The Danger Of Misplaced Anger

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant, LMHC
Updated May 11, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include abuse which could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is experiencing abuse, contact the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Support is available 24/7. Please also see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

There's nothing inherently wrong with experiencing anger, but it's important to ensure that anger is directed toward the appropriate source at the appropriate level, so you can express it and resolve it healthily. 

In society, this type of anger is often referred to as "misplaced anger," but is also known as "displaced anger" or "misdirected anger." In many cases, relationships, opportunities, and life have been negatively impacted because of misdirected anger.

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Do you feel you are taking your anger out on others?

A brief overview of anger

Typically, anger occurs when someone feels threatened, hurt, or provoked by a specific source. Anger can also serve as a defense mechanism that conceals more vulnerable emotions, such as sadness, envy, overwhelm, or disappointment. Sometimes, anger can occur in addition to other feelings or as a result of unresolved issues that linger beneath the surface. 

There's nothing wrong with being angry sometimes; as a matter of fact, anger can motivate people and encourage them to move forward in areas where they might otherwise falter. However, whenever anger is misdirected, the results can be detrimental to you as well as whomever the anger was directed toward. Currently, it's estimated that 7.8 percent of the U.S. population has poor anger control.

What happens when anger is misdirected?

Anger is misdirected when it's focused on a person or source unrelated to the source of your anger. Instances of displaced anger occur more often than most people realize; situations are not always what they appear to be, and, sometimes, it can be challenging to see beyond our own emotions to rationally identify a source of anger.


Displaced anger can alienate people in your life if it happens often or in an intense enough scenario. Furthermore, when you misplace your anger, the actual cause of your anger often goes unaddressed, which can cause emotions to fester and potentially explode at a later, inappropriate time. 

Misdirecting anger never solves the problem, but depending on the circumstances, it can make things worse or even create new problems altogether. For this reason, it is important to avoid displacing anger and instead focus on understanding why we feel angry so that we can properly work through it.

Manipulation of misdirected anger

There are many reasons why someone might misdirect anger, but in particularly dark circumstances, people are sometimes manipulated to direct their anger toward sources that do not deserve it. When someone is angry and less able to look at things from an objective perspective, they may be more vulnerable to manipulation from others.

The best way to avoid being manipulated into displacing anger is to keep a cool head. Those who engage in the manipulation of others often exploit confusion and emotions. Being aware of the situation at hand, including which parties are involved and the roles that everyone plays, is an excellent starting point. Knowing yourself, keeping your anger in check, and calming yourself enough to think more objectively can all help mitigate possibilities of your anger being manipulated by others.

It’s not uncommon for people to have anger or frustration boiling beneath the surface, and the slightest provocation from someone they trust can subconsciously make them feel safe enough to let the built-up anger loose.

Instinctive displaced anger

Sometimes, an angry individual instinctively, or unintentionally misdirects their anger toward a person who doesn't deserve it as a coping mechanism. Think about someone who has a rough day at work and then lashes out at their spouse when they get home.

One of the best ways to avoid instinctively misdirecting anger is to find ways to remain in control of your emotions. Typically, this means having the courage to dig into whatever it is that’s truly upsetting you and start taking steps to solve or alleviate the issue. Most of us will experience anger at one point or another, but this doesn't mean that it’s right to lash out at people (or animals). Displacing anger like this can negatively impact relationships and generate a series of problems that can make a bad situation worse. 

When you're feeling angry, it's always a good idea to be mindful of the way you conduct yourself or take some time alone if needed to assess your thoughts and feelings.

The end result of misdirected anger

When it's all said and done, displacing anger can have myriad negative results, especially when it happens over and over again. If you're angry about a situation in your workplace and you consistently take this out on your spouse, your behavior may drive a wedge between you and create unnecessary friction. Alternatively, if you've been manipulated into misdirecting your anger toward an innocent person because you're not seeing a situation clearly, then you could lose out on a potential friendship or future opportunities that could have benefited you.

What if I’m receiving displaced anger?

If you find yourself on the receiving end of anger which is neither fair nor justified, particularly from a loved one, this can be very challenging, as well. At the end of the day, however, you cannot control how another person conducts themselves; you can only control your own reactions and behaviors. 

