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In Freudian psychology, displacement (German Verschiebung, 'shift' or 'move') is an unconscious defense 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.[1]

A term originating with Sigmund Freud,[2] displacement operates in the mind unconsciously, its transference of emotions, ideas, or wishes being most often used to allay anxiety in the face of aggressive or sexual impulses.

Freud[edit | edit source]

Freud initially saw displacement as a means of dream-distortion, involving a shift of emphasis from important to unimportant elements,[3] or the replacement of something by a mere allusion.[4]

Freud also saw displacement as occurring in jokes,[5] as well as in neuroses - the obsessional neurotic being especially prone to the technique of displacement onto the minute.[6] When two or more displacements occurs towards the same idea, the phenomenon is called condensation (from the German Verdichtung).

The psychoanalytic mainstream[edit | edit source]

Among Freud's mainstream followers, Otto Fenichel highlighted the displacement of affect, either through postponement or by redirection, or both.[7] More broadly, he considered that “in part the paths of displacement depend on the nature of the drives that are warded off”.[8]

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”.[9]

Lacan[edit | edit source]

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,[10] 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”.[11]

Aggression[edit | edit source]

The aggressive drives - mortido – may be displaced quite as much as the libidinal. Business or athletic competition, or hunting, for example, offer plentiful opportunities for the expression of displaced mortido.[12]

In such scapegoating, aggression may be displaced onto people with little or no connection with what is causing anger. 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 act in 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 so he hits his wife. The wife hits one of the children, possibly disguising this as punishment (rationalization).

Ego psychology sought to use displacement in child rearing, a dummy being used as a displaced target for toddler sibling rivalry.[13]

Transferential displacement[edit | edit source]

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.[14]

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 themself.[15]

Cultural examples[edit | edit source]

A John Aubrey anecdote about Sir Walter Raleigh describes the latter striking his son in the face at a dinner table; whereupon the latter, rather than retaliate directly, struck his neighbour, saying “Box about: 'twill come to my father anon”.[16]

Criticism[edit | edit source]

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 – was also true.[17]

See also[edit | edit source]

Footnotes[edit | edit source]

  1. Eric Berne, A Layman's Guide to Psychiatry and Psychoanalysis (1976) p. 399
  2. Salman Akhtar, Comprehensive Dictionary of Psychoanalysis (2009) p. 82
  3. Sigmund Freud, New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (PFL 2) p. 49-50
  4. Sigmund Freud, Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (PFL 1) p. 208
  5. New Introductory Lectures p. 49
  6. Sigmund Freud Case Studies II (PFL 9) p. 120-1
  7. Otto Fenichel, The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis (London 1946) p. 163
  8. Fenichel, p. 199
  9. Berne, A Layman's Guide p. 78
  10. David Macey, Introduction, Jacques Lacan, The Four Funadamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis (1994) p. xxviii
  11. Jacques Lacan, Ecrits: A Selection (London 1997) p. 160
  12. Berne, p. 80
  13. Selma H. Fraiberg, The Magic Years (New York 1987) p. 151-3
  14. P. Schwmeister, Less Legible Meaning (1999) p. 88
  15. P. Casement, Further Learning from the Patient (1990) p. 151
  16. Quoted in G. Legman, Rationale of the Dirty Joke Vol 2 (1973) p. 371
  17. Jonathan Dollimore, Sexual Dissidence <1991) p. 184

Further reading[edit | edit source]

Books[edit | edit source]

  • Berkowitz, L. (1987). Anti-Semitism and the displacement of aggression. Oxford, England: Walter De Gruyter.
  • Firestone, R. W., & Catlett, J. (1986). Displacement of negative parental characteristics and the development of a victimized or paranoid approach to life. New York, NY: Human Sciences Press.
  • Kramer, E. (2001). Sublimation and art therapy. New York, NY: Brunner-Routledge.
  • Milburn, M. A., & Liss, J. (2008). Emotion, affect displacement, conflict, and cooperation. Malden: Blackwell Publishing.
  • Widlocher, D. (1999). Unconscious fantasy as an experience of action. Florence, KY: Taylor & Frances/Routledge.

Papers[edit | edit source]

