Have you ever surprised yourself by lashing out at someone you’re not angry with?
If a woman is angry that her husband is too career focused, but she isn’t able to talk to him about it, she may find herself criticizing others in her life instead, such as her career-focused girlfriend.
Her subconscious knows that she’s acting inappropriately. In fact, she may be quite proud of her friend’s successful career. Yet she just can’t help herself.
The vehemence of her criticism does not have much to do with her friend. Perhaps it feels too risky to take up the issue with her husband because she fears losing him. The power of her attacks may be expressing her fears about her crumbling marriage.
Her feelings may be ambivalent and difficult to sort out. Perhaps, she doesn’t really want him to become less career-focused. Or she may fear that even IF she and her husband spent more time together, they would not enjoy being together. Her anger thus gets focused on a safer target—her girlfriend.
When we are taken by surprise by something we say or do, it’s because an unconscious part has suddenly expressed itself. Such outbursts reveal a struggle between our conscious and unconscious desires and fears.
Displacement is the act of associating one thing with another. You direct an unconscious feeling, such as anger or blame, on somebody or something other than the original offender.
Our fixations and outbursts reveal our internal conflicts, which indicate precisely where we have the greatest opportunity to grow. When we ignore the eruptions of the unconscious, we can bet that they will come out in even more disruptive ways. Through becoming aware of our unconscious we see how we can work on becoming more whole human beings.
In this situation, after apologizing to her friend, the woman should find a way to talk openly and compassionately to her husband. Usually it’s best to express ambivalent feelings without sounding controlling or critical.
For example, “I find myself feeling disappointed that we don’t spend more time together because of your career focus. Yet, I’ve never brought it up to you, because I know how important your job is to you. Maybe there’s a way that we can still spend some special time together without your jeopardizing your work.”
by Alison Poulsen, PhD