A new José Stevens Article

Understanding Aggression

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The month of August and basically up through the fall months there is a configuration of planets that, in various combinations and influences, enhances aggression, conflict, explosive and unexpected events. These planets are Mars, Pluto, Uranus, and Saturn and they are similar in configuration to the period of the late teens in the twentieth century when both World War I and the Spanish Flu were creating havoc and the thirteen hundreds when the bubonic plague was spreading unchecked through Europe on its way to a world pandemic.

Because aggression is both a common aspect of life on earth and is periodically intensified as it is now, this is a good time to turn our attention to it and understand what it is all about.

There is a difference between how social psychologists view aggression and how aggression shows up as part of the natural world. Unfortunately, most people’s understanding of the word “aggression” conforms more to dysfunction the way it is defined by psychologists who study children’s behavior and criminal behavior. These studies make it sound like aggression is a harmful thing to be avoided but of course there are forms of aggression that are normal and necessary for human survival. In polite society this type of aggression is often called assertiveness. First, I will cover how aggression is defined as dysfunction and then we will look at aggression as a natural aspect of life on earth.

There are several definitions of human aggression that we can begin with:

One formal definition of aggression is “an action or behavior with the intent to cause harm to another in the specific case in which the other person does not welcome the harm.”

Another definition of aggression is that it is an unplanned act of anger in which the aggressor intends to hurt someone or something. Still another common definition of aggression is a behavior characterized by strong hostile self-assertion. Obviously, there may be some circumstances, when aggression could be a normal reaction to an external threat as for example an attack by an animal or even another person. Alternatively, aggression may be abnormal, unprovoked or reactive behavior (intermittent explosive disorder) that people would interpret as unacceptable or highly dysfunctional. Recent studies by child psychologists who study aggression in young people have found that, contrary to the popular belief in cathartic expression of anger, (ie. play therapy), engaging in aggression does not reduce further aggression. In fact, it only eggs it on.

There are many circumstances that can lead to dysfunctional aggressive behavior. One of the main ones is fear leading to anger since all anger is based on some fear at its source. Other causes can be confusion, frustration, discomfort, overstimulation, pain, and exhaustion. Aggressive behavior may show up in many different ways, some of which are directed inwardly. For example, we might see aggression directed at oneself as in self-mutilation or cutting, at other people (assault), at animals (animal cruelty), or at property (vandalism). The aggression can be either verbal or physical or both. It can be impulsive, spontaneous, or premeditated and goal-oriented. Aggressive behavior can be direct or indirect, overt or covert and the response from others can be similarly overt or covert, direct or indirect as well.

There are three main types of aggression in humans identified by social psychologists: reactive-expressive (direct verbal and physical aggression as in insults and hitting), reactive-inexpressive (hostility characterized by no action but resistant postures, stances, and looks), and proactive-relational aggression (the person seems agreeable but behaves in a passive aggressive way and engages in behavior that can destroy relationships, for instance, slander and gossip, circulating malicious rumors and the like).

Aggression is also a potential symptom of disorders, diseases, or conditions that interfere with rational thought processes, such as dementia, brain tumors, post-traumatic stress disorder and personality disorders. Brain chemistry alterations are implicated as well such as schizophrenia and especially when associated with paranoia.

Damage from an auto accident or sports activity can severely incapacitate the frontal lobes or other structures of the brain impairing reasoning and judgment that greatly increase acts of aggression even toward loved ones. This has been identified but long denied in former NFL players having suffered recurring concussions in their football careers.  Abnormal brain chemistry or structural changes have been shown to play a major role in dysfunctional displays of aggressive behavior. Studies show that genetics also seem to be involved.

Social Causes of Aggression:
Aggression may be reinforced by conditioning or social imprinting. Many aggressive behaviors are actually learned from adults and peers who display socially approved forms of aggression in their society. For example Italians may behave rather aggressively in traffic as opposed to British who are inclined to be rather polite.

In some cultures males are expected to be aggressive, strong, and courageous and are heavily rewarded for taking leadership of groups, taking what they want, and being bossy while females are punished for the same behavior. In most cultures boys who avoid aggression are not as accepted and often bullied or ridiculed compared to their peers. Some cultures even demand aggression by requiring military service where recruits are trained to kill and maim the enemy. Some cultures promote enforcing social taboos such as honor killings, racial attacks, and attacks on LGBTQ members of the society.

Now let’s change course and look at aggression as a natural aspect of life.

Aggression is a product of the moving center. All animals have a moving center including humans of course who also have an intellectual center and emotional center. To walk, run, jump, strike, pull, push and so on are all aggressive acts of the moving center either premeditated or spontaneous instinctive responses.

