Displaced Anger: Everything You Need to Know

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Displaced (or misplaced) anger is when someone transfers their anger to someone or something other than what initially triggered it. For example, someone angry with a decision their boss made may direct that anger at a co-worker or friend who had nothing to do with the situation. Displaced anger can lead to displaced aggression—physical or emotional hostility toward someone or something other than the initial trigger.

Learn about displaced anger, possible causes and effects, treatment options, and more.

Woman displacing anger and yelling at her spouse

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Displaced Anger Causes

Displacement of feelings or behaviors, including displaced anger, is a defense mechanism, something the mind unconsciously or unknowingly does to self-protect against a threat or perceived threat. People might use displacement and other defense mechanisms if they experience abuse or other traumas, especially as a child.

Additionally, displaced anger may result from certain mental health conditions. For example, there may be a relationship between anger displacement and aggression in people with bipolar disorder. Though people may displace anger or other feelings at times, this can become a problem when it is extreme or happens too often.

Causes of Displaced Anger

  • Abuse, including emotional, physical, and sexual, or seeing another person abused
  • Other traumatic events
  • Adverse childhood experiences
  • Getting bullied
  • Close exposure to alcohol or drug abuse
  • Death of a family member or close friend
  • Experiencing poverty, hunger, or homelessness
  • Severe injury or illness (to yourself or a family member)
  • Parents divorce

The Effects of Displaced Anger

Displaced anger can lead to displaced aggression, relationship conflicts, issues at work, and additional behavior issues. It can also make treating underlying mental health conditions that may cause anger more challenging.

Displaced Anger Effects

  • Behavior problems
  • Displaced aggression
  • Emotional and/or mental exhaustion
  • Issues at work
  • Relationship conflict
  • Challenges with mental health treatment

Treatment for Displaced Anger

Treatment of displaced anger may involve healing from past experiences and traumas, addressing underlying mental health conditions, reducing stress, and learning anger management strategies.

Some possible treatment options for displaced anger include:

  • Talk therapy (psychotherapy): A communication-based treatment with a mental health provider (like a therapist or psychologist), which uses different methods, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, to better understand and manage thoughts and behaviors.
  • Stress relief: Utilizing techniques and behaviors to calm the body and mind and decrease stress levels, including yoga, exercise, breathwork, and meditation.
  • Anger management: A set of techniques (including breathing exercises and visualizations) that helps people with anger react differently when they feel angry.
  • Treating mental health conditions: Treatment options include talk therapy, medications, complementary approaches such as nutrition changes and yoga, or a combination of these.

Coping With Displaced Anger

Because defense mechanisms like displacing anger are unconscious patterns, people who exhibit them may initially be unaware of their actions. However, becoming aware of patterns and changing your response are possible. Working with a mental health provider, such as a therapist or psychologist, can help. Learning how to cope when you feel angry can help prevent your anger from escalating.

Strategies helpful for coping with anger include:


Displaced anger happens when someone transfers their frustration or anger to someone or something other than what triggers the feeling. Displaced anger is a defense mechanism that may result from abuse or trauma (especially from childhood), death or illness, or underlying mental health conditions. It can lead to displaced aggression, which involves causing physical or emotional harm to other people or things.

Treatment options for displaced anger include talk therapy, stress relief, anger management, and treatment for mental health conditions.

A Word From Verywell

Suspecting and living with displaced anger can be challenging for the person displacing the anger and the people around them. If you're displacing anger often and it's interfering with personal relationships and daily life, reach out to a mental health provider for support. You can learn to manage your anger before it escalates.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you deal with displaced anger in a relationship?

    When a partner displaces anger, distancing yourself from them and the situation until things have calmed down can help. Couples or relationship counseling can help you and your partner learn communication and conflict resolution strategies and work through issues related to displaced anger.

  • Can someone with anger issues change?

    Yes. People with anger issues can learn coping strategies and address underlying anger issues. Utilizing anger management techniques like breathwork, relaxation mantras, and yoga can help. If a mental health condition is causing anger, treatment for the condition may help resolve it.

  • Are displaced anger and misplaced anger the same thing?

    Yes, misplaced anger is another term for displaced anger. They both refer to transferring the feeling of anger to someone or something other than what triggers the anger.

12 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  5. Bragazzi NL, Pezzoni F, Del Puente G. Investigating aggressive styles and defense mechanisms in bipolar patients and in their parentsHealth Psychol Res. 2014;2(3):1546. doi:10.4081/hpr.2014.1546

  6. Liu Y, Wang M, Chang CH, et al. Work–family conflict, emotional exhaustion, and displaced aggression toward others: The moderating roles of workplace interpersonal conflict and perceived managerial family supportJ Appl Psychol. 2015;100(3), 793–808. doi:10.1037/a0038387

  7. Bailey R, Pico J. Defense mechanisms. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; 2022.

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  11. National Alliance on Mental Illness. Treatments.

  12. American Psychological Association. Control anger before it controls you.

By Ashley Olivine, Ph.D., MPH
Dr. Ashley Olivine is a health psychologist and public health professional with over a decade of experience serving clients in the clinical setting and private practice. She has also researched a wide variety psychology and public health topics such as the management of health risk factors, chronic illness, maternal and child wellbeing, and child development.