Safety Signs & Conflict Resolution

Why is it human nature for some people to want to, simply put, do bad and horrific things to other people? Here at SEED, we continue to explore and reflect upon this question. As a result, we have dedicated an entire Foundation of Safety and Security module to address the subject of aggressive behavior, relating the causes and the rationale behind it. Furthermore, that module provides information on how aggression can be addressed by both the individual and society.

Understanding the cause and rationale behind aggressive behavior, allows us to protect ourselves from potentially dangerous situations. Please be mindful that not every interaction is a violent one. It is most often an encounter, or someone trying to be helpful. Additionally, each situation and interaction must be recognized, analyzed, and even responded to on a individual bases. No one solution will fix every problem.

Aggressive Behavior, What Is It?

Aggression is found in many areas throughout our lives. There is a very thin line between frustration or controlled anger, and uncontrolled anger that leads to actual violence. What we mean by this is that that everyone gets angry and aggressive from time to time. It is when it becomes pervasive or extreme that it may be a sign of an underlying mental health condition, a substance use disorder, or one of many other medical conditions. Generally in psychology, the term “aggression” refers to a range of behaviors, resulting in both physical and psychological harm to yourself, others, or objects in the environment. Aggressive behavior is an action committed with the intent to knowingly harm others. It is not aggressive behavior, if someone experiences anger or has thoughts of aggression. Harming someone accidentally is also not considered aggressive. Let us look at some of the more common types of aggressive behavior.

Aggression can be broken down into several distinct types that fit into one of four major categories:

  • Impulsive Aggression
    • Micro Aggression
    • Instrumental Aggression
    • Psychological Aggression

Impulsive Aggression is an impulse and unplanned aggression. For instance, the familiar road rage where someone gets cut off and then starts letting the other driver have it with a barrage of selective words. For those with a disability, when we are denied access or appropriate accommodations, despite the knowledge that the best way to manage the situations is calm, we cannot help sometimes letting our control go. Usually, this type of aggression is in the heat of the moment.

Micro aggression is behavior that discriminates against a specific group of people because of their differences. Hate crimes, racist attacks, bigotry, and gang-related violence are all examples. These behaviors range from subtle to overt. Micro aggressions are typically used to impose oneself over another to establish perceived dominance or inferiority.

            Instrumental aggression or predatory aggression is purposeful behavior intended to achieve a larger goal, usually meant to cause harm. It is often carefully planned out and typically is a means to an end. For example, someone committing a robbery will not care one bit if someone gets hurt in the process. They are simply a byproduct of the result to get what they want. Forms of instrumental aggression include physical aggression such as punching, kicking, stabbing, or other forms of physical abuse. Destruction of property is also an example of physical aggression. Another form of instrumental aggression often overlooked is verbal aggression such as yelling, name calling, bullying, and other types of verbal abuse. Relational aggression, when someone tries to spread rumors, tell lies, or any other way to try and ruin a relationship, is another common form of instrumental aggression.

Passive-aggressive behavior, which is usually intended to allow harm to come to someone, rather than causing harm directly is a type of instrumental agression. Something like ignoring someone during a social event or offering back-handed compliments would be a notable example of this form of aggression.

The last commonly referred to form of instrumental aggression, which could be the most damaging form, is psychological aggression. Intimidation, cyberbullying, and/or verbally berating another person, for instance, are certainly examples of verbal, mental, and emotional aggression. This is a dangerous form of aggression that is hard for an abused person to sometimes recognize and is easy for someone that is not intending to hurt someone to accidentally commit this offense, not even realizing they even did anything.

Levels of Aggression

          Let’s start by identifying the Aggression Levels. Now we are going to use a color progression for our scale, however, we do understand our audience and realize colors may not work, so a numeric progression is used instead. In the Foundation of Safety & Security module, as you go through the phases of conflict resolution (Recognize, Analyze, & Respond), you must make the best decision on what is the appropriate response, based on the information you have from the first two phases. Each interaction has its own level of aggression, and an explanation is provided to explain its relationship with one another. Examples are also provided.

