Sully's Recovery World Today - Andrew's thoughts on displacement - the transfer of current or repressed emotion onto an undeserving target

Over the course of the next few weeks I’m going to explore the various, ‘unhealthy’ negative coping mechanisms that we all, as humans, utilize to get through life. I have found that, during my journey of discovery in the world of sobriety, I can use many of these mechanisms to placate any uncomfortable issues that constantly seem to arrive via life’s conveyor belt of disgruntlement. Of course, it’s not just me, everyone does what they have to do to get by in this world but none of us really come out of it unscathed.

In recovery, however, the challenge is magnified. For many years, my ‘go to’ coping mechanisms were drink and drugs, and in their absence (they have been removed from the table) my mind will look at every single, easy option at its disposal to cope with whatever life has for me. This includes rationalization, intellectualization, trivialization, procrastination, compartmentalization, repression, avoidance and good old-fashioned denial – I look at those big words and the thought that crosses my mind is, ‘I’m pretty good at all of those things!’

But the most appropriate for me today, and the mechanism I would like to elaborate on, is emotional displacement.

For those of you who don’t know what that is (and I didn’t until recently), emotional displacement is the transfer of a repressed or current emotion on to another, more secure, target. The emotion usually manifests itself in a disproportionate, angry, hostile reaction to a stimulus that doesn’t deserve that kind of reaction. It’s the most common negative response that we face.

You can see it everywhere – at home, on the streets, at work, everywhere.

In most cases, the consequences of these outbursts aren’t too damaging, and the apology that normally follows, once the aggressor calms and realizes they have been unfair, is sufficient to draw a line under the matter and move on.

Where it becomes troublesome is when the entity that is causing you to displace has resided, unresolved, in your psyche for a long time. So long, in fact, that you can’t find it and resolve the issue in a healthy way. You can see it in people who have developed deeply entrenched resentments towards others over some apparent menial issue. It, perhaps, is most common in families as family members tend to hang around in your life circle longer than acquaintances you cross paths with. Even though the resentment itself isn’t worthy of such stubborn anger, over time, that resentment gets stronger, and the real reason for taking such a drastic action towards another who may not deserve it, goes on and on. Often the object of the ire is blissfully unaware and don’t have any kind of impact on the aggressor’s life. But mention something, anything, about that individual and the aggressor immediately becomes angry and hostile. This means that the displacement will always rear its ugly head and get worse as time goes on. The only person that is affected is the person doing the displacing.

I’ve been guilty of doing it. No question. I found it quite easy, and frantically reassuring, to offload my known and unknown internal issues onto some, unsuspecting victim who may have slighted me in some way. Slighted is the operative word in that sentence, because my internal, and often external, reaction did not warrant such vitriolic feelings to another. Especially if the person taking the hit has no active role in my life, which has often been the case.

I’m lucky though. I have had the opportunity of first being made of aware of my actions through the gift of self- awareness along with tools to identify the real problem through great therapy and some great people that I have met along my recovery way. I have been given the ‘safe’ space to honestly look at those ‘beefs’ I have had with others and conclude that the initial ‘fall out’ didn’t match up to the bitterness I allowed myself to develop over the years. It has enabled me to take more responsibility for my thoughts and actions, which in turn has helped me make peace with the antipathy that has left me so unsettled for a good few years.

Like most things in this passage of discovery, it takes guts to confront those resentments that have been the norm for so long, and effort to work through them with complete honesty. It’s not easy because you are looking to eradicate a coping device that you believe has helped you, and has come so easy to you over the years. But use your self- awareness, be honest. It may be that your displaced anger might be reserved for someone who you are never likely to see again, or worse still, dead. It happens. You may even have created a situation that allows you to displace, that wasn’t there before. Just remember that all the while you are focussing your attention on a third party, the real reason for your pain carries on undetected, which in turn will just cause you more pain as time goes by.

Like most breakthroughs in this journey, I have found some semblance of peace on the other side of the obstacle that is emotional displacement, and the way I see it, every obstacle that I address is one obstacle closer to where I would love my mind to reside, and that is complete serenity.

Whether that is a fanciful dream or an unrealistic goal, I’m not sure…but what I do know is that I am having a great time finding out! I hope this helps you too.

Lots of love

andrew x