Anger Displacement as a coping mechanism in the Pandemic

The following text is an excerpt of our upcoming book Emotional Frustration- the hushed plague.

—”Doctor…when I get home, I can’t help lashing out at the kids—so bad.”

Verschiebung. This German term can be translated as “shift” or “move.” It was used by Sigmund Freud to describe a psychological defense mechanism; it entails the shifting or displacement of an aggressive emotion from an important person or object into other ones that are less relevant and often lame. [i] Our patient had many situations of Emotional Frustration in her blue-collar job with her despotic boss and his unreasonable demands but, being a single Mom, she hid her anger towards him and the system, fearful of losing her job in tough  times. Often, she scolded her children a little bit too much for just some obnoxious but inconsequential pranks.

This unconscious defense mechanism is an expression of what Freud dubbed as the mortido—our basic aggressive drive. There are three main mechanisms:

  1. Displacement of object
  2. Displacement of attribution
  3. Bodily displacements.

Unfortunately, as we slowly come out of our forced Social Distancing and we interact much more with other human beings, we are loaded up with stress and, as a natural consequence, we will have a shorter fuse, easily snapping away. We will have a hard time containing ourselves, even with an act of mea culpa [ii], if we allow our emotions to get the best of ourselves in the mad frenzy for survival.

Note. This reproduction of Un episodio de la Fiebre amarilla en Buenos Aires, the great painting from our fellow Uruguayan artist Juan Manuel Blanes, was taken from Wikimedia Commons. Even though it is shockingly gory to watch, it does convey the message that there are many dangerous things that we can bring home and affect our families’ well-being – the virus is just the most lethal.

One of the most disregarded aspects of the Social Isolation that we have all been enduring for almost one year already is its serious emotional toll on us. Like the young women and men that went into isolation in a Florentine villa in the Decameron, those coming out of seclusion will not be the same ones that went in. There will be multiple changes in our societies, especially for labor opportunities. The economic analysts are already predicting that, besides the contraction of consumer spending due to loss of jobs, there will be a two-speed labor market.

On one hand there will be persons that can work at a distance, with little physical contact. But on the other hand, there will be those that will be dangerously exposed to contagion. This will bring a generalized angry mood in the street like we have never witnessed before. No longer will we be able to take for granted the barista’s familiarity when we arrive at our Starbucks; she might be too worried about being infected while mulling about her son’s day care. After her shift is over, she might be too stressed out to hang out with her girlfriends. A self-sustaining vicious circle.

Stay distant. Stay safe. Stay beautiful.


[i] Sigmund Freud, New Introductory letters on Psychoanalysis, George Allen and Unwin, London, January 1940,

[ii] This term in the Latin language refers to the ancient act of contrition of Christians in front of the Holy Cross when they beat up their chests while they publicly assumed responsibility for their sins or faults.

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.




-“Doctor…I sleep with only one eye closed—my son sleepwalks.”

Brenda X. is a pleasant lady in her thirties that has been babysitting her son aged seven years since he was three years old because he has a special clinical condition that can expose him to harm. She is always on the watch because he has frequent bouts of somnambulism and she dutifully escorts him around during his nightly forays.

When we were a little child, we often sat up suddenly in bed and walked to the living room of our apartment in Montevideo to sit down and chat; sporting a glazed over look, we were tagged by our dear father Mario who kept watch: he never tried to “wake us up”, a bad idea according to Dr. Penco, our great pediatrician. He reassured our parents that usually those episodes disappear as children grow up;  in fact, after peaking at 3- 4 years old, this activity started to wane and then stopped. We never had any more episodes nor any recollections of  them.

The sleep walking episodes occur during the initial or Non-REM phase of sleep in the initial third phase of the cycle when slow activity predominates. Sleepwalking is more common in children and its prevalence can reach up to 10% