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Adult Relational Aggression

Relational Aggression In Toddlers

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What is relational aggression?

Relational aggression is emotional abuse that attacks one's relationships with others. Adult relational aggression can occur just about anywhere. While it is usually done in a more covert manner than other forms of abuse, it can be quite overt as well. Due to it's subtleties, adult relational aggression can often be in use in plain sight of others without them knowing what is truly going on. It is used to inflict emotional and psychological harm on others and interferes with how the victim is perceived by others. Relational aggression is used to intimidate others and simply make them feel less than their true worth. When inflicted, it can take away part of the victim's social standing and quite often effectively exclude them from people and opportunities that are important to them personally or on a professional level.

Relational aggression is often at play when the harasser attempts or successfully interferes with the victims relationships causing negative consequences that can lead to a downward spiral for the victim. Adult relational aggression takes many forms such as gossip, backstabbing, and taking digs at the victim, their work, or relationships. Sabotage and manipulation of the reputation of the individual is also common as is giving them the silent treatment regularly. The silent treatment, whether at work or in social situations is a classic sign of relational aggression.

Choose Wisely To Cope With Relational Aggression


Relational aggression can lead to larger problems

Over time relational aggression can wear even the strongest of adult victims' self esteem down to dangerously low levels while cutting them off from friends and others that they may want or need to confide in. Often, this pain is inflicted with words, exclusion, and isolation of the victim, not physical abuse. Because not a single physical blow is dealt in most cases, some people mistakenly believe that there is no problem or they simply deny that there is a problem but often the wounds are lasting. It must be noted that even in adults relational aggression can lead to physical blows. This can happen when the aggressor wants to exert power and can think of no other way or when the victim is fed up and retaliates.

In certain situations where the harasser is believed by others who are in a position of authority or is in a position of authority themselves, use of adult relational aggression can play a very negative role when certain individuals are unable to get a job, promotion, a networking connection, or even a date. Relational aggression inflicts real stress and pain on the target of the abuse and some people find themselves getting to a breaking point even when they have reached out for assistance repeatedly. Relational aggression can be found in use across all ages and races in a variety of settings, even in places such as church. It is very common between females but is also used by males of all ages.

Relational aggression can make you feel like this

Sooner or later, we all reach our boiling point.

Sooner or later, we all reach our boiling point.

Mind games that can cause pain

Abuse is abuse whether it is physical or not. Relational aggression causes lasting changes in a fairly large number of victims. Unfortunately, adult relational aggression often boils down to the harasser's own insecurities and a willingness to do absolutely anything to put another person down only to feel better about themselves. It is not uncommon for the bully or aggressor to project their problems onto the target and hold the target out for humiliation. To say the harasser has a character flaw is being kind. Many harassers/bullies will recruit others to take part in isolating and inflicting pain or humiliation onto the victim in a variety of settings whether public or private. A fair number of victims report never even having previous interactions with their abusers for the abuser to actually have actually formed an accurate opinion of them.

The negative effects of adult relational aggression can be found at work, school, church, or even while shopping. In many cases it doesn't seem to make a significant difference if the victim is alone or with a group of people when the harasser is looking for a victim. How the victim responds is often very important to preventing further aggression. There have probably been times where you or a loved one have walked into even the most mundane of places such as a grocery store, shopping mall, or library, only to be met with rude comments or condescending stares by people that you've have never even met.

Mean Girls


Sticks and stones is not the way to deal with relational aggression

In cases of relational aggression is not uncommon for the victim to be met with negative comments or stares to the point that the victim gets visibly uncomfortable or nervous. A few victims can become so rattled that they become physically ill. Many times rude or downright nasty comments are intentionally said loud enough so the victim can very easily hear but if confronted, the bully/harasser will often say they weren't talking directly to the victim in an attempt to imply there is no problem with their actions.

It is easy for some to say the old sticks and stones rhyme when telling others how to deal with adult relational aggression. The problem is that many bullies who use relational aggression to inflict pain will simply continue to do so until the victim firmly stands up for themselves, the aggressor has no further contact with the victim, or a person with authority steps in and forces change. In cases where the harasser comes into contact multiple times daily or weekly with their victim, the victim is very likely being assaulted verbally and psychologically during each contact. It is from this perspective that parents and victims will come to understand the potentially devastating effects of relational aggression. The more often the victim comes into contact with this behavior, the easier it will be for the victim to begin to lose self esteem and think it possible that the bully is correct with their negative view.

How did I end up here?



