Hostility as a concept is a mix of anger, aggression, disgust, suspicion and cynicism. It is also a personality trait. Hostility contains the beliefs and attitude one has towards others (e.g. anger, suspicious, distrustful, cynicism, resentment, scepticism) and the strong emotions that accompany the beliefs. Emotions can vary in intensity from general irritation, annoyance to pure fury. The behaviour is the last component. It is the expression outwards of the emotions be it verbally, nonverbally or a physical attack (e.g. yelling, bullying, hitting).
The presence of hostility is destructive and toxic to the individual experiencing it, as well as, to those on the receiving end of it. Hostility has been linked in many studies to negative health consequences such as hypertension, coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, suppressed immune systems thereby an increased vulnerability to inflammatory problems and slower healing of wounds. The toxicity of hostility is so dominant that hostile individuals, who inhibit the expression of their emotions are actually more likely to develop significant coronary atherosclerosis than hostile individuals, who express their anger towards others.
Psychosocially, hostile individuals report more interpersonal stressors, consume more alcohol, tobacco, unhealthy foods and binge eat, which can lead to obesity. They also experience less social support and distrust from others. The hostile cognitions form a selective and negative biased filter to the information received from the environment, which functions as protection against cognitive dissonance. The hostility also leads to highly vigilance for any signs of potential threats from others and perceiving many social cues, even neutral cues, as negative and aggressive towards the self.
Hostility forms an obstacle in the acceptance of social support. The high level of cynicism leads to suspicion of the true motives behind the support given, which limits its utilization, benefits and the maintenance of interpersonal ambivalence. Some may feel resentment towards the people who offer them support. This may originate from distrust that others would misuse their vulnerability, fear of becoming dependent on others, fear of being judged negatively and seeing possible support reciprocation as an unwanted obligation. Low social support can also be the outcome of the negative and hostile behaviour towards others, which also increases risk of depression, the occurrence of more negative stressors and a toxic social environment.
Furthermore, studies show that the cognitive aspects of hostility precede and predict future increase in depressive symptoms. The thoughts and beliefs thus contribute to the development and maintenance of depression. Hostility was also found to have prominent and longer reactions to stress, higher perception of stress levels and ruminative tendencies, which can prolong physical arousal and contribute to sleep problems.
Hostility is often displayed by depressed individuals who habitually express the hostility, more openly and intensely within their intimate relationships. The relationships become characterized by arguments, poor communication, domination, lack of satisfaction, resentments and frictions. The negative impact of hostility on the relationship can also lead to the development of depression in the partner and the increased risk of adapting destructive behaviour.
Managing the hostility could be done with the help of CBT. By reconstructing the hostile cognitions and changing the negative behaviours into more helpful behaviours, the hostility decrease thereby improving quality of life and psychosocial functioning of the individual. Combining physical activity 2 or 3 times a week is also useful in the management hostility expression. Participating in physical activities reduce anger, cynical distrust, depression and stress. It also strengthens a sense of social adjustment and coherence. Additionally, improving the sleep quality may also diminish hostile and stress responses.
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