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Fosshage, J.L. (1998). On Aggression: Its Forms and Functions. Psychoanal. Inq., 18(1):45-54.

(1998). Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 18(1):45-54

On Aggression: Its Forms and Functions

James L. Fosshage, Ph.D.

Discussions of aggression require consideration of motivation and affect theory. Regardless of our motivational model, aggression is motivated and involves dysphoric affects of anger, fear, shame, and disgust. Even when we view aggression, not as a drive, but as a reaction to frustration, we view the aggressive response to be activated by frustration and related signal affects, and to be motivated, that is to have an inner thrust and an aim.

Although within psychoanalytic parlance aggression has been used to refer both to hostility, hate, and acts of destructiveness and to acts of assertion. I differentiate between assertiveness and aggression. I view them not as points on the same continuum, but as two different types of experiences and, therefore, as belonging to two different motivational systems.

Lichtenberg (1989), in a motivational systems model that I have found quite compelling, has designated and described assertion and aggression, respectively, as the exploratory-assertive and aversive motivational systems, two of five posited systems. (The other three are psychological regulation of physiological requirements, attachment-affiliation, and sensual-sexual.) Each motivation is anchored in a basic need (for example, the need to explore or the need to protect oneself) and begins with innate response patterns that are then shaped by learning. Each system can be activated primarily from the inside or the outside.

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