How can I be more aggressive?

Why do we become aggressive - and how do we get a grip on it?

In everyday life it usually comes unexpectedly. We feel misunderstood, hurt, not respected: We get upset for a moment - we can no longer control ourselves. We get hot for a moment, anger flames reflexively, we get destructive thoughts. We will aggressive.

Psychologists and behavioral researchers speak of “aggression” when it comes to “behavior with intent to cause harm”. In other words: By definition, a person is only "aggressive" when he deliberately wants to cause damage to an object or person. It is commonly assumed that aggressive tendencies have evolved in us.

But how does this emotion arise? And can we prevent it?

Aggression is evolutionary

In short: no, we can't. The explanation of why there is aggression at all is sobering: “It's a learned behavior,” explains social psychologist Barbara Krahé from the University of Potsdam. She explored aggression in her book The social psychology of aggression from 2013. Children, for example, are taught aggression in their upbringing through the principle of “reward and punishment”. "This reinforces them and shows that you can assert yourself with aggressive behavior."

Observation reinforces this assumption, explains Krahé. “We almost constantly observe aggressive behavior when we consume media in which violence is shown.” We acquire the potential for aggression by watching. Recently, for example, through the massive reporting on Donald Trump, we saw constant aggressive language. This is how aggression becomes subconscious learned.

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The intensity with which we are confronted with aggression in our everyday life and in our upbringing, however, ultimately determines how high our aggression potential is. People who grew up in families and environments in which aggression demonstrated strength and sublimity are more likely to become aggressive quickly. On the other hand, people in whose families differences of opinion have been discussed cooperatively and constructively become less aggressive.

There has been a lot of debate in research about what part our genes play in it. “Our genes certainly have something to do with it, but the question of 'How much?' Is not that easy to answer,” says Krahé. This can be researched by comparing monozygotic and dizygotic twins with one another: If identical twins are more similar in their aggressive behavior than dizygoti, that speaks for a role of genes. Because identical twins share all genes.

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"In general, one can say that our aggression comes about through our environment and partly through predisposition," says Krahé. So we cannot change that ourselves for the time being. Rather, the whole of society must change and become more peaceful in order to resolve this destructive behavior. You should never reward aggression yourself, not even with attention - and not show it to anyone if it arises in you. So we could slowly reverse this evolution of aggression.

How do I get less aggressive?

But, aggressionexists now now. "Everyone experiences aggression from time to time or has at least been aggressive at one point," says Krahé. How can we learn something from this? And how do we calm down when the time comes? Three steps:

  1. Self-reflection: Every time we've acted aggressively, we have to ask ourselves, in retrospect, where that came from. “In most cases, aggression arises from frustration and stress, for example at work,” says Krahé.
  2. Learning to control anger: “We can work off our anger.” You can get into the habit of counting slowly from one to ten immediately after the first aggressive impulse. Distraction also works when we quickly remember something positive and think about it more intensely.
  3. Draw consequences:Finally, we can observe exactly what was causing us trouble in the respective situation - and then bypass it in the future or solve the problem and get rid of it.

Knowing that we can't really help it if we occasionally feel an aggressive impulse, we can react better to ourselves - and try to counteract it.