Hetero-Aggressive Behavior: What Is It and What Does it Look Like?

Hetero-Aggressive Behavior: What Is It and What Does it Look Like?
Sergio De Dios González

Reviewed and approved by the psychologist Sergio De Dios González.

Last update: 17 October, 2023

Maybe you’ve heard the Paulo Coelho quote that says: “fear generally manifests itself in two ways: through aggressivity or submission.” In the case of hetero-aggressive behavior, we are concerned with the former.

But before we continue, it is important to note that this concept doesn’t have anything to do with gender. These days, it’s fashionable to give a name to everything related to gender and behavior, which is why we want to clarify. This phenomenon doesn’t have anything to do with male chauvinism, gender violence. etc.

“In all societies and collectives there must be a channel, an exit door through which people can free their accumulated energies in the form of aggressivity.”

-Frantz Fanon-

What is hetero-aggressive behavior?

We will first define what hetero-aggressive behavior consists of. In this case, we’re referring to the type of aggressiveness that groups together all aggressive behavior directed at an external object. 

This is different from auto-aggressive behavior. That is the umbrella term for all behavior in which the victim and the aggressor are the same person.

In other words, this phenomenon encompasses a series of very diverse patterns in terms of intensity and typology. It includes aggressive gestures, physical fighting, verbal insults, etc. 

hetero-aggressive behavior

We should add that studies say this aggressive behavior tends to be related to different disorders thought it isn’t necessarily part of them. It is associated with mental problems of distinct origin, from psychotic to emotional or organic problems. 

What are the characteristics of hetero-aggressive behavior?

This phenomenon has unique characteristics. Let’s look at the most important ones:

  • This type of aggressive behavior is always directed towards other people or external elements. It is never directed at oneself. In other words, it is very different from auto-aggressive behavior. The individual focuses on others, not himself.
  • As we said before, it encompasses all types of aggressive behavior. It can be physical, or with just body language.
  • Some studies associate hetero-aggressive behavior with human biology. They say it has to do with territoriality and sexual instinct.
  • These character changes manifest themselves in the individual on all levels. That is, they can affect the patient on an emotional, social, cognitive, and physical level.
  • On an emotional level, this disorder presents itself as anger or rage. 
  • Another common symptom is specific changes in language: tone of voice, gestures, and facial expressions, etc.
  • A person that suffers from heteroagressivity tends to have an obsessive and self-destructive personality. Patients also tend to have a persecution complex.
  • Hetero-aggressive behavior tends to negatively affect the individual’s social life and relationships.
a giant woman yelling at a tiny man

What makes up hetero-aggressive behavior syndrome?

There are three syndromes that are especially characteristic of hetero-aggressive behavior. Disorders like schizophrenia, bipolarity, and depression can be related.

Disturbing behavior

This means behavior other people find disturbing. They often show up in childhood in the form of behavioral disorder, negativity, or a defiant attitude. This is very common among children under 10 years old. Their behavior becomes disobedient, provocative, markedly hostile and very defiant. This behavior exceeds the limits of what we consider “normal.”

Individuals with behavioral disorder, which researchers also attribute to childhood, have a pattern of repeatedly violating other people’s basic rights. They consistently cross the boundaries of social norms.


Patients display a behavior known as intermittent explosive disorder. A total loss of control over aggressive impulses characterizes this behavior.

This effect causes a disproportionate aggressive reaction to whatever the trigger may be. It manifests itself through physical and verbal attacks. It might last a few seconds or minutes, but it usually goes away on its own as quickly as it came.



It also triggers motor hyperactivity along with mood swings, usually through fear, distress, and anxiety. In this case, the intensity varies from mild to intense and violent.

Different things cause agitation. Reactions to medicines or intoxicating substances, systemic infections, neurological disorders, etc.

The consequences of hetero-aggressive behavior tend to vary significantly and have a diverse set of causes. They might be criminal behavior, a destructive attitude, unrealistic solutions to problems, anxiety, etc. 

“Those who get caught up in an aggressive competition lose their minds and, more obviously, their strength. Someone who is sure of something doesn’t need to raise their voice or get worked up.”

-Julian Marias-

As you can see, this phenomenon is associated with certain disorders that can be truly serious and dangerous. What’s more, they can result in violent behavior that can affect anyone.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.