Understanding the Aggressive’s Need to Vent Physical Violence (Help for Passives)

Some of my passive readers found my last post very upsetting, which is quite reasonable, since the advice I gave in that post would be the wrong advice for many passives. I was specifically speaking to aggressive temperaments in that post, and there are certain kinds of crises in which passives and aggressives need vastly different forms of therapy if they’re going to help themselves calm down quickly.

In this post, I am now going to talk specifically to passives and explain some things about how aggressives think. You see, the aggressive mindset is vastly different than your own, which is why you are so easily shocked and appalled by some of their behaviors. For example, if I were to ask you what kinds of crimes you find most shocking, you’d likely list off crimes that involve lashing out behaviors–things like molestation, rape, and parents beating up their kids. Passives find these sorts of behaviors utterly appalling because for many passives, it is impossible to imagine ever doing or even wanting to do these kinds of things. But to an aggressive, things are different. While many aggressives would agree with you that the behaviors I just listed are morally appalling, aggressives are also naturally equipped to have their moral repulsion balanced by compassion for those that do such things. This is because it is much easier for aggressives to understand how a man could reach a point where assaulting someone else could seem like a helpful or necessary response.

In life we all do our share of mean things, and we say and do things that we’d like to forget. Think about one of the jerky things you’ve done. How has that changed your view of those who do such things today? Before you did whatever it was, it was easy to look down your nose at others and think “I’d never act like that crumb.” And yet once you personally got pushed to that point and did something that you always felt was beneath you, suddenly your perspective changed dramatically didn’t it? Suddenly you wanted your rotten behavior to be seen in a merciful light. You wanted someone to consider all of the factors before passing judgment–to understand the bad day you’d had, how stressed you were, and how you’d normally never be the sort of who would sink to those depths. This is what compassion does. Compassion takes the time to really listen, examine the situation, evaluate what kinds of resources a person can realistically access in a moment, and assess the state of the person’s core needs before passing judgment or giving advice.

Compassion is the crux of counseling. But to become a good counselor, you have to first learn how to see the world through many different eyes. Males and females have some major differences in how they physically experience the world, and how they psychologically process things. Until you learn how to see the world through both male and female eyes, all of your advice will be based on what would be good for your own gender. The same is true for the issue of core temperament. Passives and aggressives have significant differences in how they psychologically process information and in how they react to it. Until you really learn about how the other temperament thinks, you’ll end up advising all of your clients based on the needs and processes of your own temperament.

Now the whole set up of one-on-one counseling automatically threatens aggressives, which is why passives make up the majority of clients for professional counselors. Because aggressives have a much harder time getting comfortable with the counseling dynamic, they are far more prone to look for advice on the internet or in books, where they aren’t required to discuss their struggles out loud. This makes it all the more important that quality advice for aggressives be available somewhere, and this is why I intentionally deal with a lot of aggressive issues that too often get ignored. Everyone wants to help the victim of rape (who will often be a passive), but no one wants to help the actual rapist (who is likely an aggressive). Everyone feels sorry for the victim of molestation, but no one wants to help the molester (who is likely an aggressive). Because the natural aggressive style makes them more prone to lashing out in ways that everyone finds morally repulsive, it’s very easy for passives to condemn aggressives who are acting out and push them away as incurable yucks. But in reality, there is so much help to be had for aggressives–the problem is that the kind of help they need is not understood by many people because aggressives don’t get the same degree of compassion and attention that passives do.

Now in my post on murder, I explained why doing vicarious violence to others in a video game could be a very helpful tool for aggressives who were feeling highly stressed. To a passive, such advice can easily sound appalling. When you already find it morally and psychologically distressing to punch someone in the face, then you will find it upsetting to do so vicariously as well. Violent video games can easily repulse and distress passives, making them more stressed out instead of less. But that’s how passives see things, and I was speaking to aggressives in my last post.

Suppose you have a cousin who is always saying vicious things to you. First you get pressured by the family into putting her up in your house for two solid weeks. Then when she moves in, the little princess expects you to do all of her laundry, cooking, and cleaning. Then she keeps sticking you with her bratty kids, who rip through your house like a tornado, breaking a lot of your prized possessions without apology. And while all of this is going on and you are straining to hold back your temper, the woman is constantly taking potshots at you. She rips on your appearance (“Wow, is your hair always that interesting?”), your financial situation (“Gee, I didn’t know you lived in a shoebox”), your career (“That’s right–you make minimum wage–I keep forgetting”), and your cooking (“Oh my…I thought you were making that for your dog…but you consider that human food, do you?”). By the time she finally gets out of your life, you want to cry and scream and say all kinds of ugly things about her that your polite self would normally never say. And suppose your spouse invited you to just go for it and say it all. After your ugly tirade of insulting words, you’d feel better, wouldn’t you? The emotional pressure would be relieved…at least it would be if your spouse was empathetic. But if instead he said, “Wow, I can’t believe how uncharitable you are towards your own cousin. I thought she was full of class and kindness. She was a great guest. I don’t know what your problem is. I’m actually horrified that you harbor such ugly thoughts. I thought I knew who I married.” That kind of response would make you feel much worse, wouldn’t it? All you needed was to vent and feel valid for being so upset at how you’d been treated. If you’d just gotten those two things, you could have calmed down and moved on. But if you are denied those two things, you will actually get angrier and angrier.

