Aggression refers to behaviors that are hostile, destructive, and violent. When directed at others, aggressive behavior can result in not only physical harm, but in psychological harm as well. While everyone has aggressive tendencies as part of human nature due to an inherent need to protect ourselves, there are some individuals who produce such prominent feelings of aggression that it begins to cause disruption in their lives and in the lives of those around them. This form of aggression typically presents itself without provocation and can be directed at other people, at animals, at property, or even at oneself.
When thinking about aggression, many people conjure images of physical attacks like hitting, punching, or kicking another person. However, aggression can come in many forms. Behaviors such as starting rumors, bullying, spitefully arguing, and blatantly excluding others can be just as damaging and just as devastating as instigating physical attacks.
When children and adolescents lose control of their ability to control their aggressive impulses, the effects can be detrimental. And while uncontrolled aggression can result in endless adverse consequences, the mindset that leads to the behavior is something that can be treated and tools to control the behavior can be taught.
Causes of Aggressive Behavior
There are many factors that can play a role in the development of aggressive behaviors. Things such as experiencing various environmental circumstances, inheriting certain personality traits and temperament, being prescribed some types of medication, or suffering from a mental illness can all impact a person’s susceptibility to struggling with an inability to control aggressive impulses. Consider the following:
Genetic: There are bodies of research that suggest that there is a genetic component involved in the onset of aggressive behaviors. One study in particular that was conducted on mice produced results demonstrating that mice who lacked a certain gene acted in a noticeably less aggressive mannered than did mice who did possess that gene. Researchers state that this gene is also present in humans, leading to the hypothesis that similar results would be demonstrated in human beings who lacked the gene.
Environmental: It is believed by many professionals in the field that being exposed to certain environmental factors can lead to the development of aggressive behaviors. Growing up in poor living conditions, being exposed to repeated acts of violence or crime, having a chaotic home life, or being subjected to abuse can make a child or adolescent more likely to act out in an aggressive manner than are children who are not exposed to such circumstances.
Medications: There are a number of medications that have the potential to cause negative side effects that elicit aggressive behaviors. Some medications can cause increased feelings of irritability, nervousness, agitation, and anxiety, all of which can result in the onset of aggressive acting out. In addition, there are many medications that are noted as having the potential to cause one to have thoughts of suicide which can lead to an individual acting out aggressively against him or herself.
Mental health disorders: Aggression can be symptomatic of many different mental illnesses, and such psychological disturbances are believed to be one of the most prominent causes of aggressive behaviors. When individuals begin to lose the ability to control their own minds, aggressive tendencies can develop. Examples of psychiatric disorders that have been associated with the presence of extreme and unwarranted episodes of aggression include:
- Oppositional defiant disorder
- Conduct disorder
- Intermittent explosive disorder
- Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
- Autism spectrum disorders
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Bipolar disorder
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Substance use disorders
Effects of Aggressive Behavior
When the presence of problematic aggressive behaviors are left unaddressed, children and adolescents can suffer from serious and negative consequences in many areas of their lives. Such consequences can continue to follow them into adulthood. The complications that can result from untreated aggression can involve psychological, physical, and legal ramifications, including:
- Suspension or expulsion from school
- Dropping out of school or failing academically
- Developing an addiction to or dependency on drugs and/or alcohol
- Poor adjustment capabilities
- Experiencing an inability to develop and maintain strong, healthy interpersonal relationships
- Familial discord
- Gang involvement
Treatment for Aggression
If you have a child who is displaying behaviors such as frequent, unprovoked temper tantrums, intense, uncontrollable anger, excessive impulsivity, repeatedly getting into physical altercations, or destroying property, it would be greatly beneficial to have him or her evaluated by a qualified mental health professional. In doing so, you will be starting the process of identifying the underlying cause for why the aggressive behaviors exist and why they are so prevalent. Due to the fact that there are such a wide array of behaviors that define aggression, it is important to discover which behaviors are prominent, what triggers the behaviors, and find ways to gain control of the behaviors.
There are many different options available for the treatment of aggressive behaviors. In some cases, residential treatment programs can be the most beneficial choice because it provides the child or adolescent with supervision 24/7, which can help prevent the acting out of the behaviors themselves. A residential treatment setting also allows children to receive the intensive therapeutic interventions that they need in order to begin developing the skills needed to overcome their behaviors and find better ways of coping with negative emotions. Additionally, these settings provide children with an opportunity to actively practice the tools that they learn throughout the therapeutic process. Residential treatment programs can help children overcome their inner turmoil, gain control of their minds and behaviors, and begin to rebuild their lives and start on the path towards a brighter future.