Author: Ania Seretny
When we think of our anger and aggression, the approach often relies on fixing these states, quietening them down, or getting rid of them completely. This article will explore if these strategies are possible, recap what anger and aggression are, and relate fundamentals of Aggression Replacement Training.
What is anger and aggression?
Anger is the adaptive emotion that plays into the vast pallet of our feelings. We need anger as a part of our reactive toolbox. It is a big part of our self-protecting safety mechanism that our ancestors needed when they were fighting off and hunting animals. That held true for when we lived in steppes and forests and holds true until today as we live in the urban jungle. Years of psychological work however distinguished the emotion of anger and aggression. Aggression is the behavior that is hurtful to others and ourselves. You may ask if it is always hurtful. Yes, even when our moral compass is agreeing with our decision to engage in aggressive behavior we still actively are hurting someone or ourselves.
Why do we continue to be aggressive?
Aggression can play a big part in relationship building. These are behaviors that we train our whole lives and bring into our intimate relationships. The drawbacks of anger are simple to list: feeling of guilt, physical and psychological pain, stress and anxiety, withdrawal, losing relationships, consequences of breaking trust, and many more. So the question arises why we still engage in behaviors that are so destructive. The answer is simple: there is something to gain. Aggression is powerful, it is lively, and even passionate. This is not being said to glorify aggression but bring it into a realistic light. If we discard these gains of aggression we can quickly slip into the above mentioned strategies: “I’ll just get rid of it and won’t do it again”, “I’m a calm person, I will stay calm next time”.
Underestimating the powerful gains of aggression is one of the main reasons we do not successfully approach changing our behaviors. Life-long training of aggressive reactions and relationships that feed off aggressive interactions cannot be fixed overnight. However this behavior can be trained over time.
How to change my aggressive reaction?
To anyone who is stepping on the journey of self-development and is interested in anger management and Aggression Replacement Training – congratulations! Being open to changing hurtful behavior and finding the motivation to retrain aggressive reactions is a big task that I find to be connected to courage. It is a journey during which you first need to realise that working on your aggressive reactions is also taking away those gains mentioned above. Powerful gains that serve as our protective shield. The principles of Aggression Replacement Training say that deciding not to be aggressive should be paired with training other skills. We take away aggression and replace it with prosocial skills. Skills that do not hurt others or yourself. So, the foundation lies on realistically analyzing my anger and aggressive reactions, deciding not to engage in the aggressive reaction, and using an arsenal of social skills to communicate in a different way.
Realistically, you need to put a lot of effort into such a training but the effects are ones to look forward to. Long term effects of aggression are detrimental to our health. Learning communication tools that are non-aggressive aim to build relationships and most importantly realize that arguments and unpleasant situations do not have to come at such a high emotional cost.
My name is Ania Seretny, I am a psychologist and a certified Aggression Replacement Trainer. I conduct training for adults, supporting them in developing social skills and dealing with aggression. Sessions are conducted as dynamic workshops in accordance with cognitive-behavioral practices.