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Adult Relational Aggression

Updated on April 19, 2016

Relational Aggression In Toddlers

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© 2013 Express10

What is relational aggression?

Relational aggression is emotional abuse that attacks one's relationships with others. Adult relational aggression can occur just about anywhere. While it is usually done in a more covert manner than other forms of abuse, it can be quite overt as well. Due to it's subtleties, adult relational aggression can often be in use in plain sight of others without them knowing what is truly going on. It is used to inflict emotional and psychological harm on others and interferes with how the victim is perceived by others. Relational aggression is used to intimidate others and simply make them feel less than their true worth. When inflicted, it can take away part of the victim's social standing and quite often effectively exclude them from people and opportunities that are important to them personally or on a professional level.

Relational aggression is often at play when the harasser attempts or successfully interferes with the victims relationships causing negative consequences that can lead to a downward spiral for the victim. Adult relational aggression takes many forms such as gossip, backstabbing, and taking digs at the victim, their work, or relationships. Sabotage and manipulation of the reputation of the individual is also common as is giving them the silent treatment regularly. The silent treatment, whether at work or in social situations is a classic sign of relational aggression.

Choose Wisely To Cope With Relational Aggression

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Relational aggression can lead to larger problems

Over time relational aggression can wear even the strongest of adult victims' self esteem down to dangerously low levels while cutting them off from friends and others that they may want or need to confide in. Often, this pain is inflicted with words, exclusion, and isolation of the victim, not physical abuse. Because not a single physical blow is dealt in most cases, some people mistakenly believe that there is no problem or they simply deny that there is a problem but often the wounds are lasting. It must be noted that even in adults relational aggression can lead to physical blows. This can happen when the aggressor wants to exert power and can think of no other way or when the victim is fed up and retaliates.

In certain situations where the harasser is believed by others who are in a position of authority or is in a position of authority themselves, use of adult relational aggression can play a very negative role when certain individuals are unable to get a job, promotion, a networking connection, or even a date. Relational aggression inflicts real stress and pain on the target of the abuse and some people find themselves getting to a breaking point even when they have reached out for assistance repeatedly. Relational aggression can be found in use across all ages and races in a variety of settings, even in places such as church. It is very common between females but is also used by males of all ages.

Relational aggression can make you feel like this

Sooner or later, we all reach our boiling point.
Sooner or later, we all reach our boiling point. | Source

Mind games that can cause pain

Abuse is abuse whether it is physical or not. Relational aggression causes lasting changes in a fairly large number of victims. Unfortunately, adult relational aggression often boils down to the harasser's own insecurities and a willingness to do absolutely anything to put another person down only to feel better about themselves. It is not uncommon for the bully or aggressor to project their problems onto the target and hold the target out for humiliation. To say the harasser has a character flaw is being kind. Many harassers/bullies will recruit others to take part in isolating and inflicting pain or humiliation onto the victim in a variety of settings whether public or private. A fair number of victims report never even having previous interactions with their abusers for the abuser to actually have actually formed an accurate opinion of them.

The negative effects of adult relational aggression can be found at work, school, church, or even while shopping. In many cases it doesn't seem to make a significant difference if the victim is alone or with a group of people when the harasser is looking for a victim. How the victim responds is often very important to preventing further aggression. There have probably been times where you or a loved one have walked into even the most mundane of places such as a grocery store, shopping mall, or library, only to be met with rude comments or condescending stares by people that you've have never even met.

Mean Girls

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Sticks and stones is not the way to deal with relational aggression

In cases of relational aggression is not uncommon for the victim to be met with negative comments or stares to the point that the victim gets visibly uncomfortable or nervous. A few victims can become so rattled that they become physically ill. Many times rude or downright nasty comments are intentionally said loud enough so the victim can very easily hear but if confronted, the bully/harasser will often say they weren't talking directly to the victim in an attempt to imply there is no problem with their actions.

