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Displacement as a Protection Mechanism — Talkspace

Revealed on: 23 Jan 2023

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Protection mechanisms are an unconscious technique used to keep away from tough feelings. The displacement protection mechanism is a method for folks to “displace,” or redirect, damaging feelings from one supply to a different. Whereas protection mechanisms may be useful within the short-term, displacement may cause injury to relationships over time.  

Learn on to study extra about displacement protection mechanisms, together with real-life examples and how one can study to manage if you happen to use this kind of protection mechanism in your life and relationships. 

What’s Displacement?

It isn’t all the time potential for folks to precise damaging feelings like anger, frustration, or worry immediately. Repression of undesirable emotions is frequent, and displacement protection mechanisms permit somebody to switch disagreeable emotions from their authentic supply to a different much less threatening goal. 

Folks usually discover themselves in conditions that require them to suppress their feelings. When you’re upset at your boss, for instance, voicing your emotions may have severe penalties. When somebody engages in displaced aggression, they direct these robust feelings in direction of one other, safer goal, equivalent to a member of the family or a good friend.

What’s the distinction between displacement and projection?

There are some similarities between displacement and projection as a protection mechanism. Each mechanisms basically contain transferring emotions to another person, however folks use these protection ways in several methods. 

  • Projection: When somebody tasks, they’re displacing their very own damaging traits and feelings onto others. 
  • Displacement: Displacement includes transferring emotions somebody has about one particular person onto another person. 

In brief, projection distorts the motivations of the particular person being focused, whereas displacement is a method for somebody to attribute an emotional response to the flawed particular person. 

Examples of Displacement as a Protection Mechanism

Displacement can take many varieties. Whereas it’s usually related to misplaced anger, folks also can displace different emotions, equivalent to sexual urges. Some extra displacement protection mechanism examples embrace:

  • Displaced anger: When somebody is indignant at one other particular person however is unable to precise these emotions, they could redirect them towards what they understand as a safer goal. For instance, if somebody’s been yelled at by their boss, they could lash out at their partner once they get residence from work. Displaced anger may be extraordinarily damaging to relationships. 
  • Sublimation: Sublimation is a strategy to displace unacceptable urges into socially acceptable actions. For instance, analysis reveals that some folks with repressed needs study to repeat by redirecting their emotions into inventive works. 
  • Bullying: It’s not unusual for youngsters who’re bullied or abused by their caregivers to displace their aggression in direction of their friends. Victims of abuse usually really feel powerless, and redirecting anger, particularly when it’s towards a non-threatening goal, generally is a strategy to achieve a way of energy that permits them to really feel as in the event that they’re in management. 
  • Displaced attraction: If somebody is interested in an individual they’ll’t pursue, like a good friend’s partner, they could redirect that attraction to a different particular person or an object. For instance, if the thing of their attraction wears glasses, they could discover themselves drawn to different individuals who additionally put on glasses. 
  • Scapegoating: Scapegoating includes a way of denial of who’s within the flawed, blaming an harmless group or particular person for damaging experiences. A typical displacement protection mechanism instance is blaming a marginalized group for a problem they don’t have anything to do with, equivalent to a poor job market or financial strife. 

Why Do We Use Displacement as a Protection Mechanism?

Protection mechanisms like displacement can present an outlet for painful recollections or damaging feelings. It permits folks to precise their emotions in an oblique method and generally is a type of stress administration. At instances, displacement will also be motivated by emotions of helplessness. 

“We regularly unconsciously use displacement. For instance, generally if we’re indignant about one thing at work, as a substitute of processing it in a wholesome method, that lingering anger can generally urge us to redirect our emotions and act extra irritable at residence with a associate, youngsters, or pet. When you discover you’re fighting behaviors like this, you’ll be able to completely work on it in remedy.”

– Therapist Kate Rosenblatt, MA, LPC, LMHC

Research counsel that persons are extra more likely to have interaction in displacement once they’re coping with ego depletion. Ego depletion is the time period used to explain when somebody makes use of up all their accessible willpower. In relation to displacement, if a lot effort goes into staying calm when somebody is being insulted, for instance, they could then battle to keep up an applicable degree of management in a while. This might trigger them to lash out on the folks round them. 

The dangerous impacts of displacement 

It’s necessary to notice that displacement isn’t all the time unhealthy. Quite the opposite, it could possibly even be a wholesome coping technique to a sure diploma — permitting you to handle and take care of nervousness and stress in some cases. 

“All of us use displacement as a protection mechanism to some extent, but when it’s to the extent that you just’re conscious it’s contributing to points personally or professionally, I’d encourage you to discover this with a licensed therapist so you can begin to really feel higher and make choices that serve you in more healthy methods.”

