Understanding Displaced Anger & How To Manage It
Table of Contents
Everyone experiences anger from time to time, but if anger is severe or excessive, it can begin to interfere with daily life. One form of anger that can lead to problems is displaced anger. Learn about this anger type and how to address it.
Psychologists have described anger as an emotion ranging from slight irritation to absolute rage. It is a natural reaction to something perceived as a threat and is often associated with aggression.
Anger is typically seen as a negative emotional state in which a person has hostile thoughts with physiological arousal signs, such as an elevated heart rate. Sometimes, people internally fixate on their anger feelings; other times, they may express anger outwardly by yelling, swearing or throwing an object.
In some cases, anger can be healthy because it protects us from danger. On the other hand, some people may act aggressively when angry if they struggle to control their impulses. This can lead to consequences arising from poor anger management.
What Is Displaced Anger?
Displaced anger refers to instances in which a person directs their hostile feelings toward someone other than their frustration source. They may direct the anger toward themselves or another person because they fear confronting the person who is actually the cause of the anger.
If a person is struggling with displaced anger, they may become aggressive toward someone completely innocent, which can cause problems in relationships. Since displaced anger is redirected at an innocent target, it may also be called misplaced or misdirected anger.
Internal vs. External Displaced Anger
Different forms of displaced anger exist. With internal displaced anger, a person directs their anger at themselves. Instead of confronting the target of their frustration, they may blame themselves and struggle with low self-worth.
On the other hand, external displaced anger involves directing anger at someone other than the frustration source. For example, someone angry with a coworker may come home and take the anger out on their spouse.
What Causes Displaced Anger?
Displaced anger is a poor coping mechanism for dealing with stress or adversity. People with displaced anger tend to have difficulty regulating emotions. Some causes of this include:
- History of child abuse or neglect
- Exposure to trauma
- Witnessing domestic violence
- Being a victim of bullying
- Mental health conditions like bipolar disorder
- Significant stress at work
Many times, issues that lead to displaced anger have roots in childhood. Exposure to adverse experiences like abuse, neglect or violence can interfere with brain functioning, leading to difficulty regulating emotions, including anger.
The Effects of Misdirected Anger
Anger can be beneficial in some cases. It can motivate us to respond proactively to a potential threat or defend ourselves when someone is being unfair. However, if anger is excessive or unmanageable, it can cause problems. For example, misdirected anger targeted at family or loved ones can create problems in your relationships. Similarly, if you have displaced anger toward someone at work, you may end up in a situation that results in discipline or even termination from your job.
Misplaced anger turned inward toward yourself can result in rumination or repeated thoughts about the situation that makes you angry. Researchers have found this type of misdirected anger can cause people to become aggressive toward others, resulting in relationship problems or even criminal violations for physical aggression.
Tips for Managing Displaced Anger
These strategies can help you manage displaced anger and reduce the consequences it has in your life.
- Try to problem solve: Displaced anger can sometimes arise because you don’t know how to deal with your anger or frustration toward a person or situation. Maybe, instead of taking your anger out on someone, you can address the source of the anger. If a problem at work is causing anger issues, you can sit down and have a rational conversation with your boss.
- Practice relaxation techniques: Taking your anger out on other people can result from poor coping mechanisms. If you’re angry, practicing a relaxation technique, such as deep breathing or meditation, can help you control the impulse to act aggressively toward someone else.
- Change your way of thinking: Internally displaced anger can occur when we blame ourselves for problems or mistakes. Instead of turning inward and blaming yourself, try thinking about the situation more rationally. What evidence do you have that it is your fault? Try to give yourself some grace and recognize that everyone makes mistakes.
- Develop healthy stress management skills: Frustrating or anger-provoking situations can create significant stress. For some people, displaced anger can serve as an unhealthy way of coping with feelings of stress. Rather than misdirecting your anger, practice healthy stress management skills, such as taking time for rest, practicing healthy sleep habits and making time for physical activity.
- Practice assertiveness: Your displaced anger may result from passivity or a fear of confrontation. Instead of facing your anger source, you displace it onto a safer target, such as a spouse, because you’re less fearful of confronting them. If this is the case, consider assertiveness training, or practice assertiveness by standing up for yourself. It’s okay to tell someone you found their behavior disrespectful and that you’d like to have a conversation to arrive at a resolution.
When To Seek Help
Sometimes, when you recognize signs of displaced anger in yourself, you can take steps to manage it and change your reaction to anger. On the other hand, some people may find it difficult to control their displaced anger. If you’ve attempted to change your tendency to misdirect your anger, and you continue to experience difficulty, it may be time to seek professional intervention.
Working with a counselor or other mental health professional can help you learn coping skills and strategies for regulating your emotions. Seeking help is especially important if you experience significant distress surrounding your anger or if you’re having difficulty maintaining healthy relationships because of it.
If you’re looking for support for managing misdirected anger, Nobu offers a free-to-download mental wellness app featuring mindfulness training, lessons from mental health experts and a goal tracker for monitoring your progress. These tools can help you learn healthy strategies for coping with anger and provide a method for documenting the changes you’ve made. Nobu also offers a paid plan, which allows users to schedule online therapy sessions with licensed counselors if they need additional support. Download the app today on the Apple Store or Google Play store to enjoy the benefits of Nobu.
Take Control Of Your Mental Health
- American Psychological Association. “Control anger before it controls you.” March 3, 2022. Accessed September 28, 2022.
- American Psychological Association. “How to recognize and deal with anger.” 2012. Accessed September 28, 2022.
- American Psychological Association. “APA Dictionary of Psychology.” Accessed September 28, 2022.
- Salguero, J.M.; Garcia-Sancho, E.; Ramos-Cejudo, J.; Kannis-Dymand, L. “Individual differences in anger and displaced aggression: The role of metacognitive beliefs and anger rumination.” Aggressive Behavior, 2020. Accessed September 28, 2022.
- Besharat, M.A.; Nezhad, E.M.H.; Lavasani, M.G. “The mediating role of cognitive emotion regulation strategies on the relationship between alexithymia, anger and anger rumination with ego defense styles.” Contemporary Psychology, 2015. Accessed September 29, 2022.
- Gruhn, M.A.; Compas, B.E. “Effects of maltreatment on coping and emotion regulation in childhood and adolescence: A meta-analytic review.” Child Abuse & Neglect, May 2020. Accessed September 29, 2022.
- Dodd, A; Lockwood, E; Mansell, W.; Palmier-Claus, J. “Emotion regulation strategies in bipolar disorder: A systematic and critical review.” Journal of Affective Disorders, March 2019. Accessed September 29, 2022.
- De Brito, S.A.; Viding, E.; Sebastian, C.L.; Kelly, P.A.; Mechelli, A.; Maris, H.; McCrory, E.J. “Reduced orbitofrontal and temporal grey matter in a community sample of maltreated children.” The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, January 2013. Accessed September 29, 2022.