In this post we will touch on anger, aggression and bullying, in particular with regard to people who are angry or aggressive towards others (many angry people are simply “charged up” at the world in general and can be pleasant interpersonally). This post will not exhaust the subject, but will just dance around the surface a bit.
The angry person in general directs all aggression outwards. There is little to no internally directed anger; it’s all outer directed. The problem, such that there is one, is all other people.
This is of course a defense. This defense is two-fold. First of all, there is denial of any wrongdoing on the part of the aggressive person. Then there is outward projection of blame and one’s own internal problems and failings onto others.
Classic projection is nasty business – it’s an immature defense. Say I’m a mean person and you’re a nice person. You eventually get tired of my shit and call me on it. Using denial-projection, I first deny that I am aggressive, then you will accuse me of being the aggressor! I’m the nice one and you’re the mean one! What the Hell? But if you’ve been around aggressive people, you will notice that this is very common.
Aggressive people characteristically enjoy their own anger and even get angry at you for pointing it out.
This is an interesting phenomenon. Such an angry person is typically enjoying their anger, as much as they insist that they are miserable. Why is anger pleasant? Anger is very empowering. An angry person is an empowered person, a strong person, someone who is 10, 100 or 1,000 feet tall. People enjoy feeling strong and dislike feeling weak.
Since it feels so good and makes the person feel so strong, why do the angry typically deny and project away their anger? I am not sure. Perhaps by calling attention to the anger, you are delegitimizing it, and you are asking the person to stop being angry. Since the anger feels so good and is empowering, that’s like asking a kid to give up his candy.
A more fascinating explanation is available: that in many cases, anger is simply a defense.
Keep in mind that we all use defenses every minute of every day. I’m using defenses right now as I write this.
However, we can never discuss or even write about defenses. Try to bring up defenses, and you get shot down pretty quickly.
I remember once I was in therapy with some female therapist (My new rule is no female therapists). She was being hostile for most of our one and only session. Why, I have no idea, but I think it’s because I’m a man and she’s a woman.
Anyway, we got halfway through and I think I finally called her fucking ass on it. You’re my therapist, and you’re sitting there being hostile. What gives? I forget what else ensued, but she said something. I almost popped out of my chair. “That’s a defense!” I pointed out. She freaked. “I don’t need you to tell me that! I’ve got my own therapist!” That was pretty damn funny.
Anyway, the moral of the story is that people don’t like to have their defenses pointed out. They can’t stand to discuss the whole subject, because it threatens to make them think of their own defenses.
Defenses work better when they are somewhat unconscious, and they tend not to work quite as well when we are aware of them, so that’s why people freak when you bring up the subject. You’re throwing off the tarp in the deep hidden woods and showing them their armament collection. A very curious weapons stockpile, one that works better when you don’t even know what the weapons are, how they work, who you are using them against, or even where the damned armory is at!
So the aggressor denies his aggression. And he resents you, you bastard, for pointing it out. The aggressive person will typically deny that they angry and then insist that you, the nice person, is the angry one! This is essential to know. In the world of the aggressive person, Poland is always attacking Germany.
Sometimes they will admit to being angry, but they will say, “I’m only angry because you’re pissing me off!” This really isn’t true. You’re simply being targeted because you’re an acceptable target. In this case, the innocent person, really the victim of the aggressor’s anger, is blamed for the aggression itself! So really here the bully is blaming the victim for the bully’s anger and bullying and is accusing the victim of causing his own victimization. “I’d be nice if only for you!”
Who is an acceptable target? Aggressive people are not idiots. They pick their targets very carefully. Many of them are quite nice and friendly towards many people, but then quite cold and cruel to others. We have all had the Terror Boss who ferociously dominated the underlings and then meekly sucked up to everyone over them. Most aggressive people do something similar. The targets they pick out are usually the people closest to them, who hold no sway or power over them. Their own friends, lovers or family.
Why not strangers? Strangers can retaliate. Why not employers? Same reason. The angry person is quite careful to not aggress against those who can retaliate and cause them harm. The people they aggress against are trapped. The aggressive person feels that these victims can’t leave. Family is a typical target. Is your family going to abandon you because you’re an asshole or a bitch? Never. So fire away! What about your friends? They’re often by your side too, but not so much as family.
