Can displacement be negative?(Psychology)

Can displacement be negative

In this blog post, we discuss what is a defence mechanism, displacement in particular. 

What is displacement, as Freud explained it?

One way to deal with anxiety is to release impulses by changing a threatening object with a “safer” target.

Displacement is redirecting a negative feeling to another object or person when the original object or person is not accessible.

A humble man who feels intimidated by his boss comes home and unleashes hostility towards his wife or children.

Displacement is a defence mechanism by which libidinal energy is assumed to be redirected from a desired (but unavailable) target to a replacement.

After breaking up with her boyfriend, a young woman woke up sleeping with a large stuffed dog – a gift from her father.

She even kissed her stuffed animal good night. When she reconciled with her friend, the animal returned to its place in the corner of the room.

Displacement of aggression is another common variety of displacement.

Instead of killing a teacher who gives you a bad grade (which Freud would probably suspect to be a shadow of the self), someone could kick a box or punch the wall.

Can displacement be negative or positive?

The ego’s defence mechanisms help the individual cope with anxiety and prevent the person from being overwhelmed.

These defences of the ego are normal behaviours.

They can have the value of adaptation, if they do not become a lifestyle, to avoid confrontation with reality.

The defences that a person uses depend on his level of development and the degree of anxiety.

These defence mechanisms deny or distort reality and operate unconsciously.

Can displacement be negative or positive? In a way, yes.

It can be negative when we release our anger and frustration on innocent people, therefore damaging our relationship.

It can be considered positive since by displacing our frustration, we manage to control our anxiety and stress levels. 

Can displacement be negative?(Psychology)

What are defence mechanisms?

In almost all fields of psychology, psychologists and psychotherapists talk about the defence mechanisms or ways in which we behave or think in certain ways, so as to better protect or “defend” ourselves.

Defence mechanisms are a way of looking at how people distance themselves from a full awareness of their unpleasant thoughts, feelings and behaviours.

They are tactics developed by the Ego to protect itself from anxiety.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (1996), specifies that defence mechanisms are automatic psychological processes that protect the individual from anxiety, the perception of danger or stressors.

It is emphasized that subjects are only aware of the existence of these defence mechanisms when they are already activated.

Examples of defence mechanisms

Repression is one of the most important Freudian processes and is the basis of many other defences of the ego and neurotic disorders.

It is a means of defence through which threatening or painful thoughts and feelings of defence are removed from consciousness.

Freud explained repression as an involuntary removal of something from consciousness.

It is assumed that most of the painful events in the first 5 years of life are excluded in this way.

Denial plays a defensive role similar to that of repression. Denying reality is a way of distorting what the individual feels, thinks or perceives in a traumatic situation.

The projection consists of attributing to others one’s own unacceptable desires and impulses.

Sexual, aggressive or any other impulses are seen as possessed by other people, “not by me”.

A man who is sexually attracted to his daughter can claim that she is the one who behaves seductively with him. Thus, he does not have to confront or acknowledge his own desires.

Displacement.  One way to deal with anxiety is to release impulses by changing a threatening object with a “safer” target.

Displacement is redirecting energy to another object or person when the original object or person is not accessible.

A humble man who feels intimidated by his boss comes home and unleashes hostility towards his wife or children.

Rationalization. Some people fabricate GOOD reasons to explain an injured ego. Rationalization involves explaining failures and losses.

It helps justify specific behaviours and helps mitigate the blow related to disappointments.

When people apply for certain positions and do not get them, they find logical reasons as to why they failed.

Sometimes they try to convince themselves that they didn’t really want that job anyway.

Sublimation. Freud argues that many of the great artistic contributions resulted from a redirection of sexual or aggressive energy to other channels.

For example, aggressive impulses can be channelled into athletic activities, so that the person finds a constructive way to express aggressive feelings.

Can displacement be negative?(Psychology)

Regression. Some people return to a form of behaviour that they have overtaken genetically.

In this regression, at an earlier stage of development, the requirements are no longer so hard to deal with.

In the face of severe stress or extreme challenges, individuals may try to cope with their anxiety by clinging to immature and inappropriate behaviours.

Introjection. It consists of taking over and “swallowing” the values ​​and standards of others.

Conscious imitation of another person’s behaviour. There are also positive forms of introjection, such as the incorporation of parental values ​​…

Identification. It increases self-esteem and protects the person from the feeling of being a loser.

People who feel inferior can identify with important people or advantageous situations in the hope that they will be perceived as worthy.

