On paper, Mickey is flying high. She's a year into her dream job in media, and Mickey and her long-term girlfriend are talking about getting married. Dig a little deeper, and you learn that Mickey's boss is casually and consistently racist and that her love life is shaky. When Mickey's boss fires her for having too niche a perspective (code for: she's not writing solely for a white, heterosexual audience), she feels angry and desperate. Mickey's feelings are entirely valid. She spent years honing her craft and is a brilliant, insightful journalist – all for her superiors to make her invisible and shove her aside.
So, what therapeutic coping skills does Mickey need? Hasn't she done everything right?
No. Mickey's used the defense mechanism of displacement. Here's how: When industry higher-ups behave in racist / sexist / generally inappropriate ways to her, Mickey says nothing. Instead, Mickey is mean and antagonistic to her girlfriend and best friends, who all try to support her. The way Mickey handles her (legitimate) anger pushes people away, making her feel worse.
This bibliotherapy post is focused on displacement. Displacement is a Freudian concept in which we place our feelings on an incorrect target. In other words, it's when Mickey's boss yells at her, and instead of responding to her boss or working through her anger, Mickey comes home and yells at her girlfriend. Not surprisingly, people know it when feelings are displaced onto them and don’t like it. Consequently, displacers struggle to form lasting relationships and are lonely.
Here are some tips to stop displacing anger:
Assess your behaviors to determine if you are displacing. Ask yourself – is my behavior proportionate to the immediate situation with this person?
Reflect on the things that make you angry. If you realize that your anger is outsized to the situation, work backward and figure out who or what initially upset you.
Reframe your thoughts. If you target anger at the wrong person or thing, remind yourself of the true source of your frustration and right-size your response to the immediate situation.
Apologize. If you displaced anger on another person, honestly share the entirety of what happened ("I got angry at my boss, but I can't yell at her. You are safe to me, so I yelled at you knowing you'd love me no matter what.”) and apologize.
If Mickey had stopped displacing her anger, she would not have isolated herself from her girlfriend and best friends when she truly needed their support. Would it have made all the bad things from the old job disappear? No. But, it would have kept her support structure intact around her so she'd have a safer place to fall.