It is easy for some to say the old sticks and stones rhyme when telling others how to deal with adult relational aggression. The problem is that many bullies who use relational aggression to inflict pain will simply continue to do so until the victim firmly stands up for themselves, the aggressor has no further contact with the victim, or a person with authority steps in and forces change. In cases where the harasser comes into contact multiple times daily or weekly with their victim, the victim is very likely being assaulted verbally and psychologically during each contact. It is from this perspective that parents and victims will come to understand the potentially devastating effects of relational aggression. The more often the victim comes into contact with this behavior, the easier it will be for the victim to begin to lose self esteem and think it possible that the bully is correct with their negative view.

How did I end up here?

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Changes

Victims of relational aggression may may exhibit any number of reactions to the negative behavior. Some people will become more withdrawn from social activities or may attempt to isolate themselves from others in an effort to stay away from the bully/bullies and those who side with the bully or offer no resistance to the bully's bad behavior. Children as well as adults may cry or voice their concerns through complaints. Others may show a drop in concentration and performance at school or work. Some people will do anything to avoid showing up to school or work, making it seem as if the problem is within them rather than coming from another person or group. Relational aggression can have a very negative effect on productivity in work or school. It is beneficial to schools and employers to take firm action in these cases rather than ignore it.

Sometimes formerly outgoing people may become more introverted without explanation. Some victims will become outwardly angry or even violent when they have been pushed past their personal limits. Because victims don't always tell others what is going on, casual observers may incorrectly assume that the victim lashing out is the only one at fault. They may even be deemed crazy by those who have no idea what is truly happening. However, it's important to know that violence can be targeted to the offending bullies as well as to others if the target is pushed well beyond their limits. In other cases, the person may harm themselves whether it be physically, educationally (by dropping out, skipping classes, etc.), or careerwise by avoiding work. This is another reason relational aggression should be nipped in the bud and never allowed to fester.

There have been cases where bystanders were injured or even killed at school, work, social gatherings, and in public places when relational aggression victims attacked their aggressors and vice versa. It is for this reason that relational aggression must be addressed particularly in settings where the victim must be in contact with the harasser in places such as at school, in the neighborhood, or in the workplace. In social settings, organizers and attendees should be aware of these types of situations and seek to keep victims and aggressors from being invited to the same event(s) until the situation can be addressed and/or resolved.

Global Alliance for Preventing Relational Aggression

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Avoidance and hiding from relational aggressors often will not work

Avoiding the harasser works sometimes but not all of the time. Avoiding the harasser may not be the best way to deal with the problem because many harassers enjoy putting the victim on the run and will chase them to no end to inflict further pain. This must be taken into account if avoidance is the only tactic being put into place. Further, the victim will never be comfortable in settings where they absolutely must be with the harasser such as at work or school. Other problems associated with relational aggression include depression and isolation from friends or even family.

Relational aggression on the job is more common than many people choose to acknowledge and it can definitely impact the company in a variety of ways. Relational aggression can affect the bottom line in cases where the victim chooses to call in sick or leave work early. Often excuses are made up and the truth won't be told by the victim but there may be others who know what is going on whether they be friends, by-standers, or active participants.

In the worst of scenarios, relational aggression can be a factor in workplace violence. It should always be stamped out by employers whenever it is found or reported because this is something that can affect the bottom line and cause a toxic environment with negative distractions, injury, and in some cases, death from violence. In addition, if it can be shown in a court of law that the company was notified and they took little or no action prior to injury or death, the company can be held liable. Relational aggression also contributes to a higher rate of turnover, further costing the company more money in recruiting and training replacements. Employers need to do all they can to ensure that for employees and profits' sakes, that their work environment is free from adult relational aggression.

The boiling point has been reached

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Options

Adult relational aggression attacks relationships and a person's reputation in an attempt to devalue and humiliate. In too many cases, the harasser succeeds for the long term even when they have been eliminated from the victim's life. Often, it is the use of a combination of solutions that will work best for the victim. In some cases, victims will need to improve their social skills and self confidence to lessen their chances of becoming a victim and more importantly improve their own self-esteem for the sake of their own confidence. It is important to understand that even those who have good or excellent social skills and self confidence can become victims of relational aggression. Many victims will find out who their real friends are during this experience and some may find their social and work connections are not what they once believed.

