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Explanation of Aggression and Domestic Violence in the Light of Social Psychology

Misbah has done her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. She has access to a wide range of mental health professionals who treat mental illness.

What is Aggression? — The General Definition

In our daily lives, we use the term "aggression" to refer to someone acting violently toward another person. We define someone as aggressive if they behave in ways associated with anger or frustration, such as shouting at or physically assaulting another person, cutting off other vehicles in traffic, slamming doors, throwing off things, etc.

Other harmful actions such as injury caused by the athlete during a tough match or killing of enemy soldiers in a fight, may not be perceived as aggressive by everyone.

So, one thing that must be clearly explained here is that different individuals describe aggression in several different ways. People from different walks of life have varied perspectives about it. If I believe something is cruel, others may not consider or sense it in the same way. Here tradition and culture, as well as beliefs, also play a key role. The human psyche is difficult to understand. There is always a web of hows and whys behind who a person is and how he is that way.

We all experience moments of anger, but when it persists or is excessive, it might be a symptom of a mental health problem, a drug use disorder, or other health problem.

What Is Aggressive Behavior According to Social Psychology?

According to social psychology, the standard definition of aggression is: "A behavior done with the intention to harm an individual who is motivated to avoid receiving that behavior."

According to this definition, any activity done with the aim to hurt the target and with the assumption that the target intended to avoid receiving the behavior is considered aggressive.

Even in this definition, there are some critical points to understand. In certain circumstances, hurting the other person is purposeful, but the one doing it possesses non-aggressive characteristics, such as an oral surgeon who causes pain when extracting a patient's tooth; a doctor while giving an injection to a patient, lovers who inflict mutually enjoyable pain for sexual pleasure, etc.

As aggression is so difficult to define that is why social psychologists, judges, lawyers, and many others have to spend a lot of time determining whether or not an action should be rated as aggressive. This pushes us to engage in causal attribution procedures in order to discover more about the root causes of people's violent behavior.

A behavior that is intended to harm another individual who does not wish to be harmed.

- (Baron & Richardson, 1994)

The Reasons Behind Aggression:

Aggression by the perpetrator does not always have to be the result of the perpetrator's bad character. A tough childhood, diseases, injuries, addictions, or mental disorders may have contributed to the wrongs done.

For decades, social psychologists have been performing surveys and research to explain why this behavior occurs in society while keeping domestic violence as a social problem in mind. The researchers also outlined the factors that differentiate aggressors and their victims from the nonviolent population.

After years of research in many areas of the world and taking into consideration various criminal studies, social psychologists have found that it is crucial to examine the aggressor's background in order to understand the reason behind crimes and violence. They have divided it into three stages:

  1. Intrapersonal
  2. Interpersonal and systemic
  3. Sociocultural

1) Intrapersonal:

Researching a person's past and personality traits, as well as psychopathology and organic dysfunctions

2) Interpersonal and Systemic:

How the person handles the marriage relationship and family dynamics?

3) Sociocultural:

This stage includes researching environmental influences and stressors, racial problems, social status of the family, and social attitudes of its members.

“An abuser can seem emotionally needy. You can get caught in a trap of catering to him, trying to fill a bottomless pit. But he’s not so much needy as entitled, so no matter how much you give him, it will never be enough. He will just keep coming up with more demands because he believes his needs are your responsibility until you feel drained down to nothing.”

— Lundy Bancroft, Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men

Domestic violence is widely accepted to be the outcome of the mixture of elements from all the previously listed stages. Here, we will exclusively discuss the perpetrators of violence and a subset of their intrapersonal functioning, specifically the presence of mental problems among the aggressors.

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Any situation of losing control over your behavior may lead to aggressive behavior. Violence, whether verbal, psychological, or physical, is not healthy behavior. It is essential for those involved in domestic abuse situations to determine if a specific case necessitates police or legal involvement, or psychological or psychiatric help.

According to social psychology, the following kinds of mental illnesses are more common among violent aggressors:

  • Personality disorders
  • Disorders caused by the use of psychoactive substances
  • Disorders, in the course of somatic diseases, organic disorders, and mental retardation
  • Behavioral disorders
  • Sexual preference disorders
  • Adaptive and dissociative disorders
  • Affective disorders like mood disorders
  • Psychotic disorders from schizophrenia and delusional disorders

Personality Disorders:

In most cases, the aggressors are usually diagnosed with personality disorders. Personality disorders in violent offenders also include a lack of impulse control. Dissocial personality disorder, formerly known as psychopathy, is the first disorder that springs to mind, but it is not the only one. The characteristics of the aggressor's personality disorders can be divided into three groups:

  • Borderline and asocial
  • Antisocial and narcissistic
  • Dependent and obsessive

It is important to note that there are several classifications of this type in the psychological literature. The offenders often comes from violent families, where they either experienced or witnessed violence between their parents.

