Did you already put your name into the Give-Away Drawing for Raising a Young Modern-Day Princess by Doreen Hanna and Karen Whiting that was in my previous blog post? Don’t miss it!
Now, let’s think about parental anger. One of the very helpful things I learned as I overcame mommy anger was the aspect of displacement. I didn’t know how it operated. Here’s what I learned, starting first with an example of displacement.
Elizabeth and her two-year-old daughter are in Judy’s home, visiting with Judy and her four-year-old son. Elizabeth and Judy are talking as the children play on the floor. Elizabeth’s daughter continually yanks Judy’s son’s toys away and makes him cry. Elizabeth tells her to share. Again and again the little girl yanks the toys away and Elizabeth becomes more and more embarrassed.
She thinks, I bet Judy thinks I’m a terrible mother. Elizabeth continues to try to help her daughter play cooperatively, but nothing works. As she worries about Judy’s possible critical thoughts, she becomes more and more upset. Finally, in a burst of exasperation, Elizabeth grabs her daughter by the arm, slaps her bottom hard and reprimands her, “You start sharing right now or we’re going home.” Looking away from Judy’s startled glance, she blushes in embarrassment and tries to distract her crying daughter with a toy.
This scene is an example of displacement. Displacement is the transference of an emotion to an object which is logically inappropriate.
Did you notice how Elizabeth transferred her embarrassment into anger at her daughter?
As I reflect back to how I reacted uncontrollably angry toward Darcy, I can see how I displaced my feelings. I usually was irritated or angry with my husband, Larry or myself, but because I couldn’t manage that situation, I leveled my frustration against an innocent bystander, Darcy. She usually had not done anything to deserve my blow-up; she was just the nearest object that couldn’t strike back. (And by the way, there’s never any justification for us taking our anger out on a child.
Unfortunately, I usually blamed Darcy for my outbursts, thinking her disobedience caused my anger. Now I know it was only the straw that broke the back of my patience. Other situations and relationships were at play, but I didn’t see their influence or significance.
If we can begin to see the possibility of displacement, we’ll be on our way to learning godly reactions to their disobedience. The best way to prevent displacement is to deal with each situation or problem as it occurs, instead of storing them up. Also, by recognizing when we are about to displace anger, we can stop ourselves from spilling out frustrations over other problems onto our children’s misbehavior.
Now, let’s go back to Elizabeth and revise that scene. As Elizabeth and Judy talk, the children play on the floor. Elizabeth’s daughter continually yanks the little boy’s toys away, making him cry. Disconcerted with her daughter’s behavior, Elizabeth comments to Judy, “I feel so embarrassed when my little girl doesn’t share. I just don’t know what to do about it.”
“Oh, don’t worry about it,” Judy responds. “It’s perfectly normal for a two-year-old not to share. My son has learned to share only in the last couple of weeks. Just continue teaching her.”
“Oh, really? Well, I guess she’ll learn someday, too!” Elizabeth breathes a sigh of relief and settles into the sofa to enjoy the visit.
Of course, not every situation will turn out perfect just because we share our feelings. But by recognizing those feelings and trying to deal with them, we can prevent displacement. Even if we cannot change our situation, we still will release the pressure that is building inside us.
Dr. Rubin puts it this way in The Angry Book: “Big blow-ups are really accumulated results of repressed potential small air-cleaning blow-ups.” (page 153)