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Miller, C.H. (1979). Aggression in Everyday Life. Am. J. Psychoanal., 39(2):99-112.

(1979). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 39(2):99-112

Aggression in Everyday Life

Claude H. Miller, M.D.

Aggression has a negative connotation. A basis for discussion can be established by consulting the dictionary1 as a starting point for inquiry: “Aggressiveness—a form of psychobiologic energy, either innate or arising in response to or intensified by frustration which may be manifested by: (1) overt destruction, fighting, infliction of pain, sexual attack, or forcible seizure (2) covert hostile attitudes, covetousness, or greed (3) introjection into one's self (as self-hate or masochism) (4) sublimation into play or sports (5) healthy self-assertiveness or a drive to accomplishment or to a mastery of skills.” Each of these dimensions will be explored in some detail. The definition of anger, hostility and aggressive in clinical terms is: anger—the feeling associated with being displeased; hostility—acting unfriendly; aggressiveacting out anger. When referring to generic aggression, the word will be italicized.

It is evident at the outset that what is being discussed is psychobiologic energy, which is one dimension of a life force that propels all of us and drives us in our everyday activities. Our definition soon runs into difficulty, however, as it is uncertain whether this energy is innate or arises in response to, or is intensified by, frustration. Some newborn infants are alert, energetically moving about and exercising their motor apparatus, whereas others are somnolent, subdued, and must be stimulated to get them to suck. At this point in the infant's life, the difference in psychobiologic energy may be innate.

Later, as childrearing progresses and value systems are learned, there is much more reason to believe that a buildup of unexpressed energy can be intensified by frustration. Many infants are not allowed to crawl, for example. The impact of this lack of experience has consequences in the personality, as well as in the motor-musculature development. This in turn provokes responses from the mother in reaction to an irritable, fretful child. The mother's displeasure solicits reactions from the child, such as rage, agitation, or apathy.

We have a certain quantum of aggression to expend daily.

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