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Managing aggressive behaviour

Managing aggressive behaviour is a major concern for family members. Mental illness does not always lead to violence, but if your loved one experiences a crisis situation that causes them to become disorganized, you may encounter behaviours that you do not normally see in them. Your loved one may become verbally or physically abusive, and you will have no choice but to deal with the situation. To avoid being caught in a difficult situation or being helpless in crisis, when emotions are at their highest, it is important to implement a code of conduct.


How to recognize the signs?

You know your loved one’s behaviour and attitudes. Be aware that aggressive behaviour is often preceded by physical changes in the body. For example, you may notice an increase in their respiratory rate, changes in facial colouring, excessive agitation or refusal to look at you. You can also identify warning signs, such as drug and alcohol abuse, cessation of medication or previous violent episodes.


How should I respond?

Aggressive behaviour in a loved one can be particularly distressing for the family. Remember that aggression is often an expression of suffering. It is therefore very important not to get caught up in the spiral of violence, whether it is physical or verbal. Calmness and self-control are your best allies. Here are some guidelines to help you manage the situation.

  1. Remain calm and speak in a normal tone of voice while maintaining physical distance of at least an arm’s length between you and your loved one.
  2. Assess toward whom the aggression is directed and be clear about what is acceptable and unacceptable.
  3. Try to listen calmly to what your loved one is saying, without contradicting or interrupting them, no matter how disturbing or delusional their words may be.
  4. Make them aware of the damaging consequences of their actions, such as the fear they cause and isolation from their loved ones. Hold them accountable, but don’t make them feel guilty.
  5. If their level of aggression is not too high, listen to their concerns in an effort to ease the tension.
  6. Praise them when they make an effort to control themselves.
  7. If the situation escalates, remove any hazardous objects. If you feel that your life or the life of your loved one is in danger, contact emergency services immediately and they will escort them to the hospital.
  8. Always seek the help of a family services organization.


What should I avoid doing?

Your attitude can accentuate or mitigate the crisis, so it is important to avoid certain behaviours.

  1. Avoid yelling
  2. Do not confront them by standing in front of them
  3. Do not touch them
  4. Do not ignore them
  5. Avoid tackling the situation alone
  6. Do not put yourself in a corner with no way out

Remember that if you get too emotional, you may amplify the agitation your loved one is experiencing.


Things to remember

Stay calm and make sure you can get away safely. Pay attention to your loved one’s physical signs and let them know you are uncomfortable with their behaviour. If the aggressive behaviours persist, don’t hesitate to call the police, or if your loved one calms down, feel free to offer your help.


Source : CAP santé mentale and UNAFAM. L’Indispensable.

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