  • Aggression Level Green: Annoying but not dangerous, zero to low aggression, or chance for escalation.
  • Aggression Level Yellow: Low to moderate aggression & danger. The potential for escalation is present but can be controlled verbally or avoided altogether.
  • Aggression Level Orange: Moderately aggressive with moderate to high danger potential. Both have a high probability of escalation, and therefore must be controlled physically (requires hands-on training).
  • Aggression Level Red: Extremely high aggression &, danger, potentially Lethal. Must defend life.  (Requires hands-on training) During an Incident Interaction, the person has unknowingly made us uncomfortable by entering our safe zone, or makes us uncomfortable through behavior; however, they have not physically touched or threatened us. We should treat this as an Aggression Level Yellow, since we still can defuse the situation through using our empowering words to control the situation.

In the second scenario within the Incident Interaction, each interaction, and each situation you encounter is unique, and MUST be treated as such. In any condition where the level of danger or aggression can easily deteriorate, our reaction can tremendously impact whether the encounter develops into a positive or more negative and serious one. Next, we will attempt to put this in further context as we match it up with the Categories of Interaction and provide some examples.

As a refresher, the first Category of Interactions is Consent. This is self-explanatory as it is a mutually agreed interaction where you are willing to engage by giving consent. It should be an interaction free from aggressive behaviors, but it does not mean that things won’t evolve. This would be an Aggression Level Green.

The second Category of Interactions is an Incident. In this type of interaction, a person has unknowingly disobeyed your consent or behaved in a way you do not feel comfortable with. Aggression, more than likely, is present during this type of interaction. For our use during this concept, we will break down this into two separate Aggression Levels, Yellow (Verbally Controlled) & Orange (Physically Contained).

In our first example a person is physically charging toward us out of anger or grabs us to “help us” (a Benign Intrusion).  A higher level of aggression is being shown in this scenario because the threat of danger is higher. Even if the person has no bad intentions and just wants to assist a person with a disability, unintentionally, they may pull someone with a physical disability off balance or out of their chair. Grabbing someone with a visual disability could cause them to lose orientation which is so, very dangerous in itself, or as is done more times than not grabbing a blind person to “help” them across the street could endanger both parties if the blind person is pulled away from the curb before they are ready and begins to struggle with the other person right in the middle of the crossing. There are a million reasons why grabbing someone is not only wrong but dangerous. Therefore, we must raise the aggression level in these situations to Aggression Level Orange because it has the potential for danger and must be controlled physically.

Aggression Level Red: These interactions are of the utmost danger and may mean life or death. A Violation Interaction demands that we raise the Aggression Level to RED because not only is the amount of force or aggression extreme, but so is the seriousness of the danger. Examples of this are if someone comes up and grabs your throat. In a potential Lethal situation, Recognize and Analyze is sped up so fast that you essentially are skipping them and heading straight to Respond. Meeting force with force simply to preserve life.

Why Does Aggression Exist in Our Society?

Aggression can serve several different purposes. Some that are more innocent or impulsive aggression include: expressing anger or frustration; reacting to pain, we show aggression; responding to fear; or aggression when competing with others. It is the not so innocent purposes that cause us stress and are the very reason you are taking this course. Purposes such as asserting dominance over someone, trying to intimidate or threaten someone, expressing possession over someone, or as we already discussed, achieving a goal to get one’s way. 

It might interest or downright scare you to learn that even the professionals cannot pinpoint the cause as to why someone displays inappropriate or excessive aggression, but it is thought to be linked with factors like; someone’s biology, environment, and psychological history. There may be genetic and hormonal factors that influence aggression. Imbalances in certain hormones, like testosterone and cortisol, and neurotransmitters, like serotonin and dopamine, may be biological factors linked to aggression. Imbalances like these and brain deformities can occur for many of reasons including genetics, birth defects, and injury or abuse that caused changes to the brain. Environmental factors can also play a big part in why someone behaves aggressively. Things like how you were raised might very well teach you that aggressive behavior, violence, and hostility are socially acceptable. Especially if you witness or experience this as a child, it is more than likely going to affect your relationships and interactions with others. Therefore, we hear that psychologists believe that violent content listened to or watched relates to aggressive behaviors being acted out in society.

            Several mental health conditions can be associated with aggressive behavior, or psychological factors, such as: Attention-deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Bipolar Disorder, narcissism, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and others. Other conditions like epilepsy, dementia, and substance abuse also can influence these behaviors as well. There are plenty more medical conditions, mental health problems, and factors that have been associated with aggression. We strongly encourage you to do more research to better understand the conditions we have mentioned, and to expand on those we have not addressed. We also will discuss more about mental health, especially your own as it pertains to safety & security in another module within this course. We want to now turn our focus to the aggressor, their intent, and start to develop our plan of response while incorporating the three phases of conflict resolution, situational awareness, and look at how all of this applies to the diverse Types of Interactions you might encounter.