Depending on the nature of the relationship and the circumstances involved, you may be able to get through to this person, so it's worth trying to have a direct conversation. When attempting to talk to someone who has misdirected anger toward you, timing is everything. Trying to talk to this person while they’re actively upset is unlikely to have constructive results because their (and possibly your) ability to think objectively in the moment is impaired. Instead, wait until the dust has settled and see if they're willing to talk and listen then. 

It may be helpful to write out some notes of what you’d like to discuss so that you can both remain focused and calm during difficult points in the conversation. Make sure to similarly give them space to talk about their thoughts and concerns, as well. If things become heated, take a break until you are both calm and objective again.

What if I’ve misdirected anger toward someone?

If you find yourself in a situation where you've displaced anger toward someone who doesn't deserve it, then you should apologize. This shows character, respect, and that you're willing to admit when you've made a mistake. After all, this kind of thing can happen to anyone; no one is perfect, and very few of us are immune to anger. Apologizing and attempting to rebuild the relationship, if at all possible, is helpful for both parties.

Managing and releasing anger

Anger that festers and goes unresolved is much more susceptible to misdirection. For this reason, it's important to practice managing and releasing anger in healthy and constructive ways. Learning to process anger in healthy ways is an important life skill that can benefit us for our entire lives.

iStock/Jelena Stanojkovic
Do you feel you are taking your anger out on others?

Counting to ten, exercising, and walking away are each great ways of managing and releasing anger. You can also make certain lifestyle changes to eliminate triggers, such as minimizing social media use if you notice that it tends to provoke anger. Of course, different methods will be appropriate in different situations. For example, you may not always be able to walk away from something that upsets you, but you can silently count to ten in your head or take a few deep breaths almost anywhere. 

Similarly, you may not always be able to release your anger right when it appears, but you can wait until the proper time to go for a jog or work out to help release some of the negative energy while subconsciously processing it through exercise. By dealing with your anger and letting it go, you are much less likely to misdirect it.

Some people make use of cognitive restructuring techniques to help them overcome anger. This involves replacing angry thoughts with more positive ones in order to change the way that you think and react to a situation. This is often an important aspect of anger management strategies.

Using humor can also be an effective approach to satiating your anger. If you feel anger welling up inside of you, then you might be able to release it by using your own sense of humor to turn the situation into something funny. Humor and laughing release feel-good endorphins while lessening stress hormones like cortisol, which in turn can help to alleviate anger, though one study found that humor’s effectiveness at improving wellbeing can depend on one’s “humor style.”

Consider reaching out to an online therapist

If you find that you're consistently struggling with anger or are misdirecting it, then you may benefit from working with an online therapist at BetterHelp. In many cases, displaced anger is a manifestation of underlying issues that need to be resolved. This is where working with a professional to discover the true source or sources of anger can benefit you in both the short and long term.

While you can work with your counselor to find the right therapy approach for you, one common therapy type for anger management is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This therapy style first helps you identify unhealthy thought patterns and behaviors. Then, your therapist can help you work to replace them with healthy thought patterns and behaviors. One recent publication summed up the findings of 2,594 studies to conclude that online CBT is just as effective as traditional in-person CBT.

Additionally, online therapy can be utilized from your home or wherever you have a stable internet connection, so you don’t have to deal with the frustration of a long drive or traffic. If you’re worried about cost, online therapy is typically less expensive than traditional therapy without insurance.

Continue reading for therapist reviews from individuals seeking help with anger.

Counselor reviews

"Regina helped me pinpoint where my anger issue stemmed from in the very first session and has been helping me become more self-aware of my warning triggers. Very insightful and helpful!"

"Steve is amazing and does a good job at making this seem like less of a counseling session and more of a conversation between friends. He helped me talk through my anger issues and road rage and gave me lots of problem solving tools. I highly recommend him!"


Misplaced anger can negatively affect our relationships, our work, and our overall well-being, but there are steps that you can take to identify what is causing your anger so that you can work through it. Additionally, a therapist can help you to learn how to manage and work through anger. Take the first step today.
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