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Do we have an Issue with Aggression in our Culture?

Ailsa Keppie  |  Apr 09 2021

Do we have an Issue with Aggression in our Culture?

I recently was interested to hear the phrase, ‘boundaries are understood differently by people who are in a place of privilege’. It struck me as not quite covering the full story. 

Do boundaries and the understanding of boundaries change, or do we have a different ability to embody our positive aggression?

Our ability to feel our anger and to use positive aggression to get what we want would absolutely be affected by our ‘station in life.” Are we female? Are we a person of color? Are we disabled? Are we traumatized? All of these possibilities for having had our power is taken away and our personal agency blocked would lead to an inability to set or hold effective boundaries. 

One definition I particularly like is this, “Aggression is the ability to remove obstacles to achieve a specified goal.”

Aggression is not bad, it doesn’t have to be rejected to have a healthy society, on the contrary, we need healthy aggression to be productive and creative beings. 

So I will come back to the idea that within the power structures of our society, some people have been nurtured in their aggression even celebrated, and some people have not. Those people who are encouraged to go for what they want are given invaluable tools of assertiveness and agency that often also affords them a privileged place in society.

On either end of the spectrum are those of us who were not allowed to have our anger and aggression and were overcome or repressed. This led to either ‘giving up' our own power, or to ‘taking’ power by force, depending on our nature or exact circumstances. This means, that the aggressor and the victim in any kind of boundary violation, are often coming from the same place, a lack of healthy aggression.

When we look around we see so many examples of this lack of positive and healthy aggression. Brute force or passive-aggressive interactions are so common we don’t even notice them. We come to think of ourselves as powerless and we blame it on the ‘other’ for making it so, and perhaps there is some truth to that. If we are scared to death, we cannot stand up for ourselves and in some circumstances, it may be prudent to put away our aggression and submit. But we also lose something very important if we don’t acknowledge that often our power was taken away in the past and is not necessarily being taken away in the present. 

If we want to learn to own our aggression, our ‘ability to remove obstacles to achieve a specified goal’, then we must be willing to own and embody our own anger. 

Anger is the energy that fuels positive aggression, not necessarily the uncontrolled or destructive rage that must often first be moved through the body, but the channeled anger that upholds our own values and creates boundaries that keep us safe and make us effective beings in the world. 

If we are unable or unwilling to work with our own anger, we will unconsciously try and create anger in people around us, so they will express the anger for us. Sometimes this appears to work, we ‘gather our group’ in support of our righteous anger about something. But this always creates an opposite ‘other group’ who we are angry at, and on whom we project all the rage and anger we ourselves are unwilling to feel. 

‘They are bad’ we say, or ‘see how angry and vengeful they are? We should punish them’.

Does this type of thing really help us stand in our own power? Perhaps in the short term, but in the long haul, I have not found that it does. It creates a constant need in me to project my anger onto others to feel whole. I’d rather feel whole all by myself!

Anger is a cue that something is amiss, and if we are seeing so much anger erupting in the world, then we can be sure there is much to work on. We do not want to create a passive society, we want to create a powerfully assertive one, where everyone has the opportunity to feel their own agency and we can work collaboratively towards collective goals. 

“Aggression allows for the ability to be an authentic, assertive, self-respectful, integrated self, for the ability to move towards another human being, and to form an intimate, sexual, loving relationship.” Anat Gihon

Surely then, we have a collaborative problem with anger and aggression in our society, and just as surely, we all have a key to transcending that and creating healthier more whole relationships. The opposite possibility is not a world I want to be a part of. As Mikel Eigen states, 

“The rage in one’s life is cumulative. It sediments in the belly of one’s being and corrupts muscles, nerves, and veins. It not only stiffens one’s body but also poisons one’s thoughts. One bears grudges from early childhood on so that one is ready to jump on others for small things… the chronic outrage over an injury can eat at life like acid and corrode psychosomatic integrity.” 

In closing I would say that working with our own anger can be scary, it can be mixed with grief and loss, and it can overwhelm us if we don’t have the skills and tools to ground the energy as it moves. Finding a therapist, preferably one trained in a Somatic approach, can help to guide the process so that we don’t inadvertently re-traumatize ourselves or others. My work with Bioenergetic analysis has been crucial in my own process and continues to serve my emergence as an alive and vibrant being, capable of both great compassion and constructive aggression. 

In peace,

Ailsa

Originally published on Pleasure for Health.


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