The Aggressor

Now it is most definitely ludicrous to think that someone can try to imagine what goes on inside a potential aggressor’s head, but we are going to attempt to do just that! Using what we have learned from psychological studies over the years on why criminals do what they do, we want to try and give you a glimpse into the mindset of these people. We will use the intentional wording of “potential aggressor”, simply because we do not know until we properly recognize and analyze the interaction with someone if they are indeed meaning us harm. Additionally, as we will talk about later in this module, we hope to still defuse the situation, if not avoid it altogether, before it turns violent.

First, studying nature can really give us a glimpse into a potential aggressor or perpetrator’s thought processes. We have all heard of predatory instinct, right? An animal in the wild is not typically going to prey on another animal that is bigger, faster, or more ferocious than they are unless there back is against the wall. Well, a potential aggressor will generally act the same way, only preying or targeting someone they “perceive” to be weaker. Too many times over the years, our SEED instructors have heard from people with disabilities and their support team members (family, doctors, PT/OT professionals, vision teachers, etc.) that they will not use their necessary mobility or medical devices due to feeling like by being seen using them, it will make them feel like they are a target. This is a sad reality, but it is a true one. This is one reason of many, people who are visually impaired choose to either not use their cane, or not to venture outside of their home, or not use the prescience of their sighted caretaker. And to some degree, rightfully so! Here at STRIVE we want to encourage everyone to live their life to its fullest and certainly design our programs with the intent of providing confidence and empowerment to travel independently, however, until these feelings are achieved, and since people with disabilities are more likely to experience abuse and violence against them, these fears are more than valid. Thus, the need for the SEED program!

Another aspect of the mindset of the potential aggressor is if they mean you harm, they are hoping to surprise you. Do you like surprises? Even if you do, we are willing to bet what the potential aggressor has in mind is not your ideal idea of a surprise. They want to catch you when you’re preoccupied, not paying attention, and when your guard is down. They want to get in and out as quickly and with the least resistance possible. This is whether you are in the comfort of your own home, walking down the street, shopping, or a million other opportune times. By going back to what we learned in the Foundation of Safety module, and applying it to the predatory instinct, we have learned that a predator is hoping their prey will freeze to give even a momentary chance for them to strike and gain the at least initial, upper hand instead of their prey having the instinct to use fight or flight. Again, going back to the least resistance, if an aggressor intends to break into your home to rob you, they will more than likely observe you and/or your family’s tendencies, behaviors, and even schedules, all to simply find out when you are not at home, so they can again get in and out without being detected. This takes us back to the phase of recognize and situational awareness.

Though we are going to do everything in our power to recognize a potential threat as early in the interaction as possible, keep in mind that not every potential threat is clearly presented initially. You must also understand that if someone’s intention is to harm or rob you, chances are this is not the first time they laid eyes on you. Likewise, a predator in the wild will lay back observing their prey to determine the optimal time to attack. Therefore, practicing good situational awareness is always essential. Instinct is huge, and if your gut screams at you that something is wrong, playing it safe is simply a smart application of situational awareness. If it feels wrong, it is wrong!

What are other motivations for aggressive or criminal behaviors? Have you heard of the seven deadly sins? Well, the Roman Catholic theologists believed that pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth are behaviors or feelings that inspire further sin. This applies to aggressors’ behaviors and their motivations. Greed, anger, jealousy, revenge, or pride are the leading motivations law enforcement sites for criminal activity. Sloth, or for this example being lazy, also is a motivation because some people steal from other people for instance, because they are too lazy to get a J.O.B. If we think about gluttony in the sense of excess drinking or use of drugs any time a person’s mental state is altered, they may have violent tendencies. Throw in personality clashes and miscommunications, and political or other personal beliefs and you have a whole big melting pot of aggression!

Signs of Aggression Within Interactions

As we have stated several times already the golden rule of safety & self-defense is to avoid any potentially dangerous or aggressive situation as much as possible. However, as we also know these situations do not always initially reveal themselves to us. We must know what to look for in any event to recognize potential threats. Here are some things to look out for.

