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Aggression and Violence

Aggression and violence are terms that are often used interchangeably; however, there are some distinctions between them that should be noted:

Violence is defined as a form of physical assault with intent to injure another person or destroy the property of others. Violence cannot usually be anticipated by the people it affects. The causes that lead to violence or why some individuals “value” violence may be related to social status, personal issues, or may be caused by institutional forces. Violence is indifferent to whom it affects and is found in many areas of life including the workplace, home, sports performances, and general public areas.

Aggression can be generally defined as all behavior intended to injure another person, psychologically or physically, or destroy another person's property. The definition pays special emphasis to the word “intended.” Aggression is an intention more than it is an action. When a person opposes the social rules that apply to a particular situation, it may be considered aggression.

Therapy for Aggression and Violence

Psychotherapy can have a profound effect in treating aggression and violence. There is a broad range of psychotherapeutic treatment models available for the treatment of aggressive and violent behaviors. Different types of psychotherapy may work better dependent upon personality and life experiences. For example, cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on teaching persons with aggressive and violent behaviors to better understand and control those behaviors, learn coping mechanisms with which to properly channel the thoughts and feelings associated with their violent behaviors and aggression, and learn how to properly assess the consequences of those behaviors. In psychodynamic therapy approaches, people with aggressive and violent behavior are encouraged to become conscious of the more vulnerable feelings which typically underlie protective mechanisms such as aggression. When vulnerable feelings are tended to, such as shame, humiliation, fear, or loss, protective aggression tends to dissipate. If violence or aggression is appearing in the context of a relationship, the persons involved may benefit greatly from couples therapy or family therapy.


Psychological Issues Associated with Aggression and Violence

Aggression and violence can be the cause of several different disorders. Persons with aggressive and/or violent behaviors may be suffering from passive-aggressive behaviors, intermittent explosive disorder or conduct disorder. Persons with these behaviors may be suffering from major depression, general anxiety, bipolar or posttraumatic stress, from which their aggression and violence could be an indirect result. Aggressive and violent behaviors may also be a result of alcohol or drug abuse.



Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED) is a behavioral disorder characterized by extreme expressions of anger, often to the point of uncontrollable rage. These expressions of anger are disproportionate to the situation to which the person is reacting. IED is currently categorized in the DSM as an impulse control disorder.


Conduct Disorder is classified in the DSM under attention-deficit and disruptive behavior disorders and is characterized by:

  • lack of empathy
  • physical and verbal aggression
  • cruel behavior toward humans and animals
  • truancy
  • stealing
  • lying
  • vandalism
  • destructive behavior.

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Last updated: 09-10-2014


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There's a Bully in All of Us
Judith Barr, MS, LMHC, LPC, CCMHC