value placed on success which may lead to more frustration. Secondly, if you
can't succeed by legitimate means, you might consider illegal, more violent
means. Thus, lower socioeconomic classes are more prone to crime. Thirdly,
there are subcultures within our country, such as gangs, crime families, and
macho groups, that encourage violence.
Fourthly, several other factors within certain subcultures create stress: (1)
having strong conflicts between values, such as believing in white or male
superiority and equal opportunities, (2) feeling unjustly treated and deprived,
(3) experiencing economic, racial, sexual, or other prejudices, and (4)
believing the "establishment" (e.g. police or courts) is handling some local
situation badly. In summary, if you are poor, discriminated against, stressed,
oppressed, within a subculture of violence, and have little hope of improving
your situation, your chances of being angry and aggressive go up.
Psychological excuses for aggression; anger may pay off
Anger is destructive and it drags us down. Yet, we may, at times, become
obsessed with misery-causing resentment in order to avoid some even more
horrible misery. What could that payoff be? Theodore Dalrymple (1995) says
that our resentment of others and of past events helps us deny our own
responsibility for our failings and unhappiness. If we think of ourselves as the
innocent victim of circumstances, we are not bad people or a failure, indeed,
we deserve sympathy and help. We may see our parents as the cause of our
suffering and failures (accurately in some cases, falsely in others). Some
people obsess over and over again that a critical parent destroyed their self-
esteem or an alcoholic parent made them totally ashamed or a busy parent
made them feel worthless... Poor parents are made responsible for our lives
and we are relieved of any responsibility. That's a big payoff.
If we portray ourselves as mistreated by a cruel world, we appear to be a
righteous person, totally blameless, and it seems unnecessary for us to
change or do anything about it. We become a helpless victim, which gives us
some status. As Dalrymple points out, however, if we, as a victim, actually
took action and overcame or corrected the unfair situation, it would suggest
that perhaps we never needed to be a victim, that we could have helped
ourselves much earlier than we did. So, we often resist trying to change our
miserable situation in any way. Who wants to know that they have messed up
their own lives? Criminals usually have tales of a wretched childhood and bad
influences which account for their stealing, attacking people, and killing
others. Our resentment of our past glosses over our possible failures in self-
One reason for our own aggression is that we excuse it or rationalize it.
We may even get an ego boost from it--being a tough, fearless, macho man.
How can guilt about our aggression be reduced? See chapter 3 for more
discussion of the excuses we use when we are inconsiderate of others. Briefly,
Bandura (1973) describes several ways that we, as aggressors, avoid blaming
Emphasize the goodness of our cause. Our violence is often
thought of as necessary to stop an evil force.