Briefly Unravelling the Threads of Relational Aggression: Understanding, Causes, and Impacts from Teenage Years to Adulthood

Teenage social aggression involves verbal aggression and behaviours that damage someone else's social standing and sense of belonging. Relational aggression can be direct or indirect, subtle or blatant. 

This type of social aggression can involve the spreading of rumours online through social media or through word of mouth within a school, community, organization or business, the target of relational aggression is usually embarrassed or humiliated publicly through gossiping or backstabbing.

Such cyber-bullying, name-calling, backstabbing and undermining relationships can consist of flirting with someone else's partner, coercing someone into peer pressure tactics, and, of course, stealing friends to socially isolate the targeted person. 

Relational aggression can be closely associated with depression or suicidal ideation among both males and females. 

The American Psychological Association categorizes this social aggressiveness of relational aggression as closely linked to personality profiles in cluster B of personality disorder diagnosis. If a young person or adult has extreme relational aggression toward other individuals, which shows signs of dysregulation and impulsivity with no lack of anger control, such behaviour can possibly be a symptom of borderline personality disorder (BPD).

What causes relational aggression in individuals from a very young age up into their elderly ages?

Biological factors include several issues within the brain function due to serotonin and dopamine issues, hormonal issues related to testosterone, personality traits which have self-regulation and impulsivity, social and biological influences of early attachment years in childhood and the quality of child care and development of the child's social and emotional skills, cognitive factors such as understanding, biases and social cues and perception of social threats to the individual. Just having a learning understanding of social behaviours observed through the family and social environment can be repeated aggressive behaviours within his or her surroundings later on in life, and these learning environments can be exposure to violence and chronic trauma, which shape the person's personality traits. 

What social factors contribute to relational aggression in young people and adults?

The nucleus of any young person is then finally environment modelling, and behaviour and parenting style can contribute to relational aggression. The school and peer environment are other factors that can contribute to such social aggression, especially if bullying behaviours are ignored and tolerated within the peer structure and school environment. Another influence can be the cultural expectations and trauma affecting the child over multiple years in the development ages. If the young person or adult has experienced insecure attachment patterns and social isolation from peers and or family, such social learning could cause social aggression and more extreme relational aggressiveness. Power dynamics within the peers, school, organization, and business environments in which individuals try to cope with different stressors may increase frustration and feelings of isolation and powerlessness, which may cause relational aggressiveness toward other individuals.

What are some psychological factors that may cause this social relational aggressiveness?

As mentioned above, lack of emotional regulation due to deep trauma or generational trauma and low tolerance due to frustration can cause extreme aggressiveness. These individuals need more social understanding and processes in which their perception of the social situation needs more empathy.

Instead of understanding the other individual's feelings, they perceive threats toward themselves. Due to this lack of social skills and inability to solve problems quickly under social perceptions, there tends to be a lack of self-esteem and a need for social acceptance, which may drive aggressive behaviours for acceptance within a peer group in a school, organization, or business. There can also be a lack of self-identity and lack of belongingness, and these individuals' behaviours manifest in defence of self-preservation behaviours. Such individual personality traits seem very Machiavellian because of their manipulative tendencies to negatively persuade individuals against a targeted person, and many of these individuals showcase narcissistic traits, trying to control and dominate social situations within a peer group or within a school, organization, or business.


Individuals who expose Relational aggression towards others definitely are promoting a lack of empathy and distorted social thinking patterns, which cause higher dysfunction and stress within a peer structure or within a school, organization, or business.

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