Another target is spouses and lovers. The worst of all are spouses and lovers who live with the bully. Once again, we see that the angry person cleverly targets those who are trapped and cannot leave them. Your spouse is married to you; they are not going anywhere. Neither is your boyfriend or girlfriend, especially if they reside with you.
The more trapped they are with the angry person, the more the aggressive person feels that they can fire away with no consequences. This is where you have the phenomenon of the underling who meekly submits to crap all day at work, then comes home and kicks the dog, yells at the kids to pick up their stuff, and screams at the wife over dinner. That’s another defense by the way – displacement. The anger towards the co-workers or superiors which may not be expressed is instead displaced onto the trapped and easy targets at home.
We see that angry people typically pick on trapped people, people who can’t fight back, and people with whom there are little or no consequences to their anger. They avoid anger towards those who can fight back and cause them problems. Therefore we see that many angry and aggressive people are simply flat-out bullies. Only a bully, after all, only picks on people who can’t fight back and avoids fights with those who can fuck them over.
It’s a sad statement, but the world is full of bullies. Many people who seem like the nicest people around are bullying, angry people a good part of the time. They typically pick people who seem meek, mild or wimpy for their attacks.
If you’re on the receiving end of bullying, nothing much is going to work. Smiling and humoring the bully is one way. The victim in this case is thinking, “They’re probably mad because of me. If I just try harder to be nicer to them or to quit screwing up so bad, they will stop the aggression and start being nice.” This is typically pointless.
They’re spoiling for a fight, fighting is fun, and they probably regard this behavior as submissiveness. After all, someone who reacts to aggression with niceness is probably seen as submissive by the angry person. Displays of submissiveness towards angry people just perpetuate the anger. It’s nothing but green light.
There are other things you can do. You can be silent to try to punish the bully. This won’t work either. The bully is in a mean mood, and they will just enjoy the silence. Angry people like their quiet anger. Besides, they are making the victim suffer due to silence. The victim wants to engage, but intead is forced into silence by the angry person. The angry person has basically muzzled the victim, knows that the victim doesn’t like being silent, and is enjoying the torture.
Another approach is to fire back at the angry person. Everyone tells you to fight back against aggressors, but in life, I’ve basically found that it’s worthless. Most angry people are just bullies, and when you fight back, they typically just go insane and ramp up the anger to high levels. The angry person has a game going: “I get to attack you all I want to, and you never get to fight back, not even once.”
It’s similar to a master-slave dynamic. It works better when the slave is more or less trapped, because then they really can’t fight back. If the victim depends on the bully for support, a job, friendship, anything really, the tiniest little pipsqueak out of the victim prompts the bully to towering rage and threats. Threats to cut off support, fire you, divorce you, end the friendship or relationship, etc.
Often the bully will appeal to others, telling them to “stop the attacks.” To stop the counterattacks of the victim that is! The bully has the victim between a rock and a hard place, and they know it. Unfortunately, bullies usually have lots of friends and allies who assist them in their bullying.
These co-conspirators then go to the victim and tell the victim to “stop their aggression” against the angry person. There are often threats involved. The bully will refuse to meet with you, talk to you, be friends with you, eat with you, etc., if the victim doesn’t stop fighting back.
The wild reaction of bullies to the slightest retaliation by victims is peculiar. The explanation is that the bully is typically in a master-slave dynamic. The whole game is that the bully gets to pound away night and day, and the victim never gets to fight back. When the victim stands up for themselves, this threatens to upset the whole pleasurable sadistic dynamic of the bully, and this slave rebellion must be halted by any means necessary.
You might be surprised that some of the nicest people you know are some of the biggest bullies to their chosen victims, but that’s one of the oddities of human nature, and it shows why personality assessments are often faulty. The personality must be seen in its whole, not in its parts.
The nicest guy in the whole world at work who is a tyrant to his wife, kids and pets in the hidden world of his castle is not actually such a nice guy after all. People who only see Mr. Congeniality at work are dumbfounded that he turns into Ivan the Terrible when he opens the front door to his home. Typically, they will deny that it is possible, insist that he really still is the nicest guy in the whole world, and often blame the victims for “provoking” Mr. Rogers on his home turf.
They blame the victim, but that’s another charming human tendency.