During the first phase of conflict resolution, threat recognition, and even before we are practicing good situational awareness, always being aware of your surroundings, there are a few key things we need to observe and be mindful of environmentally, and within our everyday interactions. The concept we are examining here is identifying intent. What is the intent of the person(s) with whom we are engaging? To determine this, we have identified multiple factors to take into consideration and make observations on. They are:

  • Body Language & Posture
  • Indication of Substance Use
  • Tonal Indications
  • Emotional State

            Identifying intent happens quickly and is essential in the recognize phase as we start to develop our plan of appropriate response. Within each of the above factors to observe, lie clues you can use for this purpose, so let us look a little deeper!

Someone’s body language can tell you a lot about what their intent is. Now we realize body language may seem silly to discuss in a safety ed program designed for people who are visually impaired, or who’s line of sight may be compromised because of their view from a wheelchair. However, body language is not always a visual thing, nor can it be heard or sensed. We will discuss this further down when we look at some of the other factors to be observed. Body language can be a powerful indication of someone’s intent. We all express our feelings and potential mindset towards someone or a situation through body language. For example, if you’re happy and you know it, your face will surely show it! You may walk with a pep in your step, shoulders up, and chest out. However, if you are sad, then your face is going to be droopy, eyes lowered, shoulders sagging, and all that other jazz. This type of gesturing, because it is purely based on emotions, is done automatically and with no real effort behind it. Also, if you can see the potential aggressor’s eyes, they can tell you a lot as well. Someone with bloodshot eyes that are blinking and darting uncontrollably are either signs of some types of vision problems or can indicate alcohol or drug usage.

Someone’s body language can also show physical aggression that we already learned about above. For instance, someone hitting something or another person, another person pushing or pointing at you leaves extraordinarily little doubt that they are mad or angry, whether they have an actual reason to be or not. Typically, this type of behavior is done to physically intimidate another person, making it very deliberate. The other thing that must be taken into consideration is passive aggression. For instance, if someone blocks your ability of free movement by blocking the sidewalk or a doorway deliberately to prevent you from getting by, this is an example of passive aggression. Likewise, invading one’s personal space is typically viewed as extremely aggressive and is most definitely body language that is physically intimidating. As we said, these things can be felt or sensed. So, if you are visually impaired or blind, your line of sight is blocked, or for that matter, if it is dark out or in the room you are in, then you still have clues to help you understand a person’s emotions or mindset.

            As mentioned, a person’s eyes may give you clues to whether that person may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol. As you have read, alcohol and drugs can alter your state of mind which makes you more prone to aggression or violent behavior. There are several signs or clues that substance use may be a factor in your interactions. Some to look out for include:

  • Do they seem angry, frightened, or agitated?
  • Are they incoherent, have slurred speech, or are they rambling?
  • Are they shouting, spitting, or being argumentative?
  • If you know them, do they have prior history of violence, or is it just a grumpy personality?

            Keep in mind the prescience of these factors alone is not an indication of violence alone. They could be signs of severe medical conditions or reactions such as Diabetes, Alzheimer’s, or poor mental health. However, if not defused quickly, it can spell out potential trouble.A potential aggressor’s tone can also give you a world of information about their emotions, mindset, or intent. Voice changes and inflections such as tone certainly happen to all of us when we are angry, happy, sad, frightened, or simply distressed. For example, you are at the bar and someone from across the room starts toward you in an excited cheerful voice calling your name is not so threatening in comparison to someone charging over yelling, cursing, and threatening you. An interaction can escalate quickly especially if the potential aggressor:

  • Is raising their voice
  • Sounds distressed
  • Speaking in a threatening, serious, or sarcastic tone

            In the case of the latter, remember what is being said is just as important as how it is being said. Cursing and threats don’t always get spoken with a harsh tone or raised voice. A whisper in your ear of “I am going to kill you,” spoken calmly is still as serious of a threat as one that would be screamed inches from your face. The emotional state of mind of a potential aggressor during an interaction can be determined by a culmination of all the above factors. Someone’s mindset easily can be used to identified intent and the likelihood of a situation escalating to violence. For instance, someone speaking calmly, out of your safe zone, giving off relaxed vibes and who seems to be with all their mental factors is less likely to escalate into Violence. While someone sad or depressed, agitated, smelling like alcohol or with darting bloodshot eyes, pacing in front of you has a much higher risk of things going from zero to sixty on the aggression highway within an instance. Positive mindset verses negative mindset, which one is going to prevail!

