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Why Do People Take Out Their Anger on Others? And What to Do About It!

Note: In this post, when we talk about "safety," we're referring to emotional safety. If someone's anger makes you feel physically unsafe, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

What do you do when someone takes their anger out on you? How do you handle angry people? And why do people get angry in the first place?

It's natural to have lots of questions when faced with anger, but often what we're searching for isn't answers—it's safety. Anger threatens our sense of emotional security, leaving us feeling uncertain about our relationships with others.

Angry man on a smartphone waving his hand in the air.When someone you love takes their anger out on you, it can be frustrating, saddening, or even frightening. At that moment, what you need is a way to strengthen that sense of emotional security. Let’s explore how you can create safety when someone takes their anger out on you.

Why Do People Get Angry?

Anger is a challenging emotion to understand. The first spark of anger reaches our brains before we're even aware of it, which makes anger challenging to control and difficult to pinpoint the cause of our anger.

A common misconception is that our anger is caused by another person's words or actions. However, the trigger that makes us feel angry is not the cause of anger.

To understand the causes of our anger, we have to look within ourselves because anger is often caused by underlying issues, such as anxiety. "Angry people" may be unwilling or unable to address their issues and, therefore, tolerate a state of anger instead.

Related reading: "Learn to Regulate and Express This Intense Emotion Effectively."

If you're asking yourself, "Why do I take my anger out at others," you have an awareness that is the beginning of self-control and restraint. Understanding your anger begins by accepting that you are losing control and then backing it with a desire to change.

In the video below, Dr. Daniel Siegel refers to a person expressing anger as "flipping your lid" and it will help you understand what's happening. He gives a scientific explanation that will lend itself to greater awareness.


The What and Why of Displaced Anger

Sometimes, people take their anger out on someone completely uninvolved with the situation or the underlying issue that triggered the angry feelings. The innocent bystander is usually a safe person, like a spouse or friend. This display of anger is called "displaced anger," and it can happen when we lose sight of the real cause of our feelings and therefore neglect our responsibility to care for those we trust.

Misplaced anger is often because the person doesn't know how to handle the intense emotional experience.

There is nothing inherently wrong with feeling angry; we all feel anger at times. Anger is a natural but intense feeling; it is a protective emotion when we're feeling threatened, hurt, or powerless. When a person lashes out at others, they often 

  • have poor coping mechanisms.
  • lack impulse control.
  • haven't learned to emotionally regulate themselves.

In these cases, anger can feel overwhelming to them. Learning how to express anger appropriately will go a long way to emotional literacy and healthy emotional management.

If anger is suppressed or repressed and isn't processed in healthy ways, it can grow out of control and be expressed in angry outbursts and hurtful ways. When anger is displaced, it can also turn into aggression, which becomes a threat to others and erodes trust in relationships. That’s because when anger becomes aggression, it becomes hostile, destructive, or sometimes violent. We want to catch anger long before it reaches these states.

Related reading: "People Who Lash Out in Anger Need Compassion—and Boundaries!"

A couple in an argument and the woman is angry standing with arms crossed.How to Create Safety in the Face of Anger

One of the most important ways to cope with another person's anger is by addressing our own emotions. If we have unresolved emotions, another person's anger can be more challenging to deal with.

Many of us (especially women) learn from a young age that anger is "bad" and should be ignored and repressed rather than expressed. Sometimes we're in a situation, such as a work meeting, that makes expressing anger inappropriate so we swallow our anger and turn it inward. Therefore, it can build within us and create a turbulent inward experience. However, when you acknowledge and honor your anger, you get more at ease and confident with responding to others’ anger.

So, how can you effectively honor your anger in a way that prepares you to deal with the anger of others?

There are several ways to help diffuse anger and use it as fuel for constructive action. After all, anger is there to prompt us to take action.

Related reading: "How to Respond When Someone Is Upset"

Cognitive Restructuring

Cognitive restructuring is a behavioral technique that involves replacing angry thoughts with more rational ones and can help you regain control of your emotions when angry. For example, the thought, "She's so stupid!" can be replaced with the healthier perspective, "She made a mistake, and mistakes are human," which is more likely to deescalate your feelings of anger.

Or what if YOU are the one to make a costly mistake? You're furious with yourself and embarrassed, too. Telling yourself that you're stupid would only increase feelings of shame. A more positive frame could be, "I acknowledge my mistake and am willing to make amends. In the future, I'm going to make sure I have adequate time for preparation; this project timeline was unrealistic."