Victims of relational aggression may may exhibit any number of reactions to the negative behavior. Some people will become more withdrawn from social activities or may attempt to isolate themselves from others in an effort to stay away from the bully/bullies and those who side with the bully or offer no resistance to the bully's bad behavior. Children as well as adults may cry or voice their concerns through complaints. Others may show a drop in concentration and performance at school or work. Some people will do anything to avoid showing up to school or work, making it seem as if the problem is within them rather than coming from another person or group. Relational aggression can have a very negative effect on productivity in work or school. It is beneficial to schools and employers to take firm action in these cases rather than ignore it.

Sometimes formerly outgoing people may become more introverted without explanation. Some victims will become outwardly angry or even violent when they have been pushed past their personal limits. Because victims don't always tell others what is going on, casual observers may incorrectly assume that the victim lashing out is the only one at fault. They may even be deemed crazy by those who have no idea what is truly happening. However, it's important to know that violence can be targeted to the offending bullies as well as to others if the target is pushed well beyond their limits. In other cases, the person may harm themselves whether it be physically, educationally (by dropping out, skipping classes, etc.), or careerwise by avoiding work. This is another reason relational aggression should be nipped in the bud and never allowed to fester.

There have been cases where bystanders were injured or even killed at school, work, social gatherings, and in public places when relational aggression victims attacked their aggressors and vice versa. It is for this reason that relational aggression must be addressed particularly in settings where the victim must be in contact with the harasser in places such as at school, in the neighborhood, or in the workplace. In social settings, organizers and attendees should be aware of these types of situations and seek to keep victims and aggressors from being invited to the same event(s) until the situation can be addressed and/or resolved.

Global Alliance for Preventing Relational Aggression

Avoidance and hiding from relational aggressors often will not work

Avoiding the harasser works sometimes but not all of the time. Avoiding the harasser may not be the best way to deal with the problem because many harassers enjoy putting the victim on the run and will chase them to no end to inflict further pain. This must be taken into account if avoidance is the only tactic being put into place. Further, the victim will never be comfortable in settings where they absolutely must be with the harasser such as at work or school. Other problems associated with relational aggression include depression and isolation from friends or even family.

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Relational aggression on the job is more common than many people choose to acknowledge and it can definitely impact the company in a variety of ways. Relational aggression can affect the bottom line in cases where the victim chooses to call in sick or leave work early. Often excuses are made up and the truth won't be told by the victim but there may be others who know what is going on whether they be friends, by-standers, or active participants.

In the worst of scenarios, relational aggression can be a factor in workplace violence. It should always be stamped out by employers whenever it is found or reported because this is something that can affect the bottom line and cause a toxic environment with negative distractions, injury, and in some cases, death from violence. In addition, if it can be shown in a court of law that the company was notified and they took little or no action prior to injury or death, the company can be held liable. Relational aggression also contributes to a higher rate of turnover, further costing the company more money in recruiting and training replacements. Employers need to do all they can to ensure that for employees and profits' sakes, that their work environment is free from adult relational aggression.

The boiling point has been reached



Adult relational aggression attacks relationships and a person's reputation in an attempt to devalue and humiliate. In too many cases, the harasser succeeds for the long term even when they have been eliminated from the victim's life. Often, it is the use of a combination of solutions that will work best for the victim. In some cases, victims will need to improve their social skills and self confidence to lessen their chances of becoming a victim and more importantly improve their own self-esteem for the sake of their own confidence. It is important to understand that even those who have good or excellent social skills and self confidence can become victims of relational aggression. Many victims will find out who their real friends are during this experience and some may find their social and work connections are not what they once believed.

If any difference or weakness (real or perceived) is seen by a harasser or bully, they will often pounce. Speaking up strongly against the harasser at the very first infraction can be an effective countermeasure to show them the victim is not to be mistreated. The quicker and more strongly the victim asserts themselves, the more likely they are to have positive results. A common myth about victims of relational aggression is that they are unpopular or introverted people. This is not always true and there are many cases where fairly outgoing, popular, and even well known children and adults have been harassed by people that resent their intelligence, success, talent, skill, financial status, attractiveness, or social connections.

Stand Up To Bullying And Relational Aggression


Additional options

Victims can fight back by being open and honest with their harassers and firmly requesting that the aggressor stop negative comments and actions. Do so firmly and immediately without delay to let the bully know you are not a target. Sometimes this works and sometimes this doesn't but it notifies the aggressor that the victim is aware of what is being attempted, that it is wrong, and is unwelcome. If the victim is in an employment or educational situation where there are authority figures available to intervene, they may need to be called in for assistance if the aggressor's behavior continues or escalates. This is also an option that doesn't always work as a single solution because some authority figures are indifferent to this behavior, others are ineffective, or the bully may simply be the type who will not listen to the authority figure and victim.