Thursday, November 26, 2015

Aggression and vulnerability

Aggression doesn't get much love.

There has to be more to it than that. We (and hundreds of other species) wouldn't have evolved to display aggression if it didn't accomplish something useful.

It's primarily a defensive tactic. Acting in an aggressive manner is sort is like waving a gun around without meaning to use it. We hope that it will deter others without our having to follow through. Thus, aggression often makes us weaker. The only person aggression works for is the person who intends to follow through. In gun safety classes, they tell you never to pull a gun out unless you intend to shoot someone. That applies to aggression as well.

I recently had to deal with an unacceptably aggressive man and, unlike what I usually do, I thought through all the above. The first thing I did was to determine that he could not hurt me. Or, to put it another way, that should he do his worst, I could live with the consequences. Once I was satisfied that I had more moral and physical strength, I worked out my response. My strategy was threefold: 1) Forget about him and what he wants and relentlessly focus on my desired outcome; 2) Remember that while the aggressive actor needs an immediate response it is not in my interest to give it to him; 3) Stand up for what I wanted in a quiet but unshakeable way. It was a little unnerving how completely he caved.

Hiding your vulnerabilities isn't exactly the same thing as aggression but it is driven by similar motives. If, like me, you come from a family where people who were supposed to support you instead used your vulnerabilities to manipulate you, you will have learned that it's a bad idea to let unsafe people know where your vulnerabilities are.

And you will have learned the further lesson that just because someone loves you doesn't mean they are can be trusted. But it also doesn't follow that once you've located someone who can be trusted that they will love you or continue to love you. That's something we just have to live with. There is nothing you, or anyone else, can do about it.

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