We all have a roll in preventing aggression and violence

The problem of aggression and violence is not a single problem but a collection of problems. Similarly, there is no one complete solution to solve it all, but many partial solutions all of which can make an impact.

Can’t start a fire without a spark

One part of the problem is that we don’t take aggression seriously until it has run it’s full course and exploded into violence. We minimize and ignore the small versions of aggression as if they have nothing to do with the larger version of the problem. A small spark in a forest has a lot to do with large forest fires.

Like fire, aggression exists on a continuum. There are little flare ups which may seem harmless, and there are large eruptions which are devastating. But, fire is fire and aggression is aggression.

The solution to this part of the problem is to acknowledge that small amounts of aggression are potentially more dangerous than we think. The way to prevent something bad from happening is to see the bad thing developing, and intervene early before the thing gains momentum. Hitting and talking back in a young child ought to be taken seriously. The great challenge always is to learn how to intervene decisively, yet compassionately, lovingly and gently.

And let it begin with me

A second part of the problem is that we think that the problem is “them” and has nothing to do with us. “Why do they act so violently?” “Why can’t they pass laws to prevent this?” “Why don’t they provide better treatment for these people?” We often act as if we are not part of the problem or the solution. In fact, we are both.

We don’t realize it but we are being aggressive when we call others, or ourselves, names like stupid, idiot and jerk. We are being aggressive when we subtly control or dominate others by our body posture, tone of voice or facial glares.

The solution to this part of the problem is the willingness to start with ourselves. Discussions around preventing violence tend to become controversial and heated. Sadly, when we resort to name calling and insults we are blindly exhibiting the very thing we’re complaining about—aggressive mistreatment of others. But we think it’s okay because we think they deserve it.

Aggression breeds and promotes more aggression. It has a double-whammy effect in that it teaches others how to be aggressive, and by hurting them and making them angry it gives them motivation to lash out. Aggression gives others both the incentive and the tool to spread more aggression. Aggressive behavior tempts others to respond with their own aggression of an equal or greater intensity.

Teach your children well

We are the adults—we are the parents, the teachers, the principals, the doctors, the therapists, the media personalities, the bosses, the employees, the project managers, the support staff—we are the role models who children watch to learn how to handle anger and frustration. We have a responsibility to show them how to do it. We have a responsibility to openly admit that we are not perfect, but we are determined to get better at it.

Art Frenz, Ph.D.

Image courtesy of Michael Marcol / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Psychological Fitness

“Psychological Fitness” is my monthly column featured in the Binghamton, NY Press & Sun Bulletin since 2004. This page highlights articles, or adaptations thereof, from that column.