  • Abramsky, M. F. (1996). Displacement: A major casual contribution to prolonged post traumatic stress disorder: Psychology: A Journal of Human Behavior Vol 33(1) 1996, 1-9.
  • Aisenstein, M. (1994). The writing of the Marquis de Sade: Revue Francaise de Psychanalyse Vol 58(2) Apr-Jun 1994, 451-461.
  • Anselme, P. (2008). Abnormal patterns of displacement activities: A review and reinterpretation: Behavioural Processes Vol 79(1) Sep 2008, 48-58.
  • Banks, M. J. (1977). A family's over-concern about a child in the first two years of life: Maternal-Child Nursing Journal Vol 6(3) Fal 1977, 187-194.
  • Barash, D. P. (1974). Human ethology: Displacement activities in a dental office: Psychological Reports Vol 34(3, Pt 1) Jun 1974, 947-949.
  • Berkowitz, L., & Frodi, A. (1979). Reactions to a child's mistakes as affected by her/his looks and speech: Social Psychology Quarterly Vol 42(4) Dec 1979, 420-425.
  • Denson, T. F., Pedersen, W. C., & Miller, N. (2006). The displaced aggression questionnaire: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology Vol 90(6) Jun 2006, 1032-1051.
  • Derzelle, M., & Gayda, M. (2003). Painful symptom displacements: Annales Medico-Psychologiques Vol 161(7) Sep 2003, 538-543.
  • Evans, F. J. (1990). Will the real pain say "yes." American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis Vol 33(1) Jul 1990, 12-13.
  • Fenigstein, A., & Buss, A. H. (1974). Association and affect as determinants of displaced aggression: Journal of Research in Personality Vol 7(4) Mar 1974, 306-313.
  • Flug, A., & Sandler, J. (1983). An instance of "displacement from above downward" in a congenitally blind child: The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child Vol 38 1983, 429-438.
  • Frost, R. O., & Holmes, D. S. (1979). Effect of displacing aggression by annoyed and nonannoyed subjects: Journal of Research in Personality Vol 13(2) Jun 1979, 221-233.
  • Furman, R. A. (1988). Object removal revisited: International Review of Psycho-Analysis Vol 15(2) 1988, 165-176.
  • Herzog, J. M. (2005). Los Degradados: Out, down, dead: Transmitted and inflicted trauma as encountered in the analysis of a 6-year-old girl: International Journal of Psychoanalysis Vol 86(2) Apr 2005, 291-310.
  • Houtkooper, J. M. (2003). An ESP experiment with natural and simulated Sferics: Displacement scores and psychological variables: European Journal of Parapsychology Vol 18 2003, 49-63.
  • Huebner, D. L. (1977). Scapegoating the attorney, a displacement of marital anguish: [[]Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy]] Vol 9(1)p112-115.
  • Kanas, N., Salnitskiy, V., Weiss, D. S., Grund, E. M., Gushin, V., Kozerenko, O., et al. (2001). Crewmember and ground personnel interactions over time during Shuttle/Mir space missions: Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine Vol 72(5) May 2001, 453-461.
  • Kluft, R. (1990). "Dissociation and displacement: Where goes the 'ouch'?" Comment: American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis Vol 33(1) Jul 1990, 13-15.
  • Konecni, V. J., & Doob, A. N. (1972). Catharsis through displacement of aggression: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology Vol 23(3) Sep 1972, 379-387.
  • Kuiken, D., & Powell, R. (1980). Spatio-temporal displacement and expression of feeling in dreams of emotionally expressive persons: Perceptual and Motor Skills Vol 51(2) Oct 1980, 455-461.
  • LaGuardia, E. (1984). Priority and deferral: The text of Beyond the pleasure principle: Psychoanalysis & Contemporary Thought Vol 7(2) 1984, 269-288.
  • Lebedev, B. A., Petrova, N. N., & Vasilyeva, I. A. (1991). The mechanisms of psychological defense in patients on chronic hemodialysis: Zhurnal Nevropatologii i Psikhiatrii imeni S S Korsakova Vol 91(5) 1991, 58-62.
  • Levine, M. G. (1989). From Vanna to Amana: The price is White: Literature and Psychology Vol 35(4)p 1-9.
  • Levitt, L., & Viney, W. (1973). Inhibition of aggression against the physically disabled: Perceptual and Motor Skills Vol 36(1), 255-258.
  • Marcus-Newhall, A., Pedersen, W. C., Carlson, M., & Miller, N. (2000). Displaced aggression is alive and well: A meta-analytic review: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology Vol 78(4), 670-689.
  • Margolis, C. G. (1990). "Dissociation and displacement: Where goes the 'ouch'?" Comment: American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis Vol 33(1), 15-17.
  • Martinez, M. A., Zeichner, A., Reidy, D. E., & Miller, J. D. (2008). Narcissism and displaced aggression: Effects of positive, negative, and delayed feedback: Personality and Individual Differences Vol 44(1) Jan 2008, 140-149.
  • Martius, B. (2004). Vertical Splitting and its Treatment: Selbstpsychologie: Europaische Zeitschrift fur psychoanalytische Therapie und Forschung/ Self Psychology: European Journal for Psychoanalytic Therapy and Research Vol 5(15) 2004, 77-102.
