Relational aggression, also known as covert aggression or covert bullying, is a type of aggression in which harm is caused through damage to relationships or social status within a group rather than by means actual or threatened physical violence. Relational aggression is more common and more studied among girls than boys.
Forms of relational abuse
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- Betrayal - Where the abuser breaks agreements with the victim.
- Exclusion/Solitude - Where the abuser prevents the victim from socializing with the abuser's friends.
- Gossip - Where the abuser tells others personal information about the victim.
- Humiliation - Where the abuser humiliates or shames the victim in front of others.
- Lies - Where the abuser lies about the victim to others.
Origin of the term
The term relational aggression was first coined in a 1995 study by University of Minnesota researchers Nicki R. Crick and Jennifer K. Grotpeter. Despite the novelty of the term, it has gained usage in books, popular articles, academic papers, web sites and even in the title of research conferences.
An abusive relationship is an interpersonal relationship characterized by the use or threat of physical abuse or psychological abuse (see battered woman syndrome). Abusive relationships are often characterized by jealousy, emotional withholding, lack of intimacy, infidelity, rape, verbal abuse, broken promises, violence, control games, and power plays , and are often progressively escalating.
Tactics used to show relational aggression include humiliation, intimidation, coercing, shaming, malicious teasing, shunning, and using other forms of emotional abuse in an attempt to harm others. Although aggressive behavior is typically common among younger children, most children become less aggressive as they mature and develop better interpersonal skills. However, consistent aggressive behavior can lead to further problems and increased violence in the aggressor.
Over time a victim facing an abusive or aggressive relationship will follow one or more of the following symptoms below:
- Increased hostility or aggressiveness
- Frequent depression or low mood
- Low sociability to one's friends
- Refusing a breakup (supposedly followed by denialness and/or manipulation)
- Manipulation (controlled by abuser)
- Drop in performance
- Avoiding people and/or public (supposedly followed by humiliation)
- Stockholm Syndrome.
Warning signs of relational aggression
- Physical harm of any kind
- Attempts to control aspects of an individual's life (e.g., how one dresses, who one's friends are, what one does in one's free time, what one says, what one eats, etc.)
- Humiliation, degradation, verbal threats,
- Coercing and/or threats of physical harm or financial retaliation to an individual or those close to him or her.
- Demands to know where an individual is at all times, controls where another goes or "isn't allowed to go", etc.
- An individual "rages" when emotionally hurt, shamed, or is in jeopardy of losing control in the relationship.
- Online manipulation, i.e., abuser is poised to hurt victim using knowledge of technology
- Simon, George K. In Sheep's Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People, 1996
- McGrath, Mary Zabolio (2006). School Bullying: Tools for Avoiding Harm and Liability. Thousand Oaks, Calif: Corwin Press. pp. 21. ISBN 1-4129-1571-6. http://books.google.com/books?id=CCHBVNtm8Z4C&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_summary_r&cad=0. Retrieved 2008-09-04.
- Marion K. Underwood (2003). Social Aggression among Girls (Guilford Series On Social And Emotional Development). New York: The Guilford Press. ISBN 1-57230-865-6. http://books.google.com/books?id=lVYYibc0hmEC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_summary_r&cad=0. Retrieved 2008-09-04.
- Crick, Nicki R. (1996). The role of overt aggression, relational aggression, and prosocial behavior in the prediction of children's future social adjustment. Child Development, 67(5), 2317-2327. (ERIC Journal No. EJ539853); Crick, Nicki R.; Casas, Juan F.; & Mosher, M. (1997). Relational and overt aggression in preschool. Developmental Psychology, 33(4), 579-588. (ERIC Journal No. EJ549585); Crick, Nicki R., & Grotpeter, Jennifer K. (1995). Relational aggression, gender, and social-psychological adjustment. Child Development, 66(3), 710-722. (ERIC Journal No. EJ503787)
- e.g., the "2nd Research Conference on Relational Aggression" was held at University of Buffalo, SUNY, in 2006, as per , web site accessed 20 February 2007.
- Kupkovits, Jamie, Relational Aggression in Girls (2008)
- Randall, Kaye & Bowen, Allyson A., Mean Girls: 101½ Creative Strategies for Working With Relational Aggression (2007)
- Wosnik, Debra, The I Hate Wendy Club: Story, Lessons, & Activities on Relational Aggression, Grades 2-5 (2007)
- Carpenter, E.M. & Nangle, D.W. (2006). Caught between stages: Relational aggression emerging as a developmental advance in at-risk preschoolers. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 21, 177-188.
- Casas, J. F., Weigel, S.M., Crick, N.R., Ostrov, J.M., Woods, K.E., Jansen Yeh, E.A., & Huddleston-Casas, C.A. (2006). Early parenting and children’s relational and physical aggression in the preschool and home contexts. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 27, 209-2227.
- Coyne, S., Archer, J., & Eslea, M. (2006). “We’re not friends anymore! Unless…”: The frequency and harmfulness of indirect, relational, and social aggression. Aggressive Behavior, 32, 294-307. DOI: 10.1002/ab.20126
- Crain, M. M., Finch, C. L., & Foster, S. L. (2005). The Relevance of the Social Information Processing Model for Understanding Relational Aggression in Girls. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 51, 213-242. No DOI
- Crick, N. R., & Grotpeter, J.K. (1995). Relational aggression, gender, and social-psychological adjustment. Child Development, 66(3), 710-722. (ERIC Journal No. EJ503787)
- Crick, N. R. (1996). The role of overt aggression, relational aggression, and prosocial behavior in the prediction of children's future social adjustment. Child Development, 67(5), 2317-2327. (ERIC Journal No. EJ539853)
- Crick, N. R., Casas, J.F., & Mosher, M. (1997). Relational and overt aggression in preschool. Developmental Psychology, 33(4), 579-588. (ERIC Journal No. EJ549585)
- Crick, N. R., Ostrov, J. M., & Werner, N. E. (2006). A longitudinal study of relational aggression, physical aggression and children’s social-psychological adjustment. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 34, 131-142.
- Crick, N. R., & Werner, N. E. (1998). Response decision processes in relational and overt aggression. Child Development, 69, 1630-1639. DOI: 10.2307/1132136
- Grotpeter, J. K., & Crick, N. R. (1996). Relational aggression, overt aggression, and friendship. Child Development, 67, 2328-2338. DOI: 10.2307/1131626
- Ostrov, J.M. Crick, N.R. Stauffacher, K. (2006). Relational aggression in sibling and peer relationships during early childhood. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology
- Stauffacher, K. & DeHart, G.B. Crossing social contexts: Relational aggression between siblings and friends during early and middle childhood. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology
- Tomada, G., & Schneider, B. H. (1997). Relational aggression, gender, and peer acceptance: Invariance across culture, stability over time, and concordance among informants. Developmental Psychology, 33, 601-609. DOI: 10.1037/0012-16220.127.116.111
- Website on Relational Aggression
- The Ophelia Project
- Youth & Family Resource Center, Inc.
- "Effectiveness of Treatment for Relational Aggression in Urban African American Girls." This study is currently recruiting participants. Verified by National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), January 2010