Anger and Aggression
Anger is a normal and natural emotion, which probably all of us will feel at least at some point in our lives.
Anger is often associated with heat or cold—we talk about feeling ‘hot with anger’ and also recognise the idea of ‘cold fury’.
Anger can be quite frightening, both in yourself and in others, because it can arrive very suddenly, but also because it can cause very irrational and unpredictable behaviours.
Aggression is a behaviour, often closely linked to anger. Angry people can become aggressive, and aggressive people may become angry, but the two are not the same.
Defining Anger and Aggression
anger, n. hot displeasure, often involving a desire for retaliation: wrath. —vt. To make angry: to irritate. — angry, adj. excited with anger, inflamed, of threatening or lowering aspect.
aggression, n. a first act of hostility or injury.
Chambers English Dictionary, 1989 edition.
Our pages on anger and aggression define and explain both terms, and explain how to deal with anger and aggression both in yourself and in others.
First of all, it is important to understand that anger is not always bad.
Aristotle said “The man who is angry at the right things and with the right people, and, further, as he ought when he ought, and as long as he ought is praised”.
He meant that it is right to be angry when you see injustice, or wrong-doing of some sort. But anger should not be taken to extremes.
Our page What is Anger? explains more about this complex emotion, how it is caused, and how it is expressed. It also explains some of the possible consequences of anger.
Some people have a tendency to become unreasonably angry.
In other words, they are not angry at the right things and with the right people. Instead, they become angry for what those around may see as ‘no reason’, and remain angry for much longer than is considered reasonable.
These people may need help to manage their anger. If this sounds like you, you may be able to achieve this by yourself, and our page on Anger Management provides some advice for self-help techniques, as well as information about how to work out if you need more help.
Our page on Anger Management Therapy explains what professional therapy can do to help you manage your anger.
Aggression is a complex subject. It is fair to say that what one person might think of as assertive behaviour can easily be interpreted by someone else as aggressive.
Our page on Dealing with Aggression defines aggression, and sets out some of the types of aggressive behaviour. It also explains the main theories about aggression, and also how aggression can make you feel when you are on the receiving end of it.
Our page on Recognising Aggression in Others helps you to recognise aggression through the physical signs and behavioural changes that you may see in others. It also explains some of the factors influencing aggression. It then goes on to explain how you may be able to defuse aggressive situations through your behaviour.
The ‘Flip Side’
— Good Humour and Assertiveness
If anger and aggression are ‘bad things’, and we can probably agree that is usually the case, then what is the other side of the coin?
In other words, what are the good things, the virtues, that are associated with ‘not being angry’ and ‘not being aggressive’?
The first area that we would probably recognise as being ‘not angry’ is Being Good Tempered. Good tempered people are pleasant and easy to get along with. They are often referred to as ‘even-tempered’, meaning that they are emotionally very well-balanced, and have good self-control.
Good tempered people do get angry, but only when it is right to do so.
The other area that is often associated with aggression, or thought of as its reverse, is Assertiveness. It is not strictly true that assertiveness is the opposite of aggression, but it can be helpful to think of aggressive, passive and assertive behaviour as three points of a triangle.
Assertive people stand up for themselves and others without becoming either passive or aggressive. They remain calm under pressure, and can get their point across without upsetting others or becoming upset.
Making Life Less Stressful
There is no doubt that anger and aggression can be very uncomfortable, whether you are the angry one, or the one on the receiving end.
Learning more about both can help you to manage yourself better, and ensure that you find situations involving either less stressful.