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Aggressive Communication
Definition, Examples, & Tips

Aggressive communication is the use of confrontational or hostile language that aims to control or dominate others. This can include belittling, criticizing, or using threats to achieve their goals. Aggressive communication can damage relationships and undermine effective communication. Although aggressive communication can be utilized by anyone in the heat of the moment, it is most often utilized by narcissists and bullies to manipulate.

What Is Aggressive Communication?

Aggressive communication involves communicating in a way that disregards the needs and feelings of others and instead prioritizes their agenda. Those who utilize aggressive communication often share patterns related to seeking control. 

Aggressive communication often stems from a person feeling inadequate or may struggle with managing their feelings of frustration or anger.

Males tend to exhibit more physical and direct aggression, while females are more likely to engage in relational or indirect aggression. Aggressive communicators may interrupt others and often have trouble listening to or acknowledging different perspectives. Aggressive communicators who desire control may use manipulative strategies such as guilt-tripping, giving ultimatums, or putting down others’ opinions.

Examples of aggressive communication are:

  • Insults such as “You’re so stupid; you wouldn’t get it no matter how I explained it.”

  • Belittling comments such as “I know you’re not capable of doing it, so I have to do it for you.”

  • Blaming such as “This would not have happened if you didn’t think it through.”

  • Threatening such as “Just do it, or you will regret it.”

  • Name-Calling such as “You’re just an idiot.”

What Does Aggressive Communication Look Like?

Aggressive communication often comes with verbal and non-verbal signs. Individuals will utilize a raised voice or yell, and they will often disrespect who they are trying to overpower. Physical communication may involve trying to look big, intentionally getting too close to someone, pointing fingers, or clenched hands. Non-verbal communication can involve eye rolls, huffing,  and a scowled, tense face.

Signs a communicator is aggressive include:

  • Engaging in arguments or conflicts, even with people who are not typically provocative or confrontational

  • Using a lot of “charged” or emotional language, for example, yelling, blaming, being sarcastic, or criticizing others, which increases tension during interpersonal interactions

  • Making personal attacks or using aggressive language rather than discussing the issues at hand

  • Not allowing others to speak, frequently interrupting, and not listening to others; instead, they dominate the conversation

  • Being condescending and not listening to other’s points of view

  • Providing little or no consideration of others’ questions or reactions

What Are the Beliefs of Aggressive Communicators?

Habitual aggressive communicators typically have internal beliefs about themselves that others do not always possess. They may feel superior either by intelligence or status. They also come with the belief that they are not or were not valued. This could be due to past life experiences where they felt devalued or their opinions were not heard or even mattered in the first place.

One cognitive distortion often noticed in aggressive communicators is their propensity to utilize black-and-white or all-or-nothing thinking. They often feel others are disingenuous or deceitful.  Being aggressive allows them to counter the painful experience of feeling like they cannot trust any of the people around them.

What Causes Someone to Become an Aggressive Communicator?

There is no single explanation for why someone becomes an aggressive communicator. Some people may develop aggressive communication habits as an unhealthy coping mechanism for high-stress levels or feelings of powerlessness. Others may have experienced abusive or aggressive communication early in life and learned to engage in such behavior themselves.

What Emotions Drive Aggressive Communication?

Aggressive communicators often use anger to conceal underlying fear and can adversely impact self-esteem and confidence. Aggressive communicators were likely belittled or made to feel their opinions did not matter when they were younger. As they become older, this can lead them to believe that aggressive communication is the only form of communication that will make them be heard.

What Are the Goals of Aggressive Communication?

Aggressive communicators may have different goals depending on their specific objectives and the circumstances they are in. Some of these individuals may seek to control or dominate conversations, while others may intend to prove their point or coerce others into following their agenda. At times, aggressive communicators may attempt to express themselves or protect their interests, although their behavior can be off-putting, hurtful, and counterproductive.

Impacts of Aggressive Communication

Aggressive communicators often get what they want in the short term. Aggressive communication is confrontational and intimidating. Many individuals bend to aggressive communication because of how uncomfortable it can be to give push back. People often react with a “I just don’t want to deal with their anger” mentality. However, using aggressive communication often has several long-term negative consequences.

Long-term, aggressive communication will cause friction and conflict in relationships. Resolving issues is harder with aggressive communication because it can create a hostile and toxic environment. As aggressive communicators degrade these relationships, trust is destroyed.

Benefits of Aggressive Communication

Aggressive communicators may perceive their confrontational approach to communication as productive since they can often accomplish their goals more quickly. They may feel powerful and in control when communicating aggressively and believe doing so makes them appear assertive and earn respect. Aggressive communication is beneficial in emergencies, but most communication does not take place in emergency settings.

Why Is Aggressive Communication Ineffective?