Compensation consists of masking perceived weaknesses or developing certain positive traits that compensate for limitations.

Children who do not receive positive attention and recognition may develop behaviours designed to gain at least negative attention.

Can displacement be negative?(Psychology)

Each one of us has different defence mechanisms, which appear in stressful moments; they are not conscious or voluntary, they arise from a need of the individual, without him having any control.

Basically, they distort the image of reality in order to be easier to understand and accept what is going on.

Freud’s opinion was that people need these mechanisms to protect themselves from the imperfections of reality, considering that they have an adaptive purpose.

Thus, healthy defence mechanisms can help maintain self-esteem, anxiety and frustration at an appropriate level for each individual.

What you need to remember

Defence mechanisms are defined in the “Larousse Dictionary of Psychology” by Norbert Sillamy (1998), as “psychological mechanisms available to the person to reduce the anxiety generated by internal conflicts.

The author explains that in everyday life these defence mechanisms work more or less unconsciously.

An example of this is the laughter of a person, inadequate with a certain life situation in which he has difficulty controlling his anxiety.

According to Freud, displacement is a defence mechanism by which libidinal energy is assumed to be redirected from a desired (but unavailable) target to a replacement.

Displacement of aggression is a common variety of displacement. 

Can displacement be negative?

Usually, displacement is a negative way of releasing pressure and anxiety, but in the end, it has a positive impact on the individual. 

Freud’s opinion was that people need these mechanisms to protect themselves from the imperfections of reality, considering that they have an adaptive purpose.

Thus, healthy defence mechanisms can help maintain self-esteem, anxiety and frustration at an appropriate level for each individual.

In conclusion, we remind you that the defence mechanisms, as long as they do not become a lifestyle and do more harm than good, have, in essence, a positive role on the individual.

What defence mechanisms do you use? Tell us in the comments section below!

Can displacement be negative?(Psychology)

FAQ on can displacement be negative

What is a displacement defence mechanism?

A displacement defence mechanism is redirecting a negative feeling to another object or person when the original object or person is not accessible.

A humble man who feels intimidated by his boss comes home and unleashes hostility towards his wife or children.

What are the 7 defence mechanisms?

The 7 most common defence mechanisms are projection, denial, displacement, rationalization, compensation, repression and sublimation. 

What are the Defence mechanisms in psychology?

In psychology, we talk about the defence mechanisms or ways in which we behave or think in certain ways, so as to better protect or “defend” ourselves.

Defence mechanisms are a way of looking at how people distance themselves from a full awareness of their unpleasant thoughts, feelings and behaviours.

They are tactics developed by the Ego to protect itself from anxiety.

What did Freud mean by displacement?

By displacement, Freud meant that libidinal energy is assumed to be redirected from a desired (but unavailable) target to a replacement.

For example, after breaking up with her boyfriend, a young woman woke up sleeping with a large stuffed dog – a gift from her father.

She even kissed her stuffed animal good night.

When she reconciled with her friend, the animal returned to its place in the corner of the room.

Is crying a defence mechanism?

Crying is not a defence mechanism.

Instead, crying is a coping mechanism and a way to express ourselves when we face demanding moments.

It’s a way by which our body releases stress, anxiety and feelings of uncertainty.  

How many Defence mechanisms are there?

According to Freud, there are 10 defence mechanisms out there.

His daughter Anna Freud enumerated them in her works as well: Displacement, repression, regression, reaction formation, isolation, undoing, projection, introjection, denial, rationalization, sublimation. 

Further reading

  1. The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defence
  2. Barriers, Defences And Resistance (Core Concepts in Therapy) 
  3. The Inner World of Trauma: Archetypal Defences of the Personal Spirit 
  4. Defence Mechanisms in the Counseling Process
  5. Understanding Ego Defense Mechanisms: A Guide for Educators
  6. Why Do I Do That?: Psychological Defense Mechanisms and the Hidden Ways They Shape Our Lives

References

Mechanisms of defence: Development and research perspectives, by PF Kernberg

Research in Psycho-Analysis—The Hampstead Index as an Instrument of Psycho-Analytic Research, by J Sandler 

Resistance to organisational change: the role of defence mechanisms, by WH Bovey

Can displacement be negative?(Psychology)

Nadejda Romanciuc

Nadejda Romanciuc holds a Bachelor’s degree in psychology and a diploma in Addiction studies. She is part of the Romanian Association of Integrative Psychotherapy as a psychotherapist under supervision. She's practicing online counselling for over two years and is a strong advocate for mental health.