Individual Counselling: Secondary School (Social Worker Strategies)

Aggressive Victim

Sze's case

When Sze was eating with her classmates in the dining hall, two students approached and verbally taunted her. Although Sze felt annoyed, she managed to control her temper as she was afraid of being punished by the teacher. However, her classmates continued provoking Sze, and finally she retaliated and started shouting and throwing things at them.

Sze's considerations and actions
  • Negative and hostile thoughts: Sze does not trust her teacher or classmates, and thinks that they are against her.
  • Tends to shirk responsibility: she thinks that it is her classmates’ fault that she lost her temper, and they are entirely to blame for the incident.
  • Strong sense of self-protection: even when her classmates are just sitting nearby, she has already been on the alert.
  • Contradictory values: Sze wants to behave properly, but thinks that if she does not retaliate, the situation will escalate.
  • Panic: Sze is constantly imagining the negative consequences of the incident.
  • Deep grievances: Sze feels resentful that the classmates who provoked her will not be punished.
  • Unstable emotion: although her emotions are quite calm at the beginning, Sze quickly becomes anxious once her classmates approach her.
  • Protects herself in a disproportionate manner: Sze shouts and throws things at her classmates in response to the provocation.
Social network
  • Lacks social and communication skills: Sze does not know how to express her thoughts and feelings in response to provocation.
  • Lacks trust in people: Sze not only lacks trust in her classmates, but also does not believe the teacher will handle the incident fairly.

Evaluate irrational beliefs

  • Understand the coping strategies and considerations used by aggressive victims when solving problems.
  • Evaluate and determine the underlying reasons for aggressive victims’ personal struggles, and the essence of their irrational beliefs.

Aggressive victims often feel anxious and uneasy. The three types of anxiety experienced by aggressive victims are reality anxiety, neurotic anxiety and moral anxiety. In Sze’s situation, she knew that losing her temper was a bad behaviour that would lead to a negative consequence (moral anxiety); however, she was driven by her instinct to act impulsively to protect her respect and the fairness she believed was being violated (neurotic anxiety). Meanwhile, she thought that she would be provoked and threatened continually if she did not give any response (reality anxiety). Therefore, according to the ‘black-and-white’ thinking style, she opted to respond instinctively, although she knew that the level of her response was disproportionate and thus not morally acceptable. This illustrates that when evaluating irrational beliefs, social workers should pay attention to the inner conflicts of the aggressive victims.

During the evaluation, social workers could easily determine Sze’s struggles, but to help Sze overcome them, they would need to understand how Sze’s irrational beliefs came into being. For example, what past experiences led Sze to think having a temper tantrum or suppressing anger are absolutely negative behaviours? Understanding this will help Sze to overcome her past, negative experiences.

Dispute irrational beliefs

  • Assist the aggressive-victim students to explore the negative influence of irrational beliefs.
  • Use realistic evidence to challenge irrational beliefs.
  • Modify any overly rigid thought-patterns deriving from the irrational beliefs.

In fact, Sze’s beliefs were not absolutely incorrect, but they were so rigid that they were unreasonable. Her beliefs made Sze blindly adhere to some values and suppress the basic human right to express one’s dissatisfaction. This emotional suppression could not be sustained, and resulted in a violent emotional outburst.

Social workers should use realistic evidence to help Sze realise that society has consensual rules to punish those who commit misdeeds. It will help Sze to calm herself and achieve emotional balance in her environment, with herself and others. Thus, once Sze’s attitudes towards others have been adjusted, she can start to establish more rational beliefs.

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