What’s displaced anger?
Displacement is defined by Psychology Today as “a defense mechanism in which people transfer emotions from the original source to another person or situation.” It is done subconsciously and people don’t realize that they’re channeling anger from one situation and unleashing it in another. Oftentimes, this displaced anger or displaced aggression is released on a target who appears less threatening. Some examples of displacement include blowing up at a spouse or child after an unpleasant exchange with a supervisor at work or picking fights with relatives as a result of trauma that has not been dealt with. Regardless of how it manifests, displaced anger has the potential to significantly diminish a person’s quality of life, relationships, career, and personal goals when this issue and chronic and not properly addressed.
Displaced anger ruins romantic relationships
It’s not uncommon for us to occasionally take our frustrations on the people we love. Our romantic partners are typically the closest to us, which means that when a person struggles with displaced anger, their partners are generally the ones who are used as emotional punching bags. This can eat away at the foundation of the relationship. No one wants to be repeatedly targeted and attacked behind things for which they aren’t responsible.
Displaced anger fractures family ties
Similar to romantic relationships, people who have a tendency to displace their anger are known to also take out their aggression on relatives. They are frequently at the center of arguments and feuds that seem overblown and don’t make much sense to anyone but the aggressor who frequently feels wronged by family members. In actuality, the source of the person’s anger has nothing to do with their relatives, but close family ties make them easy targets.
Displaced anger can emotionally damage children
Childrearing requires an immense degree of patience and while we all fall short and lose our cool from time-to-time, people who chronically displace anger have a tendency to be harsher with their children and channel their aggression through disciplinary measures. Over time, this can have lasting negative effects on children who eventually come to expect that they will be targets for their parent’s frustrations when they have a bad day.
Displaced anger contributes to toxic work environments
When a person fails to deal with their anger appropriately, it is not uncommon for them to have frequent blowups at work and aim their vexation and annoyance at unsuspecting co-workers or subordinates who have little to do with the real reason that they are upset. This can contribute to the toxicity of their work environment, a breakdown in the company or department morale. It can also make their colleagues reluctant to collaborate with them.
Sabotage career opportunities
Talent and experience can take you far, but the ability to network and maintain professional relationships is also important. Chronically displaced anger may present obstacles in this area, leading to damaged relationships, ruined opportunities, and a stifled career. While relatives and loved ones may be more forgiving and understanding, professional contacts will be more likely to sever ties after a few unpleasant interactions.
How to do better: Connect with a therapist
It’s not always easy to pinpoint the source of displaced anger. In some cases, the source can be random day-to-day occurrences such as a built-up frustration from running late for an appointment, being reprimanded at work, or a traffic accident. However, the source can also be more traumatic such as the loss of a parent or childhood trauma. A therapist can help to identify the source and cause you to recognize when and how you direct this anger at others.
How to do better: Acknowledge your triggers
To avoid perpetuating the cycle of the displacement of anger, self-awareness is essential. Journaling at the end of each day or setting aside a few minutes of quiet time can help you to recognize the things that are actually angering you as well as how you choose to deal with that anger. Once you are able to nail down your triggers, you are better equipped to handle them in a more constructive way.
How to do better: adopt coping strategies
Once you realize what triggers your anger, you can work on building a toolbox of coping strategies that help you to deal with your anger in a more healthy way that is not emotionally damaging to your relationships or the people around you. Some helpful strategies include deep breathing exercises, curating a calming playlist, and giving yourself a time-out or break before speaking on the things that upset you.
How to do better: start a passion project
Displacement of emotions is not always negative. There are positive and constructive ways to redirect negative emotions as well such as hobbies, exercise, or a form of art like writing or painting. In recent years, activities such as adult coloring books have risen in popularity due to their ability to help to manage anxiety and other negative emotions while establishing greater mindfulness.