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Displaced anger is anger that has been routed away from healthy expression through a coping mechanism. In most cases, displacement is the process of moving anger away from the actual target onto a target the mind feels may be safer. This person who bears the brunt of displaced anger may have no idea what happened to cause the anger, thus damaging his or her relationship with the angry person. Anger of this type is also problematic because it does not allow for resolution of the anger itself, and the effects of anger can build up over time.
The definition of displacement changes depending on what is being displaced as well as the psychological theory being used, but in most cases an emotion or affect is diverted from the appropriate target or cause onto an unrelated but safer target. For example, anger at a person's boss may be diverted to one's best friend. In some cases, the anger is generalized and does not take a specific target.
This coping mechanism typically occurs when the actual target of anger is somehow dangerous to the individual. Specifically, the target of the person's anger usually has a type of power over the individual that prevents him or her from expressing anger. This power can be actual, as in the case of anger at one's boss, or purely emotional, which sometimes occurs in destructive relationships. A safe target may not be powerless, but the safe target usually is known to be forgiving or submissive to the individual's displaced anger.
Dealing with displaced anger can be difficult both for the person suffering from anger and for the target of the anger. Without addressing the root of the anger, it is difficult for a person to resolve the emotion in a healthy manner. Likewise, when the burden of being understanding or patient is unfairly placed on a person who did nothing wrong, additional problems may develop. Displacement can be a valuable coping mechanism, but it is not always a good long-term solution.
For many people, displaced anger may be a minor psychological issue. In fact, few people notice displaced anger as a psychological problem because it is both common and typically minor. Certain stressful situations involving power imbalances can create dangerous and enduring cases of anger displacement that may need to be seriously evaluated and treated. A psychologist or other mental health professional may be able to point to exercises that will help a person overcome unhealthy anger displacement and replace this coping strategy with more effective ways of dealing with anger.