– Therapist Kate Rosenblatt, MA, LPC, LMHC

That stated, displacement may be damaging to your relationships, sense of self-worth, and general happiness. It may spark a cyclical sample of conduct that drives wedges between you and others and may start to intrude along with your capacity to achieve success, each personally and professionally. 

Relationship points 

When somebody recurrently displaces damaging feelings, they usually switch their emotions to family members, equivalent to a partner or a member of the family. This generally is a main supply of relationship battle. Redirecting feelings like anger and frustration in direction of family members can ultimately push them away. 

Cycles of anger 

Displacement can create a cycle of anger and damaging feelings. When somebody displaces their anger onto one particular person, that particular person might then lash out at another person. The one strategy to break this cycle is to take care of damaging emotions in a more healthy method. 

Inappropriate emotional shows

By transferring emotions to a different goal, it could possibly result in emotional shows which may be seen as inappropriate. Displaced feelings are sometimes excessive and may ultimately result in intense emotional outbursts. 


Displacement generally is a supply of prejudice. When somebody places damaging feelings onto a gaggle of individuals, it could possibly result in prejudices that form the best way they really feel in regards to the world. These prejudices can have extreme penalties. 

Substance abuse

In line with research, individuals who battle with drug and alcohol dependency are extra possible to have interaction in damaging protection mechanisms like displacement. When folks really feel indignant or powerless, they usually don’t have a wholesome strategy to specific their feelings, it could possibly result in addictive behaviors. 

Learn how to Work Via Displacement

Whereas it may be tough to determine displacement protection mechanisms, it’s potential to acknowledge and alter these behaviors. 

“It may be onerous to know you’re utilizing displacement within the second. To in the end see what you are able to do in another way subsequent time, usually it takes reflecting afterwards on why you acted a sure method so you may get readability on what triggered you and why you took your displaced feelings out on somebody or one thing else — a therapist can actually help you right here. Alternatively, if you happen to really feel that you just’re extra so the sufferer of displaced anger, equivalent to within the case of being bullied, we encourage you to get the help that you just want.”

– Therapist Kate Rosenblatt, MA, LPC, LMHC

There are a number of methods to work by means of displacement, together with:

  • Self-reflection: Analyzing your individual conduct and actions can enhance your consciousness of your conduct. Once you catch your self displacing your feelings, mirror on why you’re utilizing sure damaging protection mechanisms. 
  • Cognitive reframing: Adverse feelings like frustration and anger are unavoidable, however it is potential to regulate your mindset. Reframing helps you concentrate on constructive feelings or discover different retailers in your emotions. 
  • Journaling: It’s not all the time potential to brazenly and outwardly specific what you’re feeling, however you’ll be able to work by means of your feelings in a journal. Journaling in your psychological well being generally is a strategy to vent your emotions with out inappropriately directing them to a different particular person.  
  • Meditation: Meditation generally is a easy and efficient, but very highly effective strategy to cut back stress. Over time, it could possibly additionally provide you with extra management over your feelings and show you how to keep targeted on the current.
  • In-person or on-line remedy: Recognizing and overcoming displacement isn’t all the time straightforward. When you’ve been fighting displacement, don’t hesitate to achieve out to a psychological well being skilled. 

Displacement protection mechanisms can have lasting penalties in your well-being and your relationships with others. The excellent news, although, is you’ll be able to study efficient coping abilities that can assist you to problem the way you implement protection mechanisms in your life. With the assistance of a talented, educated therapist, you’ll be capable of discover new and higher methods to manage. 


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2. Nesdale D, Duffy A. Social identification, peer group rejection, and younger youngsters’s reactive, displaced, and proactive aggression. British Journal of Developmental Psychology. 2011;29(4):823-841. doi:10.1111/j.2044-835x.2010.02012.x. Accessed September 24, 2022.

3. Mohiyeddini C, Bauer S, Semple S. Displacement Behaviour Is Related to Lowered Stress Ranges amongst Males however Not Ladies. PLoS One. 2013;8(2):e56355. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0056355. Accessed September 24, 2022.

4. Rajchert J. Emotional, Cognitive and Self-Enhancement Processes in Aggressive Conduct After Interpersonal Rejection and Exclusion. Europe’s Journal of Psychology. 2015;11(4):707-721. doi:10.5964/ejop.v11i4.934. Accessed September 24, 2022.

5. Iwanicka Ok, Gerhant A, Olajossy M. Psychopathological signs, protection mechanisms and time views amongst topics with alcohol dependence (AD) presenting completely different patterns of dealing with stress. PeerJ. 2017;5:e3576. doi:10.7717/peerj.3576. Accessed September 24, 2022.

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