If any difference or weakness (real or perceived) is seen by a harasser or bully, they will often pounce. Speaking up strongly against the harasser at the very first infraction can be an effective countermeasure to show them the victim is not to be mistreated. The quicker and more strongly the victim asserts themselves, the more likely they are to have positive results. A common myth about victims of relational aggression is that they are unpopular or introverted people. This is not always true and there are many cases where fairly outgoing, popular, and even well known children and adults have been harassed by people that resent their intelligence, success, talent, skill, financial status, attractiveness, or social connections.

Stand Up To Bullying And Relational Aggression

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Additional options

Victims can fight back by being open and honest with their harassers and firmly requesting that the aggressor stop negative comments and actions. Do so firmly and immediately without delay to let the bully know you are not a target. Sometimes this works and sometimes this doesn't but it notifies the aggressor that the victim is aware of what is being attempted, that it is wrong, and is unwelcome. If the victim is in an employment or educational situation where there are authority figures available to intervene, they may need to be called in for assistance if the aggressor's behavior continues or escalates. This is also an option that doesn't always work as a single solution because some authority figures are indifferent to this behavior, others are ineffective, or the bully may simply be the type who will not listen to the authority figure and victim.

Avoidance of the bully or harasser might be an option in some cases and involves taking extra steps to avoid crossing paths with the harasser. However, this tactic alone will often not end the bullying if the victim ever crosses paths with the bully. Further the victim will not learn how to effectively assert themselves in these situations. In some cases, bullies will chase or stalk the victim even when the victim has changed workplaces, schools, and social circles, making the victim feel even more helpless. In cases where the victim has actually moved, changed schools, or workplaces and is still finding themselves harassed by or even face to face with a harasser, the police should be notified immediately because the victim is clearly being harassed and stalked after drastic/life altering steps have been taken by the victim to avoid it.

If avoidance is the only weapon the victim deploys, they often are disappointed because the bully will simply pick up where they left off even months or years later. Also, by avoiding the problem instead of trying to directly address the problem, the victim may never feel that they did all that they could do to change the situation or they may feel badly about their choice to change their actions or their very lives when they did not do anything wrong. Lastly, the victim may possibly find they have left one relational aggression situation but find themselves in another.

Frenemies or flat out enemies?

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How you can help others or yourself

Often, the victim must be reminded by those that truly care about them that they have value because constant relational aggression can erode self esteem significantly regardless of how strong the victim may be. It is the harasser who has a problem within themselves and they are often trying to make themselves feel stronger by hurting other people. Decide what the objective is, create a plan of action, and utilize it. While many victims fear standing up to a bully, in most cases it simply must be done. Ignoring the problem actually makes some harassers increase the level of their negative and distracting behavior because they have not felt any repercussions or reprimands from their ill deeds.

In many cases, the victim will need to build their self confidence and communication skills if they feel unable to confront their harasser(s). Building self confidence and communication skills are things that need to be done anyway, at any age. If there are friends or authority figures who will stand by the victim's side as they assert themselves, this can make a big difference in the victim's ability to assert themselves. There may be no need for others to assert themselves or jump into the conversation. Just providing another pair of eyes as a witness can often make the victim more comfortable with asserting themselves and make it less likely that things may become physical.

For many victims confrontation is a scary thing to do for a variety of reasons such as being fearful of losing their job or simply receiving retaliation by standing up for themselves or "making waves." Retaliation is at the top of the list of reasons why victims avoid speaking up no matter what their age or the setting in which the relational aggression is taking place. No matter what their age is, once the victim firmly confronts their harasser they often can reclaim some or all of their self-esteem and that is the point at which many harassers end their negative behavior.

Types Of Bullying Vary Widely

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Relational aggression online

If your child is experiencing a relational aggression situation, monitor their online activities because a fair number of bullies stalk their victims online and spread very harmful rumors negatively affecting the way that many readers view the child. This type of bullying is 24/7 and has literally driven people to suicide, many under the age of 18 as well as adults. Some aggressors/bullies will recruit others to join in the bashing of the victim. Never play a role in this type of behavior, online or off, unless you are stepping in to stop it.

