Psychological Self-Help

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It is not necessary that the aggressor be especially mean to get his/her
way. The slightest overt hint of anger can communicate. Suppose you and
your boy/girlfriend want to do different things some evening. The brief frown,
the "roll" of the eyes, the comment "Oh, all right" may clearly communicate,
"Okay, have it your way but I'm going to be pissed all evening." Such a
message is a powerful threat--and often an effective one, proving once again
that, unfortunately, "aggression pays off." 
Human nature vs. learned behavior
I'm sure you recognize the old nature-nurture issue in these discussions.
The difficulty, as I see it, is that both sides over-simplify and want to claim all
the influence; i.e. on the one hand, the genes-instincts-hormones (biological
determinism) theorists imply that hostility is "human nature." Indeed, 60% of
Americans buy this idea, saying "there will always be wars, it is human
nature." How sad that we are not better educated. No wonder the U.S. has
used military force 150 times since 1850. There is, of course, a lot of fighting
between countries, tribes, religions, spouses, and parents and children. But
there is no evidence that we humans have inherited more of a tendency to
dislike, fight, be violent, or to make war than to like, trust, be cooperative, or
to make friends. Just because humans are biologically capable of being selfish
and mean does not mean it is inevitable; we can control our lives. Too many
people believe humans are violent because we are naturally and unavoidably
aggressive. This widely held theory provides us with harmful expectations,
self-fulfilling prophesies, and with excuses for being aggressive (Kohn, 1988). 
On the other hand, the currently popular cognitive-environmental
theorists emphasize that behavior is a result of a process of learning from
observing what actions pay off, what works. This theory over-simplifies
human behavior in another way, namely, by neglecting the biological-
physiological aspects, the emotions and needs, the unmindful "thought"
processes (traditions, habits, unthinking routines), the unconscious processes
(perceptual distortion, childhood experiences, unconscious resentments,
motives, defense mechanisms--like displacement), and perhaps other
significant factors influencing our behavior. For instance, Berkowitz (1993)
says sudden unpleasant situations automatically generates negative
emotions, including primitive anger feelings and hostile or flight impulses,
even before the person has time to think about what has happened or what to
do about it. Moreover, I am not ready to dismiss the many social-sexual
needs that create conflicts for us as being purely "cognitive." And, I refuse to
believe that the prejudice, violence, hatred, and greed that abounds in the
world (and the love, acceptance, and altruism) are simply a result of our
cognitive processes. How do you cognitively explain the raging parent who
beats his/her 3-month-old infant to death? By the way, a moderate-to-large
percentage of parents have thoughts of hurting their infant or very small
children. These intrusive thoughts may be very upsetting to some people but
very few of the people who become obsessive about it are dangerous to their
children; they know these thoughts are not predictions of what they will do
(see discussion in Child Abuse later). Nevertheless, cognitive theory is a very
hopeful theory if not a complete one. 
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