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Marcovitz, E. (1982). Aggression: An Overview. Psychoanal. Inq., 2(1):11-20.

(1982). Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 2(1):11-20

Aggression: An Overview

Eli Marcovitz, M.D.

Recently a patient cried out in despair and protest, “Why do people hurt each other!” In some sense this is the basic question in our investigation of aggression. Do we hurt each other so inevitably out of innate forces, whether an outwardly directed death drive or an instinctual drive to destroy, perhaps genetically or hormonally programmed, or is aggression always learned and reactive to frustration, to trauma, to danger, or to other external influence? Although both views have supporters, I have been impressed by the wide range of forces and conditions that influence aggressive behavior.

It is not a simple task to define aggression, not even aggressive behavior. One of the difficulties lies in our thinking of aggression as a quality, tendency, or action, inherent in or initiated by a subject. We find aggression defined as “unprovoked assault” (Webster) or “the expression of the will which is directed outward upon resistant or challenging objects or situation” (Trilling, 1973p. 220). Even if one modifies this by omitting the adverb “outward” because we are aware of aggression directed against the self, we still think of it as an act initiated by a subject-self on an object-self. Yet we overlook the obvious fact that the object frequently has an important role in the labeling or defining of aggression.

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