Using the web to inflict pain also occurs in cases of relational aggression between adults. No matter what the victim's age is, when online the harasser should be ignored, blocked, or reported to the police in particularly egregious cases. It is wise to save copies of any threats and also report this behavior to a site administrator. If you have contact with them online, stop all contact. Keep in mind that it is much easier for people to be rude or threatening while hiding behind a computer. A large number of people will say things online that they don't have the guts to offline. Attempting to respond online most often yields no positive result and can often inspire more aggression from the harasser.

If the bully has been confronted and there have been no changes or if you feel it more advantageous to try to bypass them altogether, call in an authority who will take a strong stance against this type of behavior if possible. In cases of children, notifying their parents of their child's negative behavior may or may not work. This is because many children have parents who are not open to being told their child is doing anything negative, let alone causing problems for others. Other parents may be aware but don't care, they may not have proper parenting skills, or they may have too many children, or other problems to make the child change.

If the behavior has been ongoing and particularly damaging or threatening and you can document at least one or two incidents, contact your local police station. They might be able to remedy the situation through legal means or by simply sending an officer to ask the harasser to stop. This will often straighten people of all ages out as will an actual arrest. Some stations will be more welcoming if you can document the behavior and what you have done to request that it stop or avoid the person. If there are any physical threats or behavior such as stalking, it is absolutely best to involve the police from the very moment these lines are crossed.

© 2012 Express10

By: DysartUSD

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© 2012 H C Palting

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    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 5 years ago from Shelton

      a very good hub well presented and organized up and awesome

    • Express10 profile image
      Author

      H C Palting 5 years ago from East Coast

      Thanks so much Frank. I have seen and experienced this in the workplace. At one particular company, I found out why 75% of the employees I spoke to had been there one year or less...only after I'd been hired.

    • Old Poolman profile image

      Mike 5 years ago from Rural Arizona

      Very nice job on this hub. I suspect every one of us knows individuals who display RA behavior in varying degrees. At one time during my corporate career I was in charge of a department with 240 employees. It seems we always had at least one in the group who required counselling over this RA thing. I can recall some that were terminated because the counselling was not effective. These employment terminations were done with the blessing of the Labor Unions who represented these employees. Even the toughest Union Reps would not put up with an employee picking on other employees. I would guess those who are compelled to use RA behavior either feel very insecure or suffer from a mental condition.

    • Express10 profile image
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      H C Palting 5 years ago from East Coast

      Old Poolman you are a wise man to have taken action against this. While it doesn't happen often, this type of thing can definitely lead to violence. It is unfortunate that there is always some insecure bad apple trying to spoil the bunch.

    • diyomarpandan profile image

      diyomarpandan 5 years ago

      Great hub. Very true. I've always been aware (or at least I think I am) of people actively gossiping and backstabbing someone else, it's common in the suburban and rural setting, where people know almost everyone else; but I didn't know it's called Relational Aggression until I read this hub.

    • Express10 profile image
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      H C Palting 5 years ago from East Coast

      Thanks Diyomarpandan. I find it surprising that men also take to this behavior because as a woman, I was always made to believe that girls and women were the only ones. However, in recent years I've seen men take to relational aggression to "get back" at those they disagree with or don't like.

    • ptosis profile image

      ptosis 4 years ago from Arizona

      Thanks 4 answering my question - need any key words?

      frenemies, Frienemy, Frenemy, so-called friend, antagonistic, one sided ambivalent, subliminal insult, backhanded, left handed compliment, asteism, passive aggressive

    • Express10 profile image
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      H C Palting 4 years ago from East Coast

      Thanks Ptosis. I can relate to your question about frienemies. They fit right in with those who have relational aggression issues.

