict.

While aggression may often have a negative connotation, it’s also a natural social instinct for humans. Displays of aggression have changed throughout history, but it’s a key component in the development of social norms. Aggression may be effective in addressing socially unacceptable behavior. But, when aggression escalates, it may result in violence and physical or psychological harm. At this point, aggression may be recognized at a harmful behavior.

Aggression appears differently in men than it does in women. In men, aggression tends to be more direct and is more likely to escalate into physical violence. Generally speaking, male aggression may result in more physical and psychological harm than female aggression does.

Signs of Aggression

There are many different forms of aggression and the signs of aggression vary from person to person. However, there are two main types of aggression: physical and verbal.

Signs of physical aggression include:

  • Punching, hitting, or slapping
  • Pinching
  • Pushing
  • Breaking objects or property (i.e. punching a hole in a wall)
  • Pulling hair
  • Spitting on people or property

Signs of verbal aggression:

  • Yelling
  • Spreading rumors
  • Calling someone by an offensive name
  • Ignoring an individual or leaving them out in social situations

Aggression can also be recognized as physical and psychological symptoms in the individual. Examples of these physical symptoms include:

  • Quickened heart rate
  • Heightened body temperature
  • Flushed complexion
  • Tensing the jaw, hands, and muscles throughout the body
  • Headache

Examples of psychological symptoms include:

  • Inhibited ability to focus or concentrate
  • Inhibited judgement
  • General feelings of anger, agitation, and/or irritation
  • Mood swings

How is Aggression Treated?

To treat aggression, you and your doctor must first pinpoint its cause. The cause of aggression may vary depending on the individual. In some cases, aggression is a symptom of a different condition such as bipolar disorder or adult Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD). In these circumstances, more extensive treatment involving medication and therapy may be required to ease aggressive behaviors.

Therapy is a common and often effective treatment for aggression. Therapy can give the affected individual an outlet to reflect on their triggers for aggression and foster a greater understanding of the feelings that lead to aggression. A therapist can help introduce strategies to avoid or cope with these triggers.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a therapy method frequently used in the treatment of aggression. It focuses on identifying destructive aggressive behaviors and replacing them with healthy behaviors. Over time, the healthy behaviors may become habits and aggressive behaviors may lessen in frequency or stop completely.


Mental health issues are real, common, and treatable. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness and 20% of those are considered serious. 17% of 6-17 year olds experience a mental health disorder. So the first thing to remember is this: You are not alone.

If you feel that you are suffering from a mental illness, and particularly if those issues are preventing you from living life to the full or feeling yourself, you may want to consider professional help which can make an enormous difference.

And to be clear, you don't need to be going through a crisis in order to justify getting help. In fact, it can be advantageous from a treatment perspective to identify and deal with issues early and before they have a major impact on your life. Either way you should feel encouraged and able to seek help however you are feeling.

Mental health professionals such as licensed therapist can help in a range of ways including:

  • Help you identify where, when, and how issues arise
  • Develop coping strategies for specific symptoms and issues
  • Encourage resilience and self-management
  • Identify and change negative behaviors
  • Identify and encourage positive behaviors
  • Heal pain from past trauma
  • Figure out goals and waypoints
  • Build self-confidence

Treatment for mental health issues, and psychotherapy (sometimes known as 'talk therapy') in particular, frequently helps people to feel better, manage, and even get rid of their symptoms. For example, did you know that over 80% of people treated for depression materially improve? Or that treatment for panic disorder has a 90% success rate?

Other treatment options include medication which, in some cases, can be highly effective when administered in combination with psychotherapy.

So what is psychotherapy? It involves talking about your problems and concerns with a mental health professional. It can take lots of forms, including individual, group, couples and family sessions. Often, people see their therapists once a week for 50 minutes to start with and then reducing frequency as time goes on and issues subside. Treatment can be as short as a few weeks or as long as a few years depending on your particular situation and response.

Never think that getting help is a sign of weakness. It isn't. In fact, it can be a sign of strength and maturity to take the steps necessary to becoming you again and getting your life back on track.


Are you in distress? If so, or if you think that you may hurt yourself or attempt suicide, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.

Also consider these options if you're having suicidal thoughts:

  • Call your mental health specialist.
  • Call a suicide hotline number — in the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
  • Seek help from your primary doctor or other health care provider.
  • Reach out to a close friend or loved one.
  • Contact a minister, spiritual leader or someone else in your faith community.

If a loved one or friend is in danger of attempting suicide or has made an attempt:

  • Make sure someone stays with that person.
  • Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
  • Or, if you can do so safely, take the person to the nearest hospital emergency room.

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