Displacement

Freud (1926/1959a) believed that reaction formations are limited to a single object; for example, people with reactive love shower affection only on the person toward whom they feel unconscious hatred. In displacement, however, people can redirect their unacceptable urges onto a variety of people or objects so that the original impulse is disguised or concealed. For example, a woman who is angry at her roommate may displace her anger onto her employees, her pet cat, or a stuffed animal. She remains friendly to her roommate, but unlike the workings of a reaction formation, she does not exaggerate or overdo her friendliness.

Throughout his writings, Freud used the term "displacement" in several ways. In our discussion of the sexual drive, for example, we saw that the sexual object can be displaced or transformed onto a variety of other objects, including ones self. Freud (1926/1959a) also used displacement to refer to the replacement of one neurotic symptom for another; for example, a compulsive urge to masturbate may be replaced by compulsive hand washing. Displacement also is involved in dream formation, as when the dreamer s destructive urges toward a parent are placed onto a dog or wolf. In this event, a dream about a dog being hit by a car might reflect the dreamer s unconscious wish to see the parent destroyed. (We discuss dream formation more completely in the section on dream analysis.)

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