Thursday, April 18, 2024

FAMILY FUSION: Displaced anger – dump it


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“Anger is only a natural reaction; one of the mind’s ways of reacting to things that it perceives to be wrong. While anger can sometimes lead people to do shocking things, it can also be an instinct to show people that something isn’t right.” – Elliott Larson 

PEOPLE SEEM TO BE so wound up today with feelings of anger that too many of them are snapping at the slightest thing.

The protracted hatred and hostility, animosity and aggression, resentment and revenge that sometimes give rise to shootings, stabbings and innocent lives being lost must be of great disquiet for every concerned citizen. The question may be asked, “From where is this anger generated?” I shall attempt to highlight a specific type of anger that may be contributing to such rage today. It is called displaced anger.

Like fire, anger can be constructive when properly directed or destructive when inappropriately channelled. If a parent, for example, becomes angry toward his/her child for lying about doing his/her homework, that kind of anger can be considered constructive in nature because the goal is to build character in the child.

If, on the other hand, the boss of the same parent said something to him/her during the day that generated anger in that parent and he/she  comes home with that built-up fury and begins to shout at the child who did nothing wrong, then the parent’s anger can be said to be improperly directed. The parent’s anger is therefore displaced. This kind of anger, which I find to be very prevalent today, never solves root problems.  

Displaced anger in its simplest form can be described as that which does not target the real source that generated that anger in the first place, but targets a secondary and unrelated innocent object that suffers the brunt of the individual’s emotional discomfort. Such misdirected anger has the potential to create greater issues. The child in the example given may also become so angry toward the parent that such rage may result in him/her redirecting it toward the cat or dog or even a friend at school. 

Here are three areas from where displaced anger may emerge and create some problems.

Displaced anger can be a one-time experience. 

A young woman had a run-in with her prospective mother-in-law on a matter relating to the wedding day arrangements. She believed that on this occasion her fiancé’s mother was being too pushy. She became very upset and drove away angrily. Her fiancé was unaware of the impasse and both he and she met for their usual lunch date. She was unusually quiet, but said she was all right. 

When the boyfriend mentioned something about the wedding, his fiancée exploded and began to speak in not so kind words about his mother’s intrusion in her business and how he needed to “fix” his mother or the wedding was not going to happen. After he calmed her down, they discussed the issue. She apologised to him for her misdirected anger. She also later apologised to his mother for what was clearly a misunderstanding. Nothing of that nature took place again. 

Displaced anger can occur after a build-up of stressful events. 

A good friend of mine who was a supervisor at a large firm called me one day and told me that his staff members in recent times were telling him that he was not his usual self. They mentioned how he was shouting at them and had become unusually angry for no legitimate reason.

After speaking with him I realised he had been working for long hours, not having much sleep, had not taken any proper vacation for a long time, plus some other emotional situations with which he was battling. He took my counsel, went on leave and came back refreshed, and was his usual self to the pleasure of those whom he led.   

Many people do not realise how accumulated stress can trigger displaced anger. It can occur between husbands and wives, parents toward children, teachers toward students, church leaders toward congregations, employers toward employees, politicians toward populace, doctors toward patients, lawyers toward clients and the list can go on. 

Another stressful area that is sometimes overlooked is the onset of sudden sickness and the individual learning that the condition may be terminal. I have known of individuals who direct their anger toward God, doctors, their family members, the workplace, the devil but not the real source of the problem.

Because of the attitude such individuals may display, it is sometimes very difficult but not impossible to counsel with them especially in the early stages of their illness. Other areas such as divorce and loss of employment or loved one, are some other precursors to possible displaced anger.

Displaced anger can be the result of deep-seated, unresolved emotional issues. 

Deep-seated emotional challenges often have their origin in childhood, or with some crisis situation that may occur in adulthood that may retard an individual from making any significant progress in life. As it relates to childhood, displaced anger usually occurs when some children suffer various forms of abuse, separation of parents, feeling of anger, depression, anxiety, rejection, lowliness, self-esteem issues and related matters.

They may displace their anger by fighting, disrupting classes, getting involved in rough sports, destroying people’s property, disrespecting authority, gang involvement and related matters. 

As it relates to adults, I am aware of both men and women, for example, who were hurt by members of the opposite sex and who displaced their anger by getting emotionally close to members of the opposite sex, pretend to love them for a while and soon afterward abandon them, leaving the distraught individuals emotionally scarred. This kind of behaviour is not isolated.

Trying to help individuals with such deep-seated hurts necessitates a level of anger management that must get to the root of the problem and not just trying to treat the surface symptoms. Professional help is needed to unearth and treat the real causes of the displaced anger.

Garrison Keillor was right when he said: “A man can’t eat anger for breakfast and sleep with it at night and not suffer damage to his soul.” 

I wonder what the crime rate would be if each citizen avoids displaced anger?

Haynesley Griffith is a marriage and family life consultant. Email:


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