Aggression: here's how to deal with it

What is aggression and what is assertiveness? Where do you draw the line between these two? And most importantly, how do you deal with it when that boundary is crossed? Fortunately, you are not alone: Trustpunt, a team of confidential counsellors, supports UGent victims, witnesses or perpetrators of agression.

What is aggression?

If you face aggression, you don't always know how to deal with it. To address that, it is important to know exactly what aggression is. Many people think it is synonymous with violence, but it goes broader. Someone who is aggressive causes harm or damage to themselves, others or those around them. Threats and intimidation therefore are also aggression.

Aggressive versus assertive behaviour

The line between aggression and assertiveness is not always that clear. When you deliver a message in an assertive manner, you maintain control and stand up for your own interests. In doing so, you do not forget the other person: you take the other person's needs and feelings into account. With aggression, you assume only your own interests. You want to win or achieve your goals, and do not consider what this means for the other person.

How to deal with aggression

Aggression breeds aggression. Therefore, try to remain as calm and friendly as possible, and engage in as little discussion as possible. Listen to the aggressor, show empathy and try to work towards a solution. Do not forget to set your own limits. If you cannot react calmly, it is better to leave the situation. Above all, do not be a hero: your safety and the safety of those around you is the most important thing. So first and foremost, make sure you are safe yourself.

Don't feel safe? Then it is better not to be alone. Notify fellow students where you are. Make sure you have access to a mobile phone or escape route. Inform the  Security Department and Emergency Centre on 09/264.88.88  if you feel threatened.

How does aggression occur?

Aggression can have many different causes. For example, the aggressor may very consciously want to get something done from you. Drugs, alcohol or medication can also lead to aggression. Or it may arise from a feeling of powerlessness, from frustration.

Perhaps you yourself have felt aggression bubbling up. Getting angry is quite normal, and doesn't be bad at all. It is often accompanied by shame. You dare not admit you are angry, and suppress your feelings. When your bucket is full, anger can turn into aggression.

At that point, your adrenaline goes up. You start speaking louder, and there is verbal aggression. It is harder to maintain control and calm yourself down. In the peak of the crisis, you feel loss of control. This leads yourself or others into danger. You find it harder to listen, and at that point, physical aggression may arise.

How do you prevent aggression in yourself?

It is better to indicate your own limits in time and not wait for your bucket to overflow. Give your anger a place. Accept it and dare to name it. You do this, for instance, through connecting communication:

  1. Specific fact: "When I was speaking just now, you interrupted me several times."
  2. Feeling/value: "That made me angry because I felt that my opinion did not matter."
  3. Request: "I would like it if you let me finish next time, so that we can actually listen to each other and my input matters. Is that ok with you?"

Report incidents of aggression

Aggression can arise in a lot of different situations. It is important to intervene in time. So report all aggression incidents - no matter how minor. If you tolerate aggressive behaviour, it becomes the norm. The tolerance limit shifts, allowing others to show aggressive behaviour as well. This can be dangerous, because action is then taken only when things explode.

If you are a victim or witness to an aggression incident in a UGent context, you can report it to a Trustpunt confidential counsellor or call the Emergency Centre if urgent. Examples of  agression in a UGent context are violence in a UGent home or harassment in a university building. A report is with a confidential counsellor is not the same as a complaint: when you report to Trustpunt, you decide for yourself how the report will be followed up.

An aggression incident can affect your well-being, whether you are a victim or a witness. You may feel anxious, angry, exhausted, unsafe or stressed. That is why it is very important to give you time to tell your story.

Do you feel the need to talk about an aggression incident in a safe environment? Make an appointment for a confidential conversation. You can do so by telephone on 09 264 82 82 (between 9 am and 12 noon) or by e-mail to

The Security Department and Emergency Centre monitors the safety of all UGent students and staff. For example, they take care of access control at the student houses and control the closing hours. But you can also call them if your sweetheart is aggressive. If you feel unsafe and need urgent help, you can call the Emergency Centre. They will send a security guard, and if necessary a police patrol or a team member from UCare (the UGent primal support and aftercare team in case of shocking events in a UGent context). 

Not safe or in need of urgent help? Call 09/264.88.88