What is Displacement (Psychology)?

Introduction

In psychology, displacement (German: Verschiebung, “shift, move”) is an unconscious defence mechanism whereby the mind substitutes either a new aim or a new object for goals felt in their original form to be dangerous or unacceptable.

Refer to Emotional Conflict.

Sigmund Freud

The concept of displacement originated with Sigmund Freud. Initially he saw it as a means of dream-distortion, involving a shift of emphasis from important to unimportant elements, or the replacement of something by a mere illusion. Freud called this “displacement of accent.”

TypeOutline
Displacement of ObjectFeelings that are connected with one person are displaced onto another person. A man who has had a bad day at the office, comes home and yells at his wife and children, is displacing his anger from the workplace onto his family. Freud thought that when children have animal phobias, they may be displacing fears of their parents onto an animal.
Displacement of AttributionA characteristic that one perceives in oneself but seems unacceptable is instead attributed to another person. This is essentially the mechanism of psychological projection; an aspect of the self is projected (displaced) onto someone else. Freud wrote that people commonly displace their own desires onto God’s will.
Bodily DisplacementsA genital sensation may be experienced in the mouth (displacement upward) or an oral sensation may be experienced in the genitals (displacement downward). Novelist John Cleland in ‘’Fanny Hill’’ referred to the vagina as “the nethermouth.” Sexual attraction toward a human body can be displaced in sexual fetishism, sometimes onto a particular body part like the foot, or at other times onto an inanimate fetish object.
Jokes and NeurosesFreud also saw displacement as occurring in jokes, as well as in neuroses – the obsessional neurotic being especially prone to the technique of displacement onto the minute. When two or more displacements occurs towards the same idea, the phenomenon is called condensation (from the German Verdichtung).
Phobia Displacement or RepressionHumans were able to express specific unconscious needs through phobias. These needs that were suppressed deep within themselves created anxiety and tension. The stress, fear, and anxiety that characterise a phobic disorder were the discharge.
Reaction FormationCognizant practices are embraced to overcompensate for the nervousness an individual feels in regards to their socially inadmissible oblivious considerations or feelings. Typically, a response arrangement is set apart by misrepresented conduct, like garishness and urgency. An illustration of reaction formation incorporates the loyal little girl who adores her mom is responding to her Oedipus scorn of her mom.

The Psychoanalytic Mainstream

Among Freud’s mainstream followers, Otto Fenichel highlighted the displacement of affect, either through postponement or by redirection, or both. More broadly, he considered that “in part the paths of displacement depend on the nature of the drives that are warded off”.

Freud’s daughter, Anna Freud, also played an important role in the upbringing of these defence mechanisms by the twentieth century. She introduced and analysed ten of her own defence mechanisms and her work has been used and increased through the years by newer psychoanalysts.

Eric Berne in his first, psychoanalytic work, maintained that “some of the most interesting and socially useful displacements of libido occur when both the aim and the object are partial substitutions for the biological aim and object…sublimation”.

Lacan

In 1957, Jacques Lacan, inspired by an article by linguist Roman Jakobson on metaphor and metonymy, argued that the unconscious has the structure of a language, linking displacement to the poetic function of metonymy, and condensation to that of metaphor.

As he himself put it, “in the case of Verschiebung, ‘displacement’, the German term is closer to the idea of that veering off of signification that we see in metonymy, and which from its first appearance in Freud is represented as the most appropriate means used by the unconscious to foil censorship”.

Aggression

The aggressive drive – known as mortido – may be displaced quite as much as the libidinal – the sex drive. Business or athletic competition, or hunting, for instance, offer plentiful opportunities for the expression of displaced mortido.

In such scapegoating behaviour, aggression may be displaced onto people with little or no connection with what is causing anger or frustration. Some people punch cushions when they are angry at friends; a college student may snap at his or her roommate when upset about an exam grade.

Displacement can also act in what looks like a ‘chain-reaction,’ with people unwittingly becoming both victims and perpetrators of displacement. For example, a man is angry with his boss, but he cannot express this properly, so he hits his wife. The wife, in turn, hits one of the children, possibly disguising this as a “punishment.” (rationalization).

Ego psychology sought to use displacement in child rearing, a dummy being used as a displaced target for toddler sibling rivalry. With a purpose to apprehend how the ego uses defence mechanisms, it is important to apprehend the defence mechanisms themselves and the way they function. A few defence mechanisms are visible as protecting us from the internal impulses (e.g. repression); other defence mechanism guard us from external threats (e.g. denial).

Transferential Displacement

The displacement of feelings and attitudes from past significant others onto the present-day analyst constitutes a central aspect of the transference, particularly in the case of the neurotic.

A subsidiary form of displacement within the transference occurs when the patient disguises transference references by applying them to an apparent third party or to themselves.

As of now encoded in subcortical neural pathways, material from our oblivious brain is pushed into our cognizant psyche as we attempt to manage mental wonders – typically agonising – that we are encountering. With the “help” of mind movement, we unknowingly re-surface and re-order struggle ridden encounters as though the past were the present and one setting were another. We move contemplations, sentiments, and perspectives, particularly about individuals who take after others. We allocate them jobs once played by others. We take on old jobs ourselves. All unwittingly.

Criticism

Later writers have objected that whereas Freud only described the displacement of sex into culture, for example, the converse – social conflict being displaced into sexuality – is also true.

Freud’s hypothesis is acceptable at clarifying however not at anticipating conduct. Therefore, Freud’s hypothesis is unfalsifiable – it cannot be demonstrated valid or invalidated. Freud may likewise have shown research predisposition in his understandings – he may have just focused on data which upheld his hypotheses, and overlooked data and different clarifications that didn’t fit them.

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