By Peter Urs Bender | July 31, 2003
Have you ever noticed others acting real snarly, mean, full of anger, with the hackles aloft on the backs of their necks? Have you ever experienced it yourself? If you say no, you're not looking into the right mirror. Or you do not have a boss and are also not married. What makes us like that?
We often think it's cultural - that it's the person's nature. He or she was born that way. But personally, I believe aggressiveness is a defense against feelings of inferiority.
Let me explain. Look at yourself. You feel you're a pretty good person, and probably don't think of yourself as aggressive. But I bet there are certain people who would call you aggressive once in a while. Why is that?
I believe it has nothing to do with what you actually are, but how you feel and see yourself in the situation. That means you perceive the other person, or circumstances as a threat.
If you were to ask Darwin the difference between a human and an animal, he'd probably answer, “Not much.” Look at yourself and you can notice lots of animal instincts. One of them is your switch to aggressive behavior when you feel threatened.
I haven't done any academic research on this. My understanding comes from observation. Look at dogs. Most often you find the biggest and strongest are gentler than the little ones. Observe other animals. Generally, the bigger they are, the gentler their behavior. Of course there are exceptions – crocodiles and lions are always ready to kill. But that's their nature. They're predators. They hunt to survive.
Or look at managers. The ones at the very top in a company, or outstanding leaders in their own fields, most the time are very gentle humans – Type B personalities. On the other hand, there are those climbing the ladder of success. And those who do not realize there is an end to the ladder.). These are type A personalities! (Unfortunately, I think I have to count myself into that group.)
If a person is in harmony with himself and his environment he or she has no reason to be aggressive. As soon as things unbalance, physical, as well as mental problems can arise. But when all is in harmony one is happy, and everything is more or less under control, one is not aggressive.
As soon as one feels threatened, however, one reverts to the animal mode of behavior, which is absolutely normal. You could take the most balanced, easy-going, individual, attack that person from behind, and he or she might turn around, take a stick, and hit you right over the head.
Self-defense is an animal mechanism in all of us. And it can be triggered by many things. Here's a perfect example.
Assuming you drive your car on a rainy day, down a narrow street. You see a car coming at you from the opposite direction and realize there is little room to pass. You slow down and edge as far to the side of the street you can.
The other driver does not slow down or move over. He continues at speed right at you, flashing his lights. When he gets closer to you, he blasts his horn and drives through a big puddle, which splashes over your windshield and momentarily blocks your vision. I bet you will feel the urge to kill, even if you are normally the calmest of drivers.
The older I get the more I observe myself. I know I am often very aggressive. (I laugh and say it comes from birth, because I was born in Basel, Switzerland.) But to tell you the truth, it's just because I feel threatened, either at a conscious or unconscious level.
Now, be honest with yourself. Does it happen to you, too? If it does, use every bit of your self-knowledge and understanding to retain your balance. It's not easy, but it's better for the well being of those around you, and for your own health!