Why are we violent?

Socio-cultural and behavioural views on human aggression
Why are we violent?

Human beings, we believe, are naturally competitive species. Who we think we are, matters to us and partially determines our behaviours in society. But this recent view, that humans are innately aggressive might be only partially correct. We, as humans, are more often at peace than at war, says Augustin Fuentes in his blog.

We cooperate more than we conflict, he says, in fact, cooperation may be a central facet in explaining our success of survival as a species. While our core adaptation may be that of peace, cooperation and cohabitation, we are also an egalitarian but occasionally violent lot. In our quest for completion, competition, victory, or mastery over each other, we often turn to aggression and violence as means of expression.

Aggression in humans varies between verbal, psychological, physical, and sexual. It can be a mild expression of anger coma or can be a severe vicious need to take another’s life or to subjugate violently. Expressions of anger - aggression vary across individuals, races, genders, societies, communities, and age groups and may depend on many social and cultural factors and can be An innate part of being human.

Research says that humans and apes have evolved to be dominating and competitive, where violence and expressions of violence have been used to dominate, subjugate and declare supremacy war, shootouts and rape are some such examples. Research also says that we as humans possess the innate quality of empathy and compassion and that violence was not a central part of our evolution.

Joanna Bryner says that humans crave violence just like they crave food and sex. She says that this may explain why people indulge in brutal sports, brawls and sweet fights. There are many areas of the brain that equate reward and violence. Violence also has hormonal and other pathophysiological explanations and some people are more violent in their expressions than others. In some societies, being peaceful and avoiding conflict is considered a weakness or a flaw in character.

Are we then like the aggressive Morlocks and the peace-loving Eloi as described in HG Well’s novel ‘Time Machine’? Certainly food for thought.

How to deal with aggression?

  • Self-control - aggression is often associated with deep-seated emotional responses. Understand and try to deal with these negative outcomes of past experiences
  • Self-awareness - maintain a journal of these emotional responses and try to regulate yourself. Apologise when wrong
  • Sometimes it is just being in the wrong place at the wrong time, maybe the aggression wasn’t directed at you at all
  • Never respond to aggression with aggression, especially when dealing with a toddler or a child’s tantrums. Remember your responses can scar them deeply
  • Step back, proving yourself is not always important
    Talk to your aggressor about how the behaviour is hurting you, if it is more than you can deal with, rethink your life’s decisions
  • If you’re trapped in a relationship with an aggressive person, take help. To deal with your situations and also later, to deal with your scars.

Remember, anger and aggression are expressions that can be tempered and used to communicate rather than destroy.

- The author is a consultant psychiatrist at Dhrithi Wellness Clinic, Hyderabad

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