Persistent anger accompanied by an intense urge to retaliate.Hostility is a common feature of normal behavior but may also be a major factor in mental and emotional disturbance. The line between anger and hostility is not a sharp one, but the term hostility is usually used in the psychological sciences to denote the kind of aggressive anger or rankling resentment that arises from prolonged frustrations or deprivations. Some common sources of hostility are: favoritism toward another child, outright rejection by the parents, harsh and rigid discipline, excessive criticism, unfair treatment in school or on the job, racial or religious discrimination, and a sordid environment. In most individuals hostile feelings can be kept within bounds by such means as talking them out, draining them off through sports or other “sublimations,” or by active attempts to alleviate the frustrating situation. These measures, however, rarely eliminate all hostility, and the excess may seek an outlet in both direct and indirect ways. Children frequently express their anger overtly in tattling, belittling others, dawdling, refusing to eat, soiling, or exhibiting sibling rivalry. Older people tend to express their hostility more covertly through resentful attitudes, prejudice, general irritability, overcompetitiveness, overaggressiveness, and in some cases becoming “angry at the whole world” or engaging in criminal behavior.Hostility is one of the most troublesome of all emotions. First, it generates intense feelings of guilt, especially when directed against our parents or mate, since we have been taught that hostile attitudes and hostile actions are unethical. Second, vengeance and other attempts to harm people who frustrate us frequently arouse a fear of retaliation. And third, we are afraid we will lose the love and approval of others if we give vent to hateful impulses. For these reasons hostility may become a major source of anxiety and insecurity, and we may use a variety of defensive maneuvers to protect ourselves from these uncomfortable feelings. For example, we might vehemently—too vehemently—deny we are hostile (“denial of reality”), or we might go to the opposite extreme and become over- friendly or oversolicitous toward the person who is standing in our way (“reaction formation”).If an individual’s hostile impulses are extremely powerful and persistent, he may overuse defensive measures and develop neurotic symptoms. Coleman(1964) points out that “sometimes hostility . . . may threaten to break through the individual’s defenses into consciousness and even into behavior which would lead to serious self-devaluation or would endanger his relationship with others. The handling of hostility is often a very real problem for the neurotic, who typically feels forced to take a compliant, subservient, self-suppressing attitude toward others as the price for security, love, and acceptance.” If these defenses do not work, the hostile impulses may suddenly come to the surface and produce an anxiety attack —an acute state of panic Feelings of hostility may be a major factor in other neurotic reactions as well. In obsessive-compulsive individuals, they may be covered over by preoccupation with thoughts of brotherly love or may be kept under control by an overrigid conscience. In one case, a businessman felt compelled to call his wife three or four times a day because he felt that she or his children might be in danger; actually, he hated the responsibility of marriage and this was an unconscious attempt to conceal his guilty feelings of hostility toward his family. In a situation of this type another individual might have developed a depressive reaction—that is, he might have felt, unconsciously, that his constant concern about the safety of his family was a sign that he wanted them to come to some harm, and guilt over entertaining such hostile thoughts might have driven him into a depression. This would be particularly likely to occur if a member of the family actually came to some harm.Hostility is an important factor in many other types of disorder. In the antisocial reaction (psychopathic personality), the individual not only feels hostile but impulsively acts out his hostility, apparendy without pangs of conscience or feelings of guilt. Enuresis (persistent bed-wetting) may sometimes be an unconscious means of expressing anger at the parents. In exhibitionism, self-exposure is sometimes interpreted as a manifestation of hostility toward the other sex or a retaliation against society as a whole. In the “simple” form of schizophrenia, the patient frequently has difficulty handling hostility; typically, he is so inhibited and “good” that he cannot express any impulses which he regards as immoral or dangerous—and this is one reason he is so withdrawn. In the paranoid form of this disorder, the patient’s hostile impulses take the form of extreme suspiciousness, arrogance, litigiousness, resentfulness or, in some cases, homicidal urges. These impulses frequently give rise to delusions of persecution: “In his effort to control his hostile impulses in which the genesis of his paranoid reaction is often to be found, the patient projects them and experiences them as directed against himself. Filled with hate, he feels and believes that he is the victim of persecutors, who, in fact, are but the objects upon whom he has projected his own hate.” (Noyes and Kolb, 1963)
Cite this page: N., Sam M.S., "HOSTILITY," in PsychologyDictionary.org, November 28, 2018, https://psychologydictionary.org/hostility/ (accessed March 21, 2023).