Unleashing the Shadow: Understanding Suppressed Aggression and Its Impact

“Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.”
Sigmund Freud

In recent times, there has been an alarming surge in school violence, raising profound concerns about the emotional health of our young generation. This escalating aggression among youths has put a spotlight on a topic that many of us may prefer to avoid – suppressed aggression.

The numbers themselves paint a compelling picture:

  • During the 2017–18 school year, an estimated 962,300 violent incidents occurred in U.S. public schools of which an estimated 3,600 incidents involved the possession of a firearm or explosive device at school. (U.S. National Center for Education Statistics)
  • 246 million girls and boys worldwide are subject to school-related violence every year. (UNESCO)

About suppressed agression

In this blog, we will tackle this topic, exploring how analytical psychology can contribute to addressing the issue of suppressed aggression and its implications.

Carl Jung, the father of analytical psychology, pushed us to look at our ‘shadow self’ – those unseen corners of our personality where aggressive urges hibernate. When we keep ignoring these urges, they swell up, ready to explode into harmful actions.

Jung advised psychotherapy should help us channel aggression away from damage, and towards self-growth. For example, children might harbor aggression due to high parental expectations, leading to anxiety and dangerous thoughts. If not managed, these thoughts could mutate into destructive behaviors.

Sadly, both children and adults, have difficulty managing their aggression. Jung’s theories could be beneficial in helping people to use creativity to move away from unhealthy behaviors. Unfortunately, modern lifestyles don’t offer the same ways that earlier generations had to express their aggression in positive, constructive ways. Nowadays, children can be exposed to (violent) online content without having a proper outlet for their aggression, causing it to become bottled up and repressed.

It’s important to understand that when we suppress aggression, it doesn’t vanish. It lies low, silently shaping our behaviors, twisting our worldview, damaging our relationships, and diminishing our self-esteem.

What makes us suppress aggression?

Suppressing aggression can be influenced by various factors and reasons. One is that families often have unique emotional dynamics where certain emotions are considered off-limits or exclusive to specific family members.

This leads to the suppression of those emotions, causing the underlying energy to be pushed into the unconscious. Consequently, these emotions find indirect outlets through various harmful mechanisms since they are unable to express themselves directly. Aggression is one such emotion that frequently falls victim to this pattern, resulting in its unconscious and destructive manifestation in unexpected situations.

Reflecting on our own childhood may discover emotions that were forbidden or reserved for certain family members, leaving us unable to experience them. It’s precisely these emotions that we should strive to acknowledge and express in a healthy manner. By working on accepting and understanding these suppressed emotions, we can foster personal growth and emotional health.

For example, a man was raised in a family where only his mother was permitted to express her anger. He, his sister, and his father were expected to be polite and to step away when she became aggressive. As a result, he adopted this same attitude outside of the family. He kept his own anger inside, which led to stomach issues that couldn’t be diagnosed medically.

During psychotherapy, he finally realized that the cause of his stomach problems was all the repressed anger that he had kept in for so long. After understanding and expressing his anger, especially towards his mother, his stomach ailments disappeared.

So, when children can’t manage their aggressive feelings, they bury them, resulting in a toxic cocktail of frustration, resentment, and anger. Sometimes, this can explode into school violence, self-harm, or psycho-somatic problems, as in the case mentioned above.

How hidden aggression reveals itself?

Hidden aggression often reveals itself subtly through behavior, emotion, and physical signs. Spotting these signs is vital to tackle hidden aggression before it causes tragedy. Some of the key signals to watch out for are:

Behavioral: Sarcasm, procrastination, stubbornness, avoiding social interaction, constant criticism, and an obsession with perfection.

Emotional: Impulsivity, prone to mood swings, signs of depression, anxiety, or chronic feelings of resentment.

Physical: Unexplained physical issues and discomfort, difficulty sleeping, having nightmares with violent content, or relying heavily on drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism.

Thus, spotting the subtle signs of hidden aggression is the first step to preventing harm. Remember, aggression isn’t all bad. It’s a primal human response meant to protect us. But when mishandled or stifled, it can lead to disastrous outcomes.

From a Jungian perspective, it’s important to assist young people in understanding and managing their aggression in a healthy manner, rather than avoiding it and repressing it. Educational and mental health programs should focus on emotional intelligence, conflict resolution, and anger management. We should create safe spaces for open communication, encourage emotional awareness, and teach healthy coping mechanisms.

In the words of Jung, If people can be educated to see the deprived side of their own natures, it may be hoped that they will also learn to understand and to love their fellow men better.

Following the advice of Jung, we should investigate the roots of aggressive behavior instead of only addressing the external expressions of it. This can help us to recognize, understand, and manage aggression in a healthy way.

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