In the Face of Oppression, Don’t Resort to Violence

· September 23, 2018

We understand oppression as the subjugation of one group by another group, imposed by an asymmetric power and often reinforced by hostile conditions, such as threats or actual violence. Oppressed groups experience threats and assault from a more powerful group. Oppression means feeling humiliated and insulted and feeling that you have fewer opportunities and that laws don’t apply equally to everyone.

But is being oppressed a valid reason to unleash violence? At first, specialists believed oppression was the cause of violence. This idea finds its roots in the frustration-aggression and relative deprivation hypotheses. These hypotheses propose that oppression, frustration, and humiliation are some of the variables that trigger violence.

The frustration-aggression hypothesis

One of the first theories that specialists used to explain how violence originates was the frustration-aggression hypothesis. This theory stated that aggression was the result of frustration. However, reality never confirmed this theory.

Hand covering face.

Data indicated that frustration didn’t inevitably lead to aggression. Frustrated people didn’t have to use violence. Sometimes, frustration made people actually solve problems and, in other occasions, violence occurred in the absence of frustration.

“Even if a poor man gets rich, he will continue to suffer the same aliments that affect the poor as a result of the oppression he suffered in the past.”


-Eduardo Punset-

Therefore, it’s not reasonable to consider frustration as a necessary and sufficient factor to cause aggression. Psychologists and social scientists reformulated the hypothesis so that only aversive frustration under threat would cause aggression. This way, frustration could favor anger and hatred. In turn, these emotional states would be the ones that would provoke aggression in the face of a threat.

However, this new proposal doesn’t always prove true. Frustration in the face of a threat can facilitate aggression, but it doesn’t determine aggressive behavior.

Relative deprivation

Faced with the failure of the frustration-aggression hypothesis, a new theory emerged. The theory of relative deprivation states that frustration is caused by relative deprivation. Relative deprivation is a distorted perception of needs. It’s the belief that we’re deprived of a need or right. According to this theory, rebellion arises when people can’t stand the conditions of inequality in which their group lives.

“Oppression. Rebellion. Treason. He used big words without knowing what they can represent.”

-Nadine Gordimer-

Relative deprivation facilitates violence, especially among members of a social class or an oppressed group. But this doesn’t make it a factor that triggers violence every time. Although poverty and economic inequality can lead to violence, they won’t do so every time, not even in most of the cases.

Rope knot.

Perceived oppression

Perceived oppression on its own isn’t enough to cause violence. Even so, it’s a cognitive-emotional variable that constitutes a potential risk factor. Oppression doesn’t have to be real, it can be just perceived. Believing that another group is threatening us may be enough to make us feel oppressed. The concept of oppression encompasses previous theories, which is why it includes negative feelings such as frustration and cognitive sensations such as deprivation.

Although oppression isn’t necessarily a part of the group of factors that end up precipitating violent behavior, it’s related to some clinical symptoms such as anxiety or depression. In addition, people who feel oppressed tend to develop more emotional stress.