  • Melburg, V., & Tedeschi, J. T. (1989). Displaced aggression: Frustration or impression management? : European Journal of Social Psychology Vol 19(2) Mar-Apr 1989, 139-145.
  • Miller, N., Pedersen, W. C., Earleywine, M., & Pollock, V. E. (2003). A theoretical model of triggered displaced aggression: Personality and Social Psychology Review Vol 7(1) 2003, 75-97.
  • Miller, P. H., & DeMarie-Dreblow, D. (1990). Social-cognitive correlates of children's understanding of displaced aggression: Journal of Experimental Child Psychology Vol 49(3) Jun 1990, 488-504.
  • Neubauer, P. B. (1994). The role of displacement in psychoanalysis: The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child Vol 49 1994, 107-119.
  • Nicolaidis, G. (1993). Displacement onto color: Revue Francaise de Psychanalyse Vol 57(Spec Issue) 1993, 1659-1661.
  • Noonan, E. (1973). An investigation into sibling and sibling-in-law relationships: II. Research report: British Journal of Projective Psychology & Personality Study Vol 18(1) Jun 1973, 21-26.
  • Podlesek, A., & Komidar, L. (2006). Comparison of three psychophysical methods for measuring displacement in frontal plane motion: Review of Psychology Vol 13(1) 2006, 51-60.
  • Powell, T. J. (1973). Negative expectations of treatment: Some ideas about the source and management of two types: Clinical Social Work Journal Vol 1(3) Fal 1973, 177-186.
  • Poznanski, E. O. (1973). Children with excessive fears: American Journal of Orthopsychiatry Vol 43(3)p428-438.
  • Rynearson, E. K. (1978). Humans and pets and attachment: British Journal of Psychiatry Vol 133 Dec 1978, 550-555.
  • Schneck, J. M. (1977). Hypnotic elucidation of isolation and displacement following a sexual assault. Diseases of the Nervous System Vol 38(11),p934-935.
  • Seih, Y. T., Lin, Y. C., Huang, C. L., Peng, C. W., & Huang, S. P. (2008). The benefits of psychological displacement in diary writing when using different pronouns: British Journal of Health Psychology Vol 13(1) Feb 2008, 39-41.
  • Singer, M. (1978). Pygmies and their dogs: A note on culturally constituted defense mechanisms: Ethos Vol 6(4) Win 1978, 270-277.
  • Sultana, P. (1986). A study of displacement process among low and high aggressive adolescents: Indian Journal of Behaviour Vol 10(2) Apr 1986, 1-7.
  • Sultana, P. (1986). A study of the dissipation process with respect to equity and inequity: Indian Journal of Behaviour Vol 10(3) Jul 1986, 23-30.
  • Sultana, P. (1987). A study of the displacement process among adolescent boys and girls: Indian Journal of Behaviour Vol 11(1) Jan 1987, 1-6.
  • Troisi, A. (2002). Displacement activities as a behavioral measure of stress in nonhuman primates and human subjects: Stress: The International Journal on the Biology of Stress Vol 5(1) 2002, 47-54.
  • Wain, H. J. (1990). "Dissociation and displacement: Where goes the 'ouch'?" Comment: American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis Vol 33(1) Jul 1990, 17-19.
  • Watkins, J. G., & Watkins, H. H. (1990). Dissociation and displacement: Where goes the "ouch"? : American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis Vol 33(1) Jul 1990, 1-10.
  • Watkins, J. G., & Watkins, H. H. (1990). "Dissociation and displacement: Where goes the 'ouch'?": Reply: American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis Vol 33(1) Jul 1990, 19-21.
  • Weatherley, D. (1987). Anti-Semitism and the expression of fantasy aggression. Oxford, England: Walter De Gruyter.
  • Weiss, M. G., & Miller, P. H. (1983). Young children's understanding of displaced aggression: Journal of Experimental Child Psychology Vol 35(3) Jun 1983, 529-539.
  • Winestine, M. C. (1987). Reaction to the end of the analytic hour as a derivative of an early childhood experience: Couch or crib: Psychoanalytic Quarterly Vol 56(4) 1987, 689-692.

Dissertations[edit | edit source]

  • Arendsen, B. A. (1999). Mother loss, exile, and the imagination of displacement. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering.
  • Kauffman, L. S. (1978). Psychic displacement and adaptation in the novels of Dickens and Faulkner: Dissertation Abstracts International.
  • Lanyi, R. L. (1978). Comic book creativity as displaced aggression: Dissertation Abstracts International.
  • Melburg, V. (1984). An impression management interpretation of some displacement of aggression experiments: Dissertation Abstracts International.
  • Vickroy, K. L. (1991). Affective knowledge: Transference and social values in the novels of Marguerite Duras and Toni Morrison: Dissertation Abstracts International.
  • Watford, V. W. (1976). Mothers' aggressive responses toward their preschool children following insults from an adult male: A test of catharsis and displacement: Dissertation Abstracts International.

Further reading[edit | edit source]

  • Arthur J. Clark, Defense Mechanismss in the Counselling Process (1998) Chap. 3 "Displacement"
  • Mark Krupnick, Displacement: Derrida and After (1983)

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