Aggressive communication creates numerous adverse effects. First, it creates a negative environment replete with interpersonal conflict and tension. Aggressive communicators can make others feel like they are walking on eggshells, never being certain how the aggressive communicators will respond. When people feel constant intimidation, they are less likely to actively listen or exhibit empathy, complicating conflict resolution.

Additionally, aggressive communication can tarnish one’s reputation as it hampers professional growth and jeopardizes collaborative partnerships. Aggressive communicators gain reputations for being unapproachable and disrespectful, thus making it disastrous for interpersonal interactions. This tactic also risks emotional burnout as it is draining to sustain a relationship with this person.

Mental Health & Aggressive Communication

Aggressive communication is a mental health concern. Individuals diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) or narcissistic personality disorder may have difficulty asserting themselves without resorting to aggression. Alternatively, anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder can make it difficult to manage emotions, leading to hostile and aggressive behavior.

Many sufferers who utilize aggressive communication think they are speaking defensively.  Sometimes their communication style is habitual and reactionary. However, when aggressive communication negatively impacts relationships or one’s quality of life, seeking professional help can help develop more constructive communication styles.

Mental health concerns associated with aggressive communication include:

  • Anxiety: Anxiety can often lead to aggressive communication as individuals who are anxious may feel their needs are not being met, creating a sense of frustration or anger.  Sometimes anxiety can also lead to passive-aggressive behavior, where the individual may act indirectly or in a way that conceals their true feelings.

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Individuals who have experienced trauma may feel heightened levels of stress, anxiety, and anger. Individuals suffering from PTSD may also have difficulty reconciling their past experiences with their present reality, leading to feelings of disconnection and insecurity. This manifests as aggression or self-destructive behavior, pushing others away.

  • Adjustment Disorder:  Stressful life events or major changes, such as a loss or big move, can trigger adjustment disorders. Individuals with adjustment disorder may struggle to adapt to changes, leading to negative emotions and other symptoms such as sadness, anxiety, and anger which can manifest as aggressive communication.  Adjustment disorder can create a sense of loss of control, leading to feelings of frustration.

  • Substance Abuse: Individuals struggling with addiction may experience personality changes, heightened impulsivity, and irritability, which could lead to aggressive communication. A lifestyle of addiction and abstinence can place a great strain on a person’s emotional state and relationships.  When individuals face cravings or withdrawal symptoms, they may become agitated and lash out at others. Certain substances, such as alcohol and stimulants, can worsen aggressive communication as well.

  • Narcissism: Narcissistic individuals tend to have an exaggerated sense of self-importance and may lack empathy for others. This can lead to a tendency to dominate conversations, speak down to others, or belittle their opinions. Individuals with narcissistic tendencies may experience frustration or insecurity when their expectations or desires are not met, and they may be more prone to aggressive communication when this happens. They may become defensive or hostile when faced with criticism or feedback.







How to Have Tough Conversations With an Aggressive Communicator

Engaging in conversations with an aggressive communicator poses several challenges. An aggressive communicator may not communicate their message effectively, creating confusion and preventing others from receiving their message. Additionally, an aggressive communicator’s tone and body language can cause anxiety and make it difficult to articulate one’s thoughts. There is often a fear that the conflict will escalate into emotional or physical violence.

Difficult conversations with aggressive communicators can be challenging, but they can also be productive. To prepare for a difficult conversation with an aggressive communicator firm in your message without becoming aggressive. Keep the conversation calm and focused.

Here are a few tips for having a difficult conversation with an aggressive communicator:

  • Set a goal for the conversation: Identify the primary objective you want to achieve.  This will keep you focused, avoid getting sidetracked, and keep everything on track.

  • Prepare what you will say: Develop an outline of relevant information you need to convey and stick to the points you want to make in your conversation.

  • Practice active listening: Be patient and listen actively to their message, which can help you understand their viewpoint and allow you to find common ground.

  • Avoid being defensive: Keep the conversation productive by avoiding getting defensive so no one feels insulted or criticized. If this happens, I suggest you take a break so you can think and regroup before continuing the conversation.

  • Keep calm: Aggressive communicators can become hostile under stress, so keep a positive attitude and approach the conversation with openness and humility.

  • Set boundaries: It is important to establish clear boundaries for the conversation. Communicate your expectations for respectful and constructive dialogue, and be assertive in addressing any personal attacks or disrespectful behavior.

How to Change Your Communication Style

While aggressive communication may be effective in the short term, in the long run, it will harm you and your relationships. Assertive communication is an alternative style of communication that will enable you to convey your message effectively while having sensitivity to others’ feelings. Shifting your communication style from aggressive to assertive will enable you to repair damaged relationships and foster healthier connections.

Becoming more assertive can be challenging and may require practice, including developing new communication skills and managing stress in other coping mechanisms. Aggressive communicators can benefit from seeking support, therapy, or counseling to work on their communication behaviors.

Here are ten tips for improving your aggressive communication:

  • Identify your triggers: Identify the specific triggers or situations which lead to aggressive communication (wanting to be respected, wanting to be correct, etc.)

