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Aggressive behaviors are those that are hostile and violate other people’s rights. Learn about reactive and proactive aggressive behaviors, the mental disorders associated with aggressive behavior, and more, in this lesson.

What is Aggressive Behavior?

Sarah and Misha are two friends playing in the backyard.

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Sarah reaches over and grabs one of Misha’s toys without asking, which upsets Misha. This is not the first time that Sarah has taken one of Misha’s toys without permission, which angers Misha even more. Misha walks up to Sarah, pushes Sarah, and takes back her toy.

By pushing Sarah, Misha has demonstrated one type of aggressive behavior.Aggressive behavior is a type of behavior where people attempt to stand up for themselves or exert power over others in ways that are hostile and violate the rights of others. People who are on the receiving end of aggressive behavior, such as Sarah, usually feel dominated, embarrassed, guilty, or shamed as a result of a situation.

Aggressive behaviors differ from passive aggressive behaviors, which seek to disguise feelings of anger in that they:

  • Are usually intentional and meant to harm someone, either psychologically or physically, or destroy someone’s belongings
  • Can be directed toward another person or the self, such as a teenager who likes to injure herself by cutting her wrists
  • Are a major violation of the norms or rules of a particular society
  • Can cause major impairments to academic, social, or workplace life

For example, can you imagine working with a co-worker who liked to break other people’s property every time he or she became upset or stressed? Or, being friends with someone who attempts to control you with physical violence or threats?

Types of Aggressive Behaviors

Aggressive behaviors can be reactive or proactive. Reactive aggressive behaviors are unplanned and impulsive, and are usually a response to feelings of anger, fear, or a need to retaliate against someone. When Misha pushes Sarah she’s demonstrating reactive behavior. By comparison, proactive aggressive behaviors are calculated and planned actions that have some motive other than harming someone.

Bullying is a form of proactive aggressive behavior. For instance, suppose that Mike is a seventh grade boy who bullies the other children in his class. Mike’s bullying may be motivated by his need to feel superior to his classmates.

Furthermore, Mike’s bullying behaviors are preplanned. He knows exactly whom he is going to bully and when.Examples of aggressive behaviors include:

  • Physical violence, such as biting, hitting, and kicking
  • Verbal hostility, like sending threatening messages through emails, phone calls, or social media, or making threats against someone’s life, shouting, and swearing
  • Nonverbal intimidation, such as making threatening gestures, sending unwanted gifts, and sexual harassment
  • Destruction of property, like breaking someone’s computer, destroying someone’s cell phone, or other forms of vandalism.

Signs and Conditions

Warning signs usually precipitate the display of aggressive behaviors.

They include:

  • Isolation or withdrawal from social activities
  • Losing one’s temper easily
  • Expression of violent behavior through one’s writings or artwork
  • Attitudes toward other people, like racial minorities, that are unrealistic or unfair

Additionally, there are several mental disorders known to increase the risk of aggressive behaviors, including:

  • Anxiety disorders, like general anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Disruptive behavior disorders, such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, conduct disorder, and oppositional defiant disorder
  • Mood disorders, including bipolar disorder, depression, and seasonal affective disorder
  • Psychotic disorders, including delusional disorder, schizoaffective disorder, and schizophrenia
  • Substance abuse disorder

Lesson Summary

  • Aggressive behavior is a type of behavior where people attempt to stand up for themselves or exert power over others in ways that are hostile and violate the rights of others.
  • Reactive aggressive behaviors are unplanned and impulsive, and are usually a response to feelings of anger, fear, or a need to retaliate against someone.
  • Proactive aggressive behaviors are calculated and planned actions that have some motive other than harming someone.
  • Signs of aggressive behavior include artistic or written expressions of violent behavior, easily losing one’s temper, isolation, and unfair attitudes towards other people.
  • Aggressive behavior differs from passive aggressive behavior, which attempts to disguise feelings of anger instead of expressing them directly.

Learning Outcomes

When you are done, you should be able to:

  • Explain how aggressive behaviors are different from passive aggressive behaviors
  • Describe the two categories of aggressive behaviors
  • List examples of aggressive behaviors
  • Name some of the disorders that are associated with aggressive behaviors

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