    • Sarah Christina profile image

      Sarah C Nason 4 years ago from Fresno, CA

      Thanks for this article, I didn't know there was an actual term for this behavior other than bullying. I myself experienced RA from my childhood best friend, of all people (along with her cousin who visited every other weekend). She found every opportunity she could to undercut, mock and ridicule me. I was friends with her from age 3, and over the years she had downgraded my self-esteem so much that I was stressed out all the time, and did everything I could to conform to her ways just to have peace (but of course that didn't work either, she then mocked me for copying her). I even started getting sick and would vomit from time to time from the stress. I didn't figure out until I was about 10 or 11 yrs old that I needed to put an end to the friendship. Even there it didn't end, however, because she showed up to my school (she went to a different school) with her cousin and they kept harassing me. I got my mother and the school authorities involved, and that finally put it to a stop. Still, the damage to my self-esteem was permanent and still affects me to this very day. More people need to be aware of this issue, especially with the advent of "cyber bullying".

    • Express10 profile image
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      H C Palting 4 years ago from East Coast

      I'm sorry that you have suffered as well. The problem actually seems to be more widespread than previously thought as often the very nature of the problem is not physical and passers-by may not even know that degrading and malicious behavior is in use. It is a problem in many workplaces and colleges as well. Many victims of this behavior also report it's effects decades later. Cyber bullying is even worse as a large number of these cowards hide behind the computer and often try to remain anonymous, while others say things online that they could never muster the courage to say face to face because they are lies or would cause them to be beaten in retaliation.

      What I can say is that as a woman I have experienced it at work and I have also seen others become victims. When I went to another young lady's aid (she was being villified for being an overweight competitive ice skater), it stopped. If more people would speak up when they notice this behavior, I believe that it can be lessened or stopped.

    • Jellybird profile image

      Jellybird 4 years ago

      Thank you for a nicely formulated piece. I will continue to learn more and say less, - although those long silences can also be interpreted as RA. Good council. Regards J

    • profile image

      NadineW 4 years ago

      Thank you for this informative report. It is directly relavent to my life and research on the topic of Relational Aggression. This subject is key to my finally getting back on the career track. I quit more than one job after working at it for a couple of years, successfully, due to my lack of knowledge of how to fight the perpetrators. I look forward to hearing more from you on this subject in the future as I also seek help from a private counselor.

    • Express10 profile image
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      H C Palting 4 years ago from East Coast

      Striking a balance is important as is being assertive to protect yourself and those you care about. I find it odd to see as a young adult that it's not a girls thing as I've always been led to believe. Just as frequently, I see adult men of varying ages doing this. It's sad.

    • Express10 profile image
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      H C Palting 4 years ago from East Coast

      Thanks NadineW. I too have quit a job because I was being given the silent treatment by one higher up in particular...until our boss was in our presence. As soon as the boss was away, the silent treatment began again. I'd not been around another female acting this way since high school. It made getting things done difficult and very uncomfortable. Lots of times I wanted to speak up but she was a higher up and I was last hired, first to be fired. I began making changes to afford myself the ability to work for myself and now I can tell these types to kiss my rear without fear because my income doesn't come from a single "job."

    • profile image

      Ohara 2 years ago

      We deenfitily need more smart people like you around.

    • Express10 profile image
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      H C Palting 2 years ago from East Coast

      Thanks Ohara, that was extremely nice of you to say.

    • profile image

      Kelly 2 years ago

      I really enjoyed reading this article, seeing that I have been, I hate to say, a victim of this for the last 10 years by a relative. More specifically a sister in-law that hates the fact that, her husband, my brother, loves me, and we HAD a great sibling relationship. Which has as of now been ruined, due to her relational/covert aggression. I would love to see an article addressing this particular aspect of relational aggression, where this person will always be in your life, trying to ruin your good relations with common relations and how to deal with the situation. Thank you.

    • Express10 profile image
      Author

      H C Palting 24 months ago from East Coast

      It's unfortunate that you can relate to this from personal experience. You have made an excellent suggestion as well. If you have tried to have a meeting of the minds at least two or more times, you may sadly have to settle for keeping them at arm's length as much as you can.

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