Don't worry no actual dogs are involved. I'm interested in trying to understand a behavior that I've noticed for much of my life (and I'm not young). I want to try to understand the motivations and generally "what's going on". It doesn't refer to a single incident but a pattern.

I'm generally a peaceable sort and don't readily get involved in arguments. But, of course, like most people, arguments happen around me (or in the next room, or whatever) a fair amount, most of which there's no real reason for me to be involved with.

I've noticed that after an argument, very often one of the parties will come past where I am and just randomly shout at me or just, you know, insult me: say that they don't like my hair or something or ask me aggressively why I'm standing up when there's a perfectly good chair in my room, and then storm off -- that kind of thing. I'm talking grown adults here, many older than me. Obviously they're in a strop and what they say is so nonsensical that my reaction is usually puzzlement.

Almost always it only happens when I'm alone, so there's no real comeback. In the short term it doesn't bother me (owing to its lack of motivation), but longer term it kind of gets me down and nervous. I've tried reacting at the time to discourage it, but the randomness and suddenness always catches me off-guard. Later I'm not sure how to broach it because I don't really understand it, which I think probably means it continues.

It's not something restricted to one person or situation, so it must either be something about myself, or something that's a pretty universal experience.

Is there a proper name for this behavior? Is it common? Have people studied it? What are good strategies for discouraging it?

  • 1
    Wouldn't this be better at psychology SE?
    – jaskij
    Commented Jan 28, 2020 at 15:54
  • 2
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because this is not about interpersonal skills.
    – user141592
    Commented Jan 28, 2020 at 16:15
  • 8
    Our help center does say questions about social norms and theories or concepts associated with interpersonal skills are on-topic here - even if it is valid on Psychology too (I'm not familiar with their scope) that doesn't mean it's off-topic here. Strategies to discourage this seems like IPS, at least.
    – Em C
    Commented Jan 28, 2020 at 16:23
  • 1
    For this to be answerable, it needs some modification: is this a workplace issue or something that happens in your home? The behavior of the "other party" is inappropriate in any context, but the IPS part depends entirely on the relationship you have with these parties and what your desired outcome is.
    – Dancrumb
    Commented Jan 28, 2020 at 20:34
  • I remember listening to a podcast about this. Will maybe write a proper answer if I can find it but the crux is that if you can empathise with the other person, and understand that their anger is not directed or about you. Then not only will the behaviour not bother you so much but they will also appreciate your understanding and its a big help with creating and deepening warm relationships. NPR's hidden brain I think, don't remember the episode.
    – Jesse
    Commented Jan 31, 2020 at 2:46

1 Answer 1


This is an unpleasant but basically normal behavior among animals and humans as well, and is generally known as displacement or 'redirected aggression'. Most top search hits for the phrase refer to dogs and cats, but the principle is pretty much the same in people-- When the body is flooded with stress hormones and the fight-or-flight reaction is activated, but the aggressive animal (or angry person) is prevented from attacking the actual cause of anger/fear/stress, they tend to irrationally lash out at any nearby target.

In pets, the thing preventing them from confronting the 'enemy' is probably a closed door, in people it's self control or awareness of the risks and repercussions of acting out their rage (or more broadly, social pressures against open aggression). Road rage is also an example of redirected aggression, where stress over a negative situation you can't control, like a traffic jam, leads to feelings of aggression towards other drivers, or even picking fights with the passengers in your car. Likewise, a fight with your spouse can be a cause of road rage if those negative feelings are displaced to nearby drivers. It's also the reason, more or less, why some people punch walls or break things when they're angry.

Controlling this behavior is an intrapersonal problem, and from what I have experienced in life some people find it extremely difficult to do.

The short of it is that there isn't much you can do to prevent these irrational redirected attacks other than avoiding being the first thing an angry person encounters as they leave the scene of the argument. If you can't avoid that, break out as much 'not a threat, nothing to see here' body language as possible: don't make eye contact, angle your body away from the person, and keep your posture relaxed. This has worked for me some times, but is not a guarantee.

Further information on displaced aggression: https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-displacement-in-psychology-4587375


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