Unexpected Ways Aggression Shows Up

by Adrian W. Hall, MFT, ATR

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When I think about being aggressive, there are obvious examples that come to mind like someone being violent physically, being rude or insulting.  When David Richo talks about aggression in this section of the book, he sheds some light on being aggressive in ways that I have never really considered aggressive, but knew were less than productive ways of operating.  While there are a number he discusses, I want to talk about the ones that caught my attention the most.

First, he talks about using “you” statements vs “I” statements.  If you are a therapist or have spent any time with one, you are probably familiar with this concept.  The idea is that if you start sentences with “I”, you are owning your experience, you are less likely to seem to be attacking someone and you are discussing the only realm where you really do have absolute authority of the truth (your own experience).  If you want to have any chance of productive communication, there is little room for insulting or making statements about the other person.  For example:  “you are a jerk” is definitely going to lead to a fight whereas saying “I feel angry about how you are talking to me” has a way better chance of leading to an actual conversation.  Insulting someone and even making “you” statements are aggressive ways of being. 

Another aggressive habit David Richo talks about is blaming.  Blaming is something that comes up a lot in my work with couples.  It is natural for people to come in saying that their partner is causing problems because that is how they experience it.  The trick of it is that their partner is not actually causing a problem, it is that they are experiencing something uncomfortable that their partner triggered.  Right away, that takes blaming out of the equation for productive dialogue because blaming tries to focus on fixing the problem in the other person, but there is no fixing something in someone else because you have no control anywhere except in yourself.  Anyway…. the interesting thing about what David Richo is saying is that blaming is aggressive because it “usually masks a demand to do something ‘my way’” (p. 180).  Think about that for a second.  Blaming really is making someone else wrong for doing/thinking/feeling something.  So, I want to take it a step further by saying that blaming actually is also overlooking where you might have space to grow and assumes that you considered every possible perspective and have landed on the determination that you are right and your partner has pretty much nothing to contribute to broadening your perspective.  Really?  Who wants to be like that?  Probably no one that is reading this.   

Finally, I want to talk about what David Richo says about being secretly separate.  He identifies many ways we can distance ourselves from people:  “competition, excellence, one-up-manship, running, judgments, secrets, intellectualizing, being right, being super anything” (p. 182).  Here’s what really caught my attention:

“The choice to be separate is not aggressive in itself.  It becomes aggressive when we pursue it as a secret agenda of our own while our partner believes we are committed to intimacy and cooperation” (p. 182). 

Really consider for a second if you have done this.  I consider myself to be a loving, considerate human being and partner and, reading this, I am clear that I have committed this aggressive act without even realizing.  Think about how it feels on the receiving end of this.  It is a betrayal and the physical feeling that accompanies the betrayal does feel like the impact of something aggressive.  And, I feel like it is aggressive in the sense that your partner, while believing you are committed, may also be committed and vulnerable.  Their heart may be open and vulnerable so that there can be intimacy in your relationship, then that secret agenda is a violation of that openness.  What does that do to how safe they feel leaving their heart open to you or to someone else in the future if it is not a good match between the two of you?  I always tell my clients, in love and relationship, aim to use one of the rules of camping:  leave it cleaner (better) than how you found it. 

So, if you are being aggressive in ways you didn’t realize, it’s OK.  Build your awareness, clean it up, grow as a human being and partner and learn ways to be assertive rather than aggressive.  I’ll write about that next week. 

*This post is written in response to a section in David Richo's book "When Love Meets Fear: Becoming Defense-Less and Resource-Full".  


by Adrian W. Hall, MFT, ATR

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We are getting into the section of the book where David Richo is talking about what to do with fear.  By this time, you know that part of being human is experiencing fear…. But why? “We were learning about intimacy in every childhood scenario and imago [relationship].  This is why relating will require a knowledge of and program for handling our fears” (p. 144).  What is in it for us to handle those fears?  “We love more freely and effectively when we let go of the fears that have been shadowing us for a lifetime” (p. 144).  Sounds nice, right?  I think so!

I’m excited because I get to talk about working with our humanness, not against it.  David Richo is always telling us to admit the fear, feel it and continue on as if it weren’t there.  His whole idea is not to eradicate it, but is more focused on integrating it.  Well, that doesn’t really fit with our standard western approach, does it?  Usually it goes more like: 1. Find the problem 2. Find a way to stop it, kill it, cut it out of the equation.

Think about this metaphor for a second (don’t get too technical, OK, it is just a metaphor!):  you are like a company that has employees doing different jobs.  You have a budget for payroll and if everyone is doing their job, the company is running smoothly.  Well, you find out that there is a position that is no longer necessary.  What’s going to happen?  Maybe you create a new position and have the person in the old position do the new, updated job or you have extra in your budget to pay your other employees more or some other place where either the money or the energy of an employee will go if a position is eliminated.  There is going to be at least a brief period of change that might include some protest and grief until everyone realizes that the new system is just as good or even better.  

Ok, now you are a human being that has been living with an insidious fear.  You do David Richo’s beautiful program of handling your fear.  Look what happens!  Now you have a surplus of energy that can do more productive work than plaguing you and your relationships with fear.  Think about how much time and energy you spend being anxious or fearful about things that are not even real (this is the position you are eliminating).  Think about how much time you spend dealing with the effects of that fear (maybe it causes fights in your relationship or results in you losing sleep at night which creates a cascade of other consequences).  Alright, if you just used the standard way of cutting it out, you would lose all that surplus!  It would be like cutting off your pinkie toe.  We have that weird toe for a reason!  “As long as we are trying to get rid of fear, we are not giving hospitality to something that is a deep part of our identity” (p. 145). 

So, by getting close to our fear, admitting it, allowing it to be there, but acting as if it weren’t there (i.e. I’m going to tell her I love her even though she might not feel it or say it back), we get to keep that surplus and take advantage of that converted energy.  Think about times when you do something even though you are afraid.  Don’t you feel a rush of excitement or flood of relief?  I do!  That is the surplus of energy and resource that is being released when the fear is confronted and integrated.  Do that a little bit at a time and you have a lot more employees doing productive work rather than silently sabotaging your company.  And, remember that growth is not linear, so know that a period of transition (including possible cameos of protest and grief) may come before the new way of doing things becomes “the way”.

**credit for the metaphor about integration goes to Lara Schwartz, MFT, a phenomenal clinician and talented healer.

*This post is written in response to a section in David Richo's book "When Love Meets Fear: Becoming Defense-Less and Resource-Full".