  • Practice self-awareness: Be mindful of your tone, body language, and words you are using during your interaction. Do not point. In fact, try to keep your palms open toward who you are speaking towards.

  • Breath: Take deep breaths and practice breathwork techniques, such as 4-7-8 breathing, or coherent breathing.

  • Use “I” statements: Focus on discussing how the situation makes you feel instead of casting blame on others.

  • Focus on the issue rather than the person: Identify and discuss the behavior or situation rather than attacking the person.

  • Engage in active listening: Listen to the other person’s perspective, be curious and maintain an open mind, and avoid personalizing disagreements.

  • Apologize when necessary: Offer a genuine apology when you recognize your communication has turned aggressive.

  • Use humor: Using humor to ease tension as long as it is sensitive and timely can ease the tension in a positive manner.

  • Seek guidance and support: Consider seeking help from a counselor, mediator, or participating in a support group. Anger management therapy can be particularly helpful for individuals who struggle with anger and frustration.

  • Practice effective communication: Practice communication skills like empathy, active listening, and respect in interactive sessions with other people as often as possible.​

When to Seek Professional Support

If you or someone you know are experiencing chronic aggressive communications, it is important to get professional help as soon as possible. Aggressive communication can lead to impaired relationships, high stress, and negative effects on a person’s career and social life.

Here are some signs that indicate a person may need professional help:

  • Having regular conflicts with loved ones, coworkers, or other people in personal or professional settings

  • Difficulties resolving conflicts without resorting to aggressive or intrusive communication behaviors

  • Use of alcohol or other substances as a way to cope with anger, frustration, or difficulty communicating

  • Frequent engagement in high-risk or exciting behaviors as a means of coping with emotional distress

  • Struggles with regulating emotions, is easily upset by other people’s opinions, and has frequent mood swings

  • Experiencing patterns of isolation or consistent negative feedback in relationships.

Making changes to one’s communication style will allow a person to become more self-aware of their actions, which in turn can enable an individual to foster healthier relationships. Consider using online therapy options to find a therapist to help or check out an online therapy directory.

Types of Anger Management Therapy

Several therapeutic modalities help with aggressive communication. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) addresses negative thought patterns and behaviors associated with aggression.  Anger management programs are often based on principles of CBT and may use group or individual therapy sessions. Emotionally focused therapy (EFT) improves emotional understanding and communication skills. Psychodynamic therapy examines how unconscious motivations and emotions may impact communication styles.

Verbal aggressiveness comes with the tendency to attack others’ self-concepts rather than their positions on a particular topic. By focusing on attacking the person rather than engaging in a substantive discussion, individuals displaying verbal aggressiveness aim to demean, debase, or belittle others. Additionally, aggressive communicators are a few steps away from being downright abusive. They’re mean and will say whatever it takes to “win” an argument, even when the other person only sees it as a conversation and not an argument. Therefore, I have to monitor myself to not become emotional when I experience an aggressive communicator.

How to Tell if You’re an Aggressive Communicator

Self-awareness about whether you are an aggressive communicator can be difficult, but self–awareness is the first step to being able to change. Knowing the signs of an aggressive communicator can help. Signs include verbal aggression like yelling, blaming, sarcasm, criticism, and swearing, as well as nonverbal aggression like eye-rolling, interrupting, finger-pointing, and invading personal space.

To determine if you are an aggressive communicator, you can ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I find myself often engaging in arguments and conflicts with others?

  • Do others seem uncomfortable or intimidated by my communication style?

  • Do I often interrupt or talk over others without allowing them to finish speaking?

  • Do I make personal attacks or criticisms when attempting to make a point?

  • Do people often describe me as “angry” or “hostile” in discussing my communication?

  • Do I have a pattern of alienating friends or loved ones?

How to Tell if Someone Else Is an Aggressive Communicator

The best way to identify aggressive communication is to look closely at their communication behaviors over time.  Watch how they respond to others, how they convey their messages, and how they handle opposition or conflict. If they show signs of aggression or hostility frequently, it is likely that they can be classified as an aggressive communicator.

I find that insight into the “why” of their behavior is needed in order for an individual to shift their communication style. Once individuals learn how their aggressive communication impacts their life, they are usually likely to work on it. However, some individuals who tend to lay more on the narcissistic side of the spectrum have a more difficult time adjusting their demeanor.  Because of this, I set more boundaries. Healthy boundaries are the key to working with aggressive communicators. However, healthy boundaries may not work out for the aggressor.  A narcissistic overload could occur, which may trigger the fall of the relationship.

The best way to monitor my emotional response is to remind myself that most aggressive communicators lack insight into their tactics. This means that they typically do not recognize they are behaving aggressively. In fact, they are most likely acting reactively to a prior experience and not the current conversation. They are aggressive now, but this anger often stems from having their humanity stripped from them when they were younger.

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