Relational aggression (or relational violence) generally refers to all the forceful ways a person might try to assert power or dominance in a relationship. But these days, many use the term to describe attempts to damage someone’s social standing or wreck a good relationship they enjoy. In any case, this kind of behavior destroys. It serves only to bring its perpetrator a sense of power or importance. And it stems from the aggressor’s lack of empathy.
Two Main Types of Aggression
Aggression can be of two main types: overt or covert. Someone is overtly aggressive when they make no bones about what they’re doing. Maybe they simply want to hurt you. But they might also want to get something from you. Perhaps they want to take advantage, or have power over you. Whatever the case, they mean to aggress and don’t try to hide it.
Covert-aggressors operate differently. They don’t what to be seen for who they are or what they’re doing. The relational aggression they engage in is subtle, underhanded, or even concealed. So, you barely realize what they’ve been up to until the damage is already done. This is the kind of aggression that underlies most interpersonal manipulation. Moreover, it occurs quite frequently. So, many years ago I felt compelled to write a book about it.
Covert Aggression in the Social Arena
In our times, relational aggression has taken on some interesting new dimensions. Covert aggressors can damage your social standing or your relationships in some very sneaky ways. They can put out false information about you on the internet. They can spread nasty rumors and lies. Or they might defame you on social media. A skilled covert operator can even use surrogates to do their dirty work. That way, they leave no “fingerprints” and can convincingly deny their evildoing. Young persons are particularly vulnerable to this kind of behavior. But no one is immune.
Why do these relational aggressors do what they do? We used to think that they came from a fearful, insecure place. But we’ve learned better. Some folks simply lack empathy. They care only about themselves. Sometimes, all they want is a sense of power. Other times, they might merely be seeking amusement – at your expense. And in the coming weeks I’ll be saying more about why these behaviors are so prevalent nowadays.
Character Matters will air live Sunday November 11 at 7 pm ET. So, you can call in at 501 258-8326 to ask a question or share something of interest.
Character Disturbance has entered its third major printing. As always, thanks for your support and recommendation of my books.