Displacement – Diverting alarming, humiliating, or unpleasant feelings or impulses from one object, person, or situation to someone or something less threatening.
We have all been in situations where we’ve felt disgusted with someone, enraged by their treatment of us, or embarrassed ourselves; where the conscious image we wanted to put forward to the world was compromised or trashed. When caught, we may resort to displacement. Angry, spiteful, or painful feelings – too dangerous to act upon and too scary to understand in the moment – must be relegated elsewhere to protect us. We seek sanctuary from situations that incite our negative feelings by attacking something or someone else whom we perceive as less threatening or intimidating.
At the moment of embarrassment, rage, or discomfort, we become aware of “seeing red.” Our feelings have to land somewhere. But not matter where we land the “hot” emotions, we do not feel satisfied. Add to the dissatisfaction of handling our emotions correctly, we also feel guilty for the displacement we just landed somewhere incorrectly.
Displacement can become bullying, which can create a cycle of further bullying in the work or school environment as people who were bullied, bully others. The more we understand and learn what led us to use displacement, the more it will become second nature to deal with the feelings in the present, with integrity and maturity. It is tough to catch our feelings in the “hot” moment.
Facing conflict and discomfort, and accepting our right to stand up for ourselves with those who threaten us is a long and difficult battle for everyone. There is a five-step program to help. When you are caught in a “hot” emotion again, ask
- Did we want to run? To yell? To cry?
- Did we smile polite and slink off?
- Did we freeze up and do nothing?
- How long afterwards did we blast off at someone else?
When this happens again, practice some of the following scripts:
- I feel sad, angry, hurt, annoyed when you….
- I shut down when you….
- I can’t hear you when you….
- I get scared when you……
When struggling with someone or being berated by someone, consider using the following script:
- I’m not comfortable.
- I’m leaving now.
- I’ll talk to you later.
Cite: Kagan, M. and Einbund, N. Defenders of the Heart. (2008). Carlsbad, Ca. Hay House, Inc.