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Explanations > Behaviors > Coping > Displacement

Description | Example | Discussion | So what?



Displacement is the shifting of actions from a desired target to a substitute target when there is some reason why the first target is not permitted or not available.

Displacement may involve retaining the action and simply shifting the target of that action. Where this is not feasible, the action itself may also change. Where possible the second target will resemble the original target in some way.

Phobias may also use displacement as a mechanism for releasing energy that is caused in other ways.


The boss gets angry and shouts at me. I go home and shout at my wife. She then shouts at our son. With nobody left to displace anger onto, he goes and kicks the dog.

A man wins the lottery. He turns to the person next to him and gives the person a big kiss.

A boy is afraid of horses. It turns out to be a displaced fear of his father.

I want to speak at a meeting but cannot get a word in edgeways. Instead, I start scribbling furiously.

A religious person who is sexually frustrated focuses their attention on food, becoming a gourmet.

A woman, rejected by her boyfriend, goes out with another man 'on the rebound'.


Displacement occurs when the Id wants to do something of which the Super ego does not permit. The Ego thus finds some other way of releasing the psychic energy of the Id. Thus there is a transfer of energy from a repressed object-cathexis to a more acceptable object.

Displaced actions tend to be to into related areas or subjects. If I want to shout at a person but feel that I cannot, then shouting at somebody else is preferred to going to play the piano, although this may still be used if there is no other way I can release my anger.

Displacements are often quite satisfactory and workable mechanisms for releasing energy more safely.

Dreams can be interpreted as the displacement of stored tensions into other forms (dreams are often highly metaphoric).

Displacement is one of Anna Freud's original defense mechanisms.

So what?

When people do strange things, work with them to find if there are other places from which they are displacing their energy - then deal with the real reason, not the displaced reason.

Attend to your own displacements. You probably have quite a few, as do most of us.

See also

Avoidance, Fantasy, Projection, Somatization

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