Oppression is understood as the subjugation of one group by another, imposed by asymmetric power and, often, reinforced by hostile conditions such as threats or actual violence. Being oppressed means that another group that is more powerful threatens or assaults us. It means feeling humiliated and insulted and feeling like we have fewer opportunities or that the laws do not apply in the same way.
But is it enough to be oppressed to give free rein to violence? In the beginning, oppression was considered to be the cause that led to violence. This idea is grounded in the frustration-aggression hypotheses and in relative deprivation. These hypotheses propose the idea that oppression, frustration and humiliation are some of the variations that lead to violence.
The frustration-aggression hypothesis
One of the first theories that served to explain where violence arose was the frustration-aggression hypothesis. This theory asserted that assaults are always the product of frustration. However, it was not demonstrated in reality.
The data indicated that frustration did not inevitably lead to aggression; frustrated people had no reason to resort to violence. Sometimes the frustration ended with the problem being resolved, and other times the violence even happened without the slightest frustration. It could arise, for example, from intolerance or from the misinformation of those who use it.
Therefore, it is not reasonable to view frustration as a necessary and sufficient factor to cause an assault. The hypothesis has therefore been reformulated so that only the aversive frustration arising from a threat is the one that provokes the aggression. In this way, frustration could foster anger and hatred. And these emotional states, in turn, when faced with a threat, would be the triggers for aggression.
Despite everything, this new proposal does not always seem to come true. Frustration from a threat can facilitate aggression, but it will not determine aggressive behavior.
Faced with the failure of the frustration-aggression hypothesis, a new theory emerged, that of relative deprivation. This theory understands frustration as a condition brought about by relative deprivation. Relative deprivation is a biased perception of needs. It consists in believing that we are deprived of a need or a right. According to this theory, rebellion arises when people cannot endure the unequal conditions of their group.
Over time, we have seen that relative deprivation can facilitate certain attitudes of violence, especially among members of an oppressed social class or group. But that is not why it is a factor that will always lead to violence. While poverty and economic inequality can lead to violence, in the majority of cases they will not.
Perceived oppression is not, in itself, a necessary or sufficient cause for the outbreak of violence. It is, however, a cognitive-emotional variant that constitutes a potential risk factor. Oppression does not have to be real: it can be perceived. Believing that another group is threatening us may be enough to make us feel oppressed. The concept of oppression embraces the previous theories; it therefore includes negative feelings, such as frustration, and cognitive sensations, such as deprivation.
However, even if oppression is not necessarily one of the factors that end up leading to violent behavior, it is extremely linked to certain clinical illnesses such as anxiety or depression. On the other hand, people who feel oppressed normally develop greater emotional stress, which plays an important role in triggering violence.