As aggressive behavior is studied more frequently, especially relating to bullying, the focus has tended to be on the long-term effect on mental health.

A 2013 study in JAMA Psychiatry looked at the long-term psychological effects of bullying on:

  • Bullies
  • Those who were bullied
  • Those who played both roles

As you might expect, those doing the bullying did not have the same risk for mental health disorders as the other two groups.

Those who were bullied had greater risk for depressive and anxiety disorders, panic disorder and agoraphobia as adults.

Those who played both rules—bullies and those who bullied, were the most at risk for the same disorders as those who were bullied, and they also had more suicidal thoughts.

Another study out this week from the University of Utah has more bad news for “hostile-dominant” types and this time it’s physiological.

The study reviewed hostile-dominant, as well as warm-dominant types in

  • Undergraduate volunteers
  • Young, married couples
  • Older, married couples

Hostile-dominant undergraduates reported greater hostility and interpersonal stress. Warm-dominant types ranked themselves as higher in social status having attained it as a result of prestige and freely given respect (vs. being subordinated by hostile-dominant types).

A sub-set of the undergraduates experienced significant increases in blood pressure when interacting with a dominant partner, but not with a deferential one. This is significant because increased blood pressure correlates with a measurably higher risk for cardiovascular disease.

Among older, married couples, as would be expected, a warm-dominant style resulted in an environment of less conflict and more support. A hostile-dominant style produced an environment of greater marital conflict, lower marital support and more severe atherosclerosis in both men and women.

As we start another work week, pause and think about how you normally get what you want from others. Being assertive is fine, and even desirable in many situations. But crossing the fine line to aggressiveness, hostility and possibly bullying is another matter. It’s harmful to others, but also to ourselves.

The antidote?

Take a deep breath, smile and be nice. As my father told me many years ago, “We’re not here for a long time, we’re here for a good time.” A great sentiment that may actually help us live longer.