Because passives often get taken advantage of and because their natural default is to suck it up and not say anything when confronted with rudeness, they can appreciate the relief it is when they get permission to behave in a way that they normally consider wrong. After all, you wanted to be a calm, generous, gracious host to your cousin. You didn’t want to go off on some spiteful, petty sounding tirade. But your cousin had you so worked up that you had to relieve pressure somehow.

When an aggressive is being hounded by an antagonist who just won’t stop tormenting him, and when tensions get so high that the aggressive’s mind starts obsessing over physically killing that person in real life, there is a desperate need for a form of depressurizing that will be effective quickly.

A passive can often mull over a violent act like murder much longer than an aggressive before there is any risk of following through on his thoughts. This is because a passive’s natural temperament acts like a brake that keeps pushing him not to do any kind of violent lashing out. But for an aggressive, that brake pedal feels more like an accelerator pedal. Once he passes certain stress levels, his natural wiring will actually speed him towards violence instead of pulling him away from it. Since a murder obsessed aggressive is already killing people inside of his own mind, acting these things out in video games for the sake of helping himself vent and feel validated can have the same effect as ripping on your cousin had for you. In the cousin scenario, by the time your cousin left, your mind was already obsessed over ripping on her. Speeches about what an entitled twit she was were playing over and over in your head and the only way to get those rant sessions to stop crowding out all other thoughts was for you to say those thoughts out loud. By venting to a sympathetic party, you were able to calm your mind down and break its obsessive cycle. The same effect can happen for aggressives who can’t stop thinking about physically assaulting certain antagonists in their lives. Venting that physical assault in safe forms–such as a video game in which no real people are being harmed–can quickly deescalate them so that they can get some mental peace. It doesn’t always work, but it can be extremely helpful, and is certainly worth trying, especially given the fact that aggressives have such a difficult time talking to a counselor about how they really feel.

When you want to talk about what a jerk your cousin is, plenty of people will nod sympathetically. But when you want to talk about how you can’t stop obsessing about killing your father, and what a relief it feels to imagine your hands around his neck or to picture him begging for mercy, who are you going to share those feelings with? Aggressives simply don’t have as much access to validation and sympathy that passives do, yet their stress is just as real. The fact that physical violence is one of their “go to” forms of stress relief means they need different methods of debriefing than passives do. It also means that aggressives can be helped by forms of debriefing that would actually be detrimental to passives. So as I said in my last post, therapy is not a “one size fits all” affair.

Now before I leave this topic, there’s one more interesting concept I’d like to introduce just for fun. While individuals fall into aggressive or passive camps, whole societies tend to choose just one style to favor. In the world today, America and Great Britain are examples of societies which favor the passive style. In these cultures, if someone is rude to you in public, it is expected that you react passively–meaning keep your cool and don’t make a scene. When dealing with public officials, you are expected to act passively, which means hold in your exasperation and don’t express your true feelings in dramatic forms.

But if we were to look at the ancient Jewish society that is the focal point of the Christian Bible, that is a case in which a society chose to favor the aggressive style. In the biblical record, one frustrating thing happens and suddenly an entire army, neighborhood, or city is weeping and wailing at the top of its lungs. When personal tragedy struck in Bible times, you were expected to run out your door and start throwing what passives would view as an adult tantrum. The ancient Jews had many theatrical ways of advertising their personal feelings. Good or bad, the expectation was that you let everyone know your emotional highs and lows ASAP. This favoring of the aggressive style is also why the ancient Jews were so into revenge and the public humiliating of one’s enemies. The way that aggressives naturally jockey power with each other involves a whole lot of posturing and threatening. It is very important to aggressives not to leave a confrontation looking humiliated, and we find this principle played out to extremes in ancient Jewish society in which grudges were held for centuries and verbal challenges often escalated into violence.

My point in explaining all of this is that there isn’t just one right way of doing things. Both passives and aggressives have their strengths and weaknesses. The God who made us all loves variety and intentionally wove in some major differences among humans. When your society as a whole favors your personal temperament style, it’s easy to see the other half of the world as flawed. But God teaches us to see value in all of the combinations that He put together.

This post was written in response to a request.

Looking for advice? You can submit an anonymous request through the Ask a Question page.