Displacement

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A defense mechanism where frustrations, impulses, and feelings are diverted to a person or object felt to be more acceptable and less dangerous. For example, if an employee is angry at their boss so goes home and picks a fight with their spouse.

The term originates with Sigmund Freud: 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 initially saw displacement as a means of dream-distortion, involving a shift of emphasis from important to unimportant elements, or the replacement of something by a mere allusion. He also saw displacement as occurring in jokes, as well as in neuroses – the obsessional neurotic being especially prone to the technique of displacement onto the minute. When two or more displacements occurs towards the same idea, the phenomenon is called condensation.

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.

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.

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