Displacement Theory: Meaning And Application

Emotional and nervous equilibrium may be partially restored via the brain's unconscious use of protection systems. Protection systems in mind are activated automatically to assist one deal with potentially dangerous situations. These emotions and impulses may go unrecognized, yet they impact individuals' actions and may even lead to stress. The transfer occurs because the brain realizes that a direct response to the origin of displeasure would be inappropriate, if not harmful. Rather, it enables us to find a safer way to vent our frustrations by diverting them to something else.

What is Displacement Theory?

Displacement is a kind of emotional self-protection in which unpleasant feelings are transferred to someone or something seen as less dangerous. Displaced aggressiveness is a typical use of protection. People may "take it out" on somebody or something less likely to harm them if they are upset but feel they cannot "get it all out" on the original aggressor. Immune responses are unrecognized coping methods humans use to deal with uncomfortable emotions. In contrast to the daily positive coping tactics, protection systems are subconsciously in their operation.

Symptoms of Displacement Theory

Protection systems are prevalent and often make up a natural part of daily life. As a protective system, displacement allows us to divert potentially dangerous or improper feelings and impulses into more acceptable and helpful channels. Displacement is a defensive system that, when used effectively, helps people avoid unpleasant emotions, deal with rejection, maintain a healthy sense of self-worth, and control their daily stress. Anxiety may be alleviated, and our perception of ourselves preserved via the use of displacement, which involves concealing things that are upsetting or disagreeable to us. Displacement may help divert negative emotions but can also have negative consequences. The manner and timing of relocation may be affected by several variables.

Age − The emotions of young kids are often more openly communicated, and that is why they commonly direct their animosity back at the person or thing that first angered them. A four-year-old, for instance, are inclined to shout at the parents if they are displeased. However, a 14-year-old may redirect his or her anger against a longer sister instead of a parent.

Intensity − The intensity of sentiments directed towards the new target may increase in response to intense impulses or emotions. As an illustration, an improper impulse might result in an extremely passionate outburst of anger.

Period − Most individuals may relate to the feeling of wanting to "take it out" on someone else. While relocation is a common reaction, it may become maladaptive and abusive if it becomes excessive. For all of one's mental anguish, relying only on relocation as a coping method is unhealthy and may be harmful.

History of Displacement Theory

At the turn of the century, the Austrian physician Sigmund Freud pioneered the field of psychoanalysis. The American Psychiatric Association defines psychoanalysis as a body of thought that studies the unconscious workings of the human mind to explain human behavior and emotions. According to the APA, when people talk about their "subconscious mind," they refer to their involuntary thought patterns. Freud spent most of his career writing about various forms of self-protection. These cognitive protection systems operate automatically to keep unpleasant emotions and ideas at bay. Later, his sister Anna Freud characterized the processes in greater detail, coming up with ten primary defensive systems. Over the decades, scientists have developed several layers of protection, one of which is dislocation.

Types of Displacement Theory

There are several ways in which people experience displacement. It might take the shape of fury directed towards a less dangerous opponent, or it can take the form of sublimated, a more adaptable form of rage expression. Sublimation channels inappropriate sexual desires into more positive and culturally acceptable outlets, such as employment and creation. A positive way to channel otherwise destructive emotions is via sublimation.

Treatment of Displacement Theory

Displacement, like any other defensive strategy, may backfire if used excessively. As a portion of psychotherapy, one and one's counselor might discuss one's concerns about using relocation as a protective technique. Examining one's actions may provide light on whether or not one makes beneficial use of displacement.


Keeping a close eye on one's behaviors and behavior to see whether the displacement is to blame is a crucial first step, but it is also trickier. It is difficult to see the effects of displacement. Assumptions may often be drawn simply from what can be seen in one's actions. It may be beneficial to consult a psychologist at this point. Someone from the "outside" may provide a fresh perspective by analyzing one's actions and offering suggestions for improvement. One may tell one's counselor that one's partner's night and weekend work schedule is OK with one, but one's tone and word choice may indicate otherwise. Suppose one and one's husband are having marital problems. In that case, one's irritability toward one's children in the evening may be a symptom of unhappiness with one's partner, as one explains one's conduct.


Therapists may utilize introspection to help one identify and combat protective strategies like displacement. By doing so, the therapist may help patient focus on one's actions and words by reflecting on them. If a person sees a therapist because he is angry with a colleague, he can disclose a deeper concern: that he new boss does not appreciate his hard work. He probably should not have vented to his colleague instead of a supervisor.


Displacement, like some other psychiatric protection strategies, may be a helpful method of dealing with unpleasant unconscious feelings. Unfortunately, depending on relocation as a crutch when dealing with unpleasant emotions may be counterproductive and even harmful, especially if one vents one's anger on helpless bystanders. Displacement is a defensive strategy, and it may be difficult to identify when our actions, statements, or behaviors are protection systems. Therapy can assist with this. One may take action to confront the protection system and develop more adaptive coping strategies if one realizes one is experiencing relocation.