We see aggression in animals and to some degree we see aggression in the activities of natural phenomenon although the two are different because in animals the aggression is volitional and in the elements the aggression is more of an interpretation in the eyes of the beholder. A lion may be aggressive when it hunts for food but is a volcano aggressive when it erupts? Perhaps it is but it is not as volitional. Volcanic eruptions, avalanches, infernos, floods, tornados, hurricanes, and lightning strikes can all be seen as natures acts of aggression but they are not directed toward anyone or anything in particular, at least from a human standpoint. Nature has its own intelligence and there is a reason for everything. A wildfire may pave the way for the opening up of meadows and habitats for birds of prey and it may be necessary for certain seeds to germinate, so clearly we can see that nature has its reasons and that all acts of natural aggression may not be hostile or negative by any means.

During most of its activities, sleeping, relaxing, rolling around, and caring for its young a lion may not display any aggression at all but when it comes to hunting and eating a lion displays a great deal of necessary aggression. With its attack it seeks to vanquish its prey in the most efficient and rapid way it can. Likewise, sharks don’t attack in order to torture their victims but to consume them rapidly. When we see nature acting aggressively, we are usually seeing something that is not sadistic or meant to torture even though house cats and some animals may toy with their prey before eating it.

The following definition of aggression is the one I prefer and is not found in the psychological literature:

‘Aggression is an act that crosses over the boundaries either successfully, in an acceptable way resulting in dynamism or in an unacceptable way resulting in belligerence’. Obviously in sports, aggression by the opponent is expected and anticipated and not often taken personally unless it exceeds that allowed by the rule book. We expect our leaders to act aggressively to defend us from harm inflicted by foreign sources, to pass laws effectively and aggressively to help society and so on.  Let’s take a look at some examples. Rugby players and international football players (soccer) are expected to be aggressive and fight to get possession of the ball and score goals. To the degree they are successful they are standouts in their sports. A sales person who is persistent and successful at breaking through the resistance of the customer is considered a top salesperson. A person who is persistent at dating a reluctant subject and is successful is considered to be dynamic and a winner. If all or any of these examples use unacceptable means to be successful they are considered to be criminals, poor sports, belligerent, or cheaters.

Therefore, we cannot consider aggression by itself as negative or bad, only the unacceptable version. An aggressive person gets the job done, realizes the objective, cuts through red tape, resistance, tradition, and bureaucracy. They are often considered to be movers and shakers, the tops in their fields, and highly successful. On the other hand, if they cross the line into belligerence and create harm, they are nothing more than common criminals. Some politicians have reputations for being both.

Union organizers, social change agents, activists for the environment, people who fight for the repeal of unjust laws and unfair social or business practices, great athletes, powerful change agents, and so on are all examples of aggressive people who make a difference. Rapists, serial killers, corrupt politicians, thugs, white supremacists, racists etc. may all be examples of the latter.

Those younger in soul age tend to lean toward belligerence. Those who are older souls and have aggression as their mode lean toward dynamism. Aggression mode is very challenging and most of the 5% of the population who have it as a major part of their personality do not handle it well at all. A few do. Some signs of aggression mode are a thrust out lower jaw with the lower teeth clearly visible or they may just have a toothy look like Elizabeth Warren. A tendency to stand very close to the person they are speaking with; a tendency to point with their index finger. Here are a few examples of individuals who have or have had aggression mode: Adolf Hitler, Roseanne Barr, Don Rickles, Chris Rock, Chelsea Handler, Donald Trump, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. They are all “in your face” personalities.

During these aggressive times it is best to avoid situations where aggressive people are engaged in antisocial acts such as burning, pillaging, or attacking people no matter what their political persuasion. It is a popular idea that violence produces results and positive social change but that is never true. How can hate produce love? Love produces love!

It is also a good idea right now not to meddle in other people’s conflicts or business unless you are very careful in thinking it through. You do not have to avoid aggressive people if you understand them well and see that they are powerfully dynamic and produce positive results. Watch your own tendencies to be belligerent, explosive, or impulsive. Use your vigor and energy for constructive purposes. Look at your own reactivity and attempt to identify any fear that is making you angry. Know that these are transitional times and human consciousness will survive all conditions and events. Use your own walking temple to bless all that you meet and identify all as divine in origin.

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José Stevens

José Luis Stevens, PhD is the president and co-founder (with wife Lena) of Power Path Seminars, an international school and consulting firm dedicated to the study and application of shamanism and indigenous wisdom to business and everyday life. José completed a ten-year apprenticeship with a Huichol (Wixarika) Maracame (Huichol shaman) in the Sierras of Central Mexico. In addition, he is studying with Shipibo shamans in the Peruvian Amazon and with Paqos (shamans) in the Andes in Peru. In 1983 he completed his doctoral dissertation at the California Institute of Integral Studies focusing on the interface between shamanism and western psychological counseling. Since then, he has studied cross-cultural shamanism around the world to distill the core elements of shamanic healing and practice. He is the author of twenty books and numerous articles including Encounters With Power, Awaken The Inner Shaman, The Power Path, Secrets of Shamanism, Transforming Your Dragons and How To Pray The Shaman's Way.