The greater the feeling of inferiority that has been experienced,
the more powerful is the urge to conquest and the more violent the emotional agitation.
- Alfred Adler
The famous German Psychoanalyst Jung, who with Freud extensively analyzed the ego of humans, said in 1916, "Children are born with the desire to exercise power over people and things about them" (Oxford English Dictionary, 2007). This notion leads to the complex view of power that the drive for power is derived from a so called “power instinct.” This means that at the start of its life, an infant has to create an ego, or as Adler (developed in Identity Psychology) called it, an “I.” In accomplishing the prime achievement, the infant uses power for the first time to survive. The infant demands food with a mere cry and thus is able to show its potentiality to develop an ego. The infant's use of crying for survival shows how powerful he is because its existential need is triggered by an inborn instinct, the drive to execute the power. So everybody around the infant is influenced by its cry and will behave in accordance. According to modern psychologist Rollo May (Power and innocence, 1998), power is a central development in an infant's personality (p. 66). While developing transition into adulthood, the powerful cry of an infant develops into a cry for recognition and attention (Hendrick, 1951). Driven by ego, humans strive for status, happiness, and appreciation throughout their lives. Children who are deprived of parental care, love and power tend to be more aggressive and deviant than other children.
Aggression is the most exhibited human behavior on a daily basis, especially among children. Some argue that nature influences aggression, indicating that chemical relationships between serotonin, testosterone, and frontal lobe brain chemistry may play a key role in determining aggressive behavior and that all human beings are inherently aggressive (Kassin, 2004). The other chief view, nurture, argues that aggression is a cultural phenomenon, caused by faulty education and mass media communication, and is linked to socioeconomic factors. The nurture theory of aggression appears to be the real influence on aggression; children who are deprived of parental care, love, and power tend to be more aggressive and deviant than other children.
In order to approach this controversial topic of aggression, aggressiveness must be defined and put into context of power and the ego. The Oxford English Dictionary defines aggression psychologically as a "hostile or destructive tendency or behaviour, held to arise from repressed feelings of inferiority, frustration or guilt." Various academic documents (Connor, 2004) see aggression as an action directed towards one self or someone else with the intention to harm physically or verbally. Furthermore, May (2002) connected the origins of aggression with the origins of power when he said that "aggression is one’s use—or misuse—of power" (p. 125). Aggression seems to always have a negative connotation so that it is most of the time suppressed during childhood, according to May. He continued to draw from his psychotherapy practice in regard to the growing child: if the child's authority forbids the instinctive activity to explore aggression before the child has acquired the use of power, the child will have difficulty establishing and controlling aggression later and will probably "learn with some admixture of hostile aggression" (p. 124). The child will eventually act in rebellion and deviance to compensate for the deprived and unlearned hostility during his early stages of adolescence.
Children tend to express aggressiveness in a more playful way than grownups. For instance, when children play with building blocks and then knock the construction down to build it again, the relationship between power and aggression is clearly seen. The ability to build with the blocks helps the child to explore and express power and the ability to build in a playful way. While constructing the blocks, the child explores its power and capacity. When the creation is finished, the child gains self-esteem and confirms the power presence. Finally, the knocking down of the blocks derives from an inborn drive to let out the aggressiveness. Thus, the child's experience with aggression becomes crucial for its psychological and physiological development. Rather than suppressing a child's aggressive behavior, parents should promote this healthy aggression only during playtime but monitor closely future behavioral patterns. A suppression of the inborn drive may lead to uncontrollable outbreaks of deviant adult behavior in society. The child has to be taught that it is only okay to hit or knock down toys but not human beings.
Relating to Freud's theory of aggression, the knocking down of building blocks demonstrates an inborn drive similar to sex and hunger (1923). Extending Freud's original hypothesis, Konrad Lorenz (1966) suggested that in order to satisfy the human need to be aggressive, this Freudian inborn drive should be discharged in social settings. So when the child experiences aggression while it plays and knocks down building blocks, it is a positive discharge of aggression; the outcome of aggression is simply a healthy one. During playtime, the child learns in a natural way to release the inborn aggressive drive without harming anyone but gaining the control over the ego, which plays a cardinal role of the use or misuse of power.
The famous German Psychoanalyst Jung, who with Freud extensively analyzed the ego of humans, said in 1916, "Children are born with the desire to exercise power over people and things about them" (Oxford English Dictionary, 2007). This leads to the complex view of power that the drive for power is derived from a so-called power instinct. This means that at the start of its life, an infant has to create an ego. In accomplishing the prime achievement, the infant uses power for the first time to survive. The infant demands food with violent hand movements and a mere cry and therefore shows the use of power in order to develop an ego. Everybody around the infant is influenced by its cry and will behave in accordance. According to modern psychologist May (1998), power is a central development in an infant's personality (p. 66). While transitioning into adulthood, the powerful cry of an infant develops into a cry for recognition and attention (Hendrick, 1951).
The above mentioned power drive is put into jeopardy if the infant's cry is rejected and the relationship to its parents is an unhappy one, so that the parental neglect nullifies the infant's power. Consequently, impotence prevails in the life of the neglected, rejected, or abused child. The resulting ego is fragile and insecure. According to Adler (Stein, n.d.), aggressiveness evaporates from a fragile ego, from an ego that has to fight for its structural power preeminence. Adler's aggression theory says that aggression may begin with feelings of inferiority or anxiety within the family. He talks about two basic childhood situations that tend to lead to a malfunctioning life style. The "pampered child" thinks that everybody is less important than its command because the child has been taught that it can take without giving. When the pampered child enters the real world, he or she is confronted with the failure of being dependent and is not secure anymore. Adler's second child situation is the "neglected child." A neglected or abused child learns inferiority because verbally or physically the child has been told or shown that he or she has no value. The neglected child learns selfishness like the pampered child because he or she can trust no one. Both children lack social skills and suffer inferiority. The fragile ego with less power will try to compensate for its impotency with deviant behavior to ask for attention. When the feelings of anxiety increase in both cases, some juveniles may use anger to protect their self-esteem (Stein, n.d.). Adler described this use of anger as a compensating outbreak and concluded that anger used to defeat feelings of inferiority results in aggression. Both children show their aggression to protect their low self-esteem. Their aggressive behavior emphasizes their loss of significance in order to make up for their deficiency.
Referring to Adler's "neglected child" theory, the autobiographical narration of a violently abused and abandoned 16 year old girl, named Sue in I Wrote on All Four Walls: Teens Speak Out on Violence (Fearnly, 2004), demonstrates how the young girl struggles all her teenage life for recognition and power. At the age of 4, her parents divorce and she ends up living with her abusive rich father. As Sue starts bonding with her grandfather, her father decides to send her to Canada where Sue's older brother is already studying. In Canada her brother beats her up as well. Sue has no one to talk or go to until she joins a gang of other Chinese immigrant teenagers. In the gang, Sue meets like-minded people her age. For the first time, she feels understood and develops a sense of belonging. At the age of 16, Sue reflects and speaks out on violence in her own words:
I wanted to be in the gang to make me powerful, to make me feel stronger, to make me a bad girl. I figured if I couldn't be a good girl, why couldn't I be a bad one? Whenever I did good things, nobody appreciated it; nobody cared. So I started to be bad. I beat people up, I did all these drugs, I helped people sell them, I helped people with counterfeits bills, we stole cars....We did crazy stuff until I just couldn't do it any more. (Fearnly, 2004, p. 25)
The lack of value or self-confirmation caused by parental neglect drives juveniles, such as in the above-mentioned case, to delinquent behavior for which they can receive recognition and appreciation from peers. Human beings strive throughout their lives for belonging, recognition, love, respect, and power. A gang member's activity fulfills exactly those needs. Moreover, adolescence is also accompanied by the burden of finding one's identity; thus juveniles join gangs where like-minded people surround them. In Sue's case, serious and violent delinquency, like stealing cars and using drugs, is present because group peer pressure is negatively stimulated. Sue finds her power and recognition in deviant behavior.
This shows that power and aggression are closely linked but must stay in balance. Power is a very important aspect of human development; it directly affects human behavior. Throughout life, humans strive for power. On the one hand, there is a positive search for power to maintain a secure ego, which leads to a constructive way of solving problems and mastering daily situations. On the other hand, there is a negative search for power, which leads to aggression. The person who strives for power through aggression is deprived of a secure and healthy ego. The conflict of power and powerlessness is out of balance when deprivation leads to deviance. Referring to Sue, she was deprived of a healthy ego by her parents. She never had the chance to develop a strong and powerful ego but learned to beat up people for no reason. The philosopher Hannah Arendt said that violence is the expression of impotence (Reflection on Violence, 1969):
...every decrease of power is an open invitation to violence—if only because those who hold power and feel it slipping from their hands have always found it difficult to resist the temptation of substituting violence for it. (V, ¶ 29 )
The two chief debates, is aggression caused by nature or nurture, cannot be seen separately; they complement one another. Biology and psychology set the stage for aggression, but it is also the culture that provides nurturing ground. Human civilization forms its own culture and presence by the means of its own capacities and creations. Humans create violence on television and teach aggression to children. However, endless arguments against aggression are hypocritically preached. Contradictions between the cause and effect prevail while attention should be paid to the true value and existence of aggression. Aggression is a cry for attention and recognition. When the child knocks down its creation for example, it not only shows that the child is alive and able to execute its will, but it also shows the child's social behavior by learning to cope with its aggressiveness, provided that healthy developmental aggression is encouraged and carefully monitored by the caretaker. When an abused or neglected child violates social norms, corporal punishment or verbal abuse merely reinforce the child's delinquency. Violent punishment does not correct deviance; it deprives dignity and merely mirrors aggressive behavior. Dignity and self-respect first need to be gained, affirmed, and taught before the child can master constructively daily obstacles and challenges. There is neither a wrong nor a right theory of aggression. It is the balance between nature and nurture that needs to be considered. Too much exposure to aggression leads to delinquency, and suppression of the latter results in deprivation of inborn needs. When parents fail to set limits, for example, and do not intervene or engage in the early crucial years of their children’s development, juveniles will try to compensate for the lack of recognition. Additionally, if children have not learned or were robbed of their aggression drive, they will discharge their urge in delinquent behavior, which is more likely to develop into violence.
Arendt, H. (February 27, 1969) Reflections on violence. Retrieved on May 5, 2007 from http://www.nybooks.com/articles/11395
Connor, D. (2004). Aggression and antisocial behavior in youth. (Cover story). Brown University Child & Adolescent Behavior Letter, 18(9), 1.
Fearnly, F. (2004). I wrote on all four walls: Teens speak out on violence. Press, Ltd: Buffalo, New York.
Freud, S. (1923 - 1925). The ego and the id and other works (the standard edition of the completed psychological works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XIX [1923 - 1925]). Hogarth Press (1961).
Hendrick, I. (1951). Early development of the ego: Identification in infancy. Retrieved from the Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 20:44-61 on April 17, 2007 from: http://pep-web.org/document.php?id=ijp.033.0075a.
Kassin, S. (2004). Psychology in modules. Boston: Pearson Custom Publishing
Lorenz, K. (1966). On aggression. London, GB: Methuen.
May, R. (1998). Power and innocence: A search for the sources of violence. W.W. Norton & Company Inc.: New York, New York.
Oxford English Online Dictionary. (2007). Retrieved on April 19, 2007 from http://www.oed.com.
Stein, H. (n.d.). Classical adlerian quotes: striving for significance. Retrieved from the Alfred Adler Institute on April 20, 2007 from: http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/hstein/qusign.htm.