This response is more supportive, yet takes responsibility for the error without berating yourself. By listening to your own feelings and learning emotional regulation, you can release anger in appropriate and healthy ways.

Helpful tool for greater emotional literacy: "How Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions Will Guide Your Emotional Intelligence."

A woman empathizing with a friendDepersonalization and Empathy

Depersonalizing another person's anger also helps us cope better. When people unload their anger onto us, they are having an intense emotional experience that we are not responsible for, yet they have a right to express it appropriately.

If we don't take what they say personally, then we can generate empathy for the person’s emotions more readily.

When we understand why another person is angry and realize it often has nothing to do with us, it becomes easier to acknowledge their emotions and help the other person feel understood.

When someone feels seen and understood, intense emotions will usually dissipate. And that's good for everyone! However, if you don't feel safe or confident enough to stay present, it is best that you consider self-care first.

Setting Healthy Boundaries for Anger

Finally, setting boundaries for effective communication in the face of anger allows the other person to feel understood while protecting your own sense of safety. Try saying simple statements that protect your personal energy, such as:

  • "I see that you're angry; please talk to me when you can speak without yelling."
  • "Let's both take time to calm down before we continue this conversation."
  • “You have a right to be angry. Would it help to talk or would you like to be alone?”

By setting firm and loving boundaries, each person can feel safe. The first step is to set internal boundaries for your own anger and then to set external boundaries for others who may be taking their anger out on you.

Empathy with boundary-setting lets the person know we care but that it is not okay to dump their anger.

They need to learn self-control and restraint. Understanding and having compassion for another's behavior does not mean accepting or tolerating disrespectful behavior.

Setting a loving and very firm boundary helps them take responsibility for their feelings while also helping them feel respected.

Related reading: “Using Boundaries and Empathy to Deal with People’s Anger Effectively”

Yes, help me set better boundaries


First and foremost, know that we are all human and will make mistakes. Emotions, even negative emotions, are natural and useful.

Be compassionate with yourself and others—with firmness. When you respect yourself, others respect you. Stretch and strengthen those emotional fitness muscles for greater inner peace.

Learning emotional intelligence skills is worth the effort! 

Frequently Asked Questions:

Why do we take our anger out on loved ones?

What many people don't realize is that sometimes we are the target of someone's anger, not because they want to hurt us, but because our relationship has created a safe zone. A safe zone is when the relationship has enough trust and love built up so the person believes that they will still be loved even if they act out.

However, it's never okay to direct anger at others. Setting healthy boundaries for the person's behavior assists you both in finding solid ground for calmness. 

Is it normal to take anger out on others?

There is nothing normal about it! And it's not a healthy expression of emotions and when a person has anger issues, they need to reach out for support.

However, it IS understandable when a person experiences an intense emotion like anger that they may not be able to control it. Typically, anger is a challenging emotion to express in healthy ways. Usually, it is driven by unconscious pain and often unknown hurt that has built up over time.

So don't make it normal to get angry at others or accept someone making you the target of their anger. Learn self-control for your own anger; assert loving and healthy boundaries for others' anger.

Getting Additional Help

Protecting your sense of emotional safety is of the utmost importance in the face of anger. If you have a trusted family member, they can serve to give you needed support but don't hesitate to reach out to a mental health professional.

Learning anger management, setting effective boundaries, and protecting your sense of emotional safety when dealing with anger takes time. Our Healthy Boundaries, Happy Life mini-course can help.

For additional resources, you may also wish to visit the American Psychological Association.

Also, remember that there is a fine line between displaced anger and abuse. We all occasionally express our anger in healthy ways, but no one should ever hurt you or threaten you when they are angry. You deserve to live a life free from domestic violence and abuse. To learn more about domestic violence versus healthy anger, visit loveisrespect.org.

To get personalized support, contact Heartmanity at support@heartmanity.com.

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Jennifer A. Williams / Emotional Intelligence CoachJennifer A. Williams / Emotional Intelligence Coach
Jennifer is the Heartmanity founder and an emotional intelligence expert. She has two decades of EQ experience and is the author of emotional intelligence training and courses. As an emotional fitness coach, Jennifer teaches EQ skills, brain science hacks, and a comprehensive approach that gets results. She is happily married and the mother of three incredible grown children.

Posted in Emotional Intelligence & Fitness

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