Techniques For Conflict Resolution

All right, now that you know factors to observe during interactions, it is time to think about how to de-escalate a situation or at least put yourself in a safer position. If you find yourself in an Incident Interaction, where someone is displaying aggressive behaviors, but has not escalated the encounter to a violation, then it is in the best interest of all parties involved for you to try and de-escalate the situation. Now so we are clear, these techniques are only based on if the potential aggressor has not made physical contact or currently has you in their grasp. If this is the case the aggression has already escalated, however there may still be an opportunity to defuse the situation even at this point. One of the major principles of the SEED philosophy and self-defense system is that if a person grabs you, then you keep contact until you have defused or terminated the threat. More on this can be discussed one-on-one with a SEED instructor and will be addressed in your Firsthand Training. Let us explore a few techniques you can implement in a nonphysical interaction.

  1. Control-The first technique we recommend is more for you internally than anything. It is, directly address the issue and take control immediately. Take a breath to acknowledge “okay this is really happening.” Do not push it aside or dismiss the situation. This is the biggest thing someone can do to dismiss the problem with thoughts of, “well, they did not mean to, they apologized each of the times they did it, or he meant no harm he is drunk and cannot control himself.” All this may be true, but it does not guarantee your safety. That is the most important thing you must control. That first step is acknowledging the situation, no matter how uncomfortable it is, and finding a way to control it.
  2. Distance-The next best thing you can do is to distance yourself from the potential aggressor or situation, again, assuming they have not grabbed you. Take a step back, go into another room preferably one with other people, or go a different route such as crossing the sidewalk or cut down a different street. Make sure though not to lose your orientation or if possible do not go into a more secluded area where you inadvertently make the situation worse by isolating yourself. Obviously, this is easier said than done when you may be traveling on the only route you know, already in an unfamiliar area, and your flustered or scared all while trying to keep yourself calm, while possibly resisting the freeze reaction.
  3. Boundaries- Throughout this safety ed class, we are going to harp on creating and setting boundaries. The reason? Well, if we establish a clear boundary- in this case a physical boundary, such as a chair, table, other furniture or if possible, a closed or locked door- we then open a few more opportunities to resolve the conflict and keep ourselves safer. Having something between you and the potential aggressor can act for two purposes. First, it gives space between the two of you which both protects you better and gives a clear sign that you feel threaten in case the individual did not realize that already. Secondly, it provides an opportunity for you to make it harder for the person to harm you. There is no sure drawn conclusion that you will not still get hurt; they could potentially pick something up and throw it, but if they are just angry, the visual alone might be enough to defuse them. Plus, it may open the opportunity to resolve the issue by talking it through. And then sometimes locking yourself in a room is the best way to defuse the situation and allow the aggressor to cool off and come back a little more levelheaded to address their problem. Also, putting a physical boundary can function as an indicator to a third person that you feel threaten if they are in the room.
  4. Draw Attention- Third person indicators brings us to our next technique for conflict resolution. This is to bring as much attention to the situation as needed to hopefully get another person to intervene or at least be aware of the situation. This may be in the form of shouting for help, fire, rape, etc. or making a lot of noise with objects around you. We go more in-depth in our Communication & Safety module in this course so make sure and check it out.
  5. Send for Help- If for instance you are with someone, say your kids, and can them for help this might be a good strategy to use. It might function to protect them, removing them from the situation as well as gaining that extra support. Obviously, this may leave you alone, so this will be a personal call!

Aggressive behavior undoubtedly can lead to violence, but not every situation leads to that point. If you can defuse the situation before it has a chance to escalate into something more then you run a much higher risk of keeping yourself safer. There are many factors as to why an individual might exert inappropriate or aggressive behavior toward another person. It may be uncontrollable due to medical conditions or mental health disorders. Or it could also be due to anger, frustration, or rage. And finally, it can certainly be for control or dominance over another person, or because of one of the seven deadly sins. Only through understanding of the different forms of aggression, purpose, or motivations behind bad behavior, and how we can better position our self to resolve the conflict before it even gets started is the first step to achieving safety & security!