In relationships, male offenders of violence against female partners demonstrate the following characteristics:

  • a lack of self-esteem
  • a distorted self-image
  • a lack of impulse control

Disorders Induced by Psychoactive Substances:

Alcohol is a major contributor to many diseases, albeit the mechanism by which it activates aggressive effects has yet to be discovered. It is still unknown if alcohol directly promotes the priming of violent behavior or whether it facilitates the onset of aggressiveness through the biological and social deterioration of the perpetrator and his family. According to numerous researches, there is a link between the usage of psychoactive drugs and the prevalence of domestic violence.

The clinical picture associated with the use of psychoactive substances can be quite complex, ranging from acute poisoning to chronic intoxication and addiction, withdrawal syndrome, behavioral, mood, and personality disorders, psychotic disorders, consciousness disorders, dementia, and a number of additional side effects.

Alcohol is not good for you

Alcohol is not good for you

Disorders in the Course of Somatic Diseases, Biological Disorders, and Mental Retardation:

This is a group of disorders that have physiological causes and can appear as psychopathological symptoms. Endocrine disorders and cardiovascular illnesses are two examples of somatic ailments that can have a direct impact on a person's mental state.

Organic diseases of the brain tissue, inflammations, tumors, and brain injuries, as well as mental retardation, also affect the psyche.

This set of illnesses can have an immediate influence on behavior or have long-term implications in the form of cognitive or personality abnormalities.

As a result, their causes require diagnosis and treatment. Even if we are not dealing with a scenario that can be described by a medical diagnosis, it is vital to remember that a large number of offenders have a brain injury or a history of diseases or microdamage to brain tissues. Neurophysiological testing commonly reveals frontal and temporal cortical anomalies in aggressive people. These regions are in charge of controlling behavior and impulse control. Therefore, their damage may be associated with easier activation of aggressive behavior.

Behavioral Disorders:

The most common behavioral abnormalities among violent offenders are habits and drive disorders, as well as impaired impulse control. As these types of disorders may also be related to organic causes, addictions, patterns of behavior derived from the primary family, or other conditions, this should be kept in mind when making a diagnosis. This category of disorders is also distinguished by researchers, and it is obvious that the perpetrators have impaired control of impulses - in this case, aggressive impulses.

Disorders of Sexual Preference:

This disorder is primarily associated with child sexual abuse and rape in partnerships. Many typologies of offenders of this sort of abuse have been described, as personality disorders, using psychological and sociological criteria. Pedophilia and sadomasochism should be evaluated psychiatrically, but homosexuality, and exhibitionism - particularly with youngsters - can also play a major role.

Adaptation Disorders:

Adaptation disorders are related to the social functioning of violent perpetrators. According to studies, social isolation is an element correlated with all forms of domestic violence, and aggressors frequently isolate themselves socially because they have difficulty creating and maintaining a social support network, which increases their vulnerability to stress.

Affective Disorders:

Affective disorders, also known as mood disorders, are a set of psychiatric disorders. Depression and bipolar disorder are the two most common forms of affective disorders. The symptoms might vary from moderate to severe in different individuals.

  • Depression is a medical term that describes persistent emotions of profound sadness and helplessness. It's more than just feeling depressed for a day or two. The person suffering from depression may experience episodes that can last for several days or even weeks. According to World Health Organization, It is estimated that more than 264 million individuals worldwide suffer from depression.
  • Bipolar disorder is a mental health disease characterized by significant mood swings. These mood fluctuations may include episodes of sadness as well as mania or hypomania.

Affective disorder symptoms include aggression, suicidal thoughts, difficulty in concentration, feelings of guilt, extreme sadness, aches and pains with no physical explanation, changes in eating and sleeping patterns, etc.

Psychotic Disorders - Schizophrenia and Delusional Disorders:

Psychotic disorders are a group of severe mental illnesses. People suffering from psychotic disorders experience a lot of difficulties in their everyday life. Some examples are as follows:

  • Unable to think clearly
  • Cannot make sound judgments,
  • Cannot respond in the correct emotional state
  • Unable to communicate effectively.
  • Unable to understand or live in reality.
  • Cannot behave appropriately according to the situation.

When symptoms are severe, people suffering from psychotic conditions struggle to keep in contact with reality and are often unable to engage in everyday activities. Fortunately, even severe psychotic disorders can usually be treated and controlled.

Last Thoughts:

Perpetrators of domestic violence are more prone to experience psychiatric problems. As a result, it is crucial to look into the perpetrator's interpersonal, social, and sociocultural history. The perpetrator's mental instability might be one reason behind his aggressiveness.

If you are a victim of domestic abuse and believe it is or could be life-threatening, do not hesitate to seek legal or psychiatric help. There are many governmental organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) around the world that can come to rescue you and are only a call away.

“I was heartbroken, scared, I had a lot of anxiety, I was worried, I felt weak, and I had no idea how I was ever going to come up with the strength. But I just closed my eyes and took a blind leap. I knew I had to get out of there.”

— Bob Casey Jr

Helpful Resources:

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Misbah Sheikh

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