What Is Displaced Anger?

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  • Written By: Tara Barnett
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 24 October 2019
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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 this type of 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 this kind of 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.


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Post 7

Student nurses are the target of displaced anger sometimes. They are future nurses and should be nurtured. Please evaluate your behavior if you interact with students nurses and and apply the golden rule. Karma is a reality. Thank you for allowing the freedom to express these thoughts and feelings.

Post 6

I have a dear friend who is very angry at himself and does not want to get close to a woman due to pain from women in the past. So as we became friends, he became angry at me because he was and is fighting to not feel anything for me or have a relationship with me. Although when we are together we are so happy and have great fun. This makes me so sad. His anger really concerns me so I finally emailed him a letter. No answer back from him as of yet today. He will not admit to his fear from past hurt. What can I do for him? I really do care for him.

Post 5

I am a victim/victimizer of displaced anger and there is no doubt about it. There is something or someone out there who angers me and I do not know what it is. And sadly, I take it out on my animals. Yes, it sounds sick, and I do not condone it. I feel like a psychopath, and I need help. I don't punch or kick them, but I squeeze. Yes, squeeze. It's like "You're so cute" and then BAM! I am angry, and feel the need to take it out on them. If anyone is reading this, and you know the answer to this, please respond. If I go to a therapist, or a psychiatrist or whatever, what will happen? Will they tell me to count to 10? Because I am sure that will not work, or will they help me discover my anger, and over time, it will just go away? Thank you.

Post 4

My daughter has issues with her mother in law and is afraid to confront her, so I feel like I get the brunt of it. I think these people with displaced anger have a couple of options: grow a set and tell them how you feel, or seek help with your anger, because quite frankly, I am sure that most of us are tired of being someone's emotional punching bag!

Post 3

I think we all deal with displaced anger at some level. It has definitely happened to me.

I think my problem is that I don't express my frustration and anger when I need to and I end up holding a grudge against that person. Then, later on, even a small thing can make me go off and yell at that person. I think it's unfair to myself and him because he also doesn't understand what's happening and I regret it.

Post 2

@SarahGen-- Have you told him this?

I think displaced anger can be very destructive because we usually show our anger to people who are close to us and whom we really care for. Your husband is doing the same thing.

Has he thought about speaking to a therapist? He can learn how to express his anger in ways that do not harm him and the people around him. Otherwise, he will only make his relationships with you and the children worse.

Post 1

My husband has a lot of displaced anger. He's not happy at his workplace and has issues with his boss. But he can't yell at his boss, so he comes home and yells at me or the kids. It's very frustrating because we know that the issue is not that I haven't prepared dinner yet or that the kids are playing in the living room. The issue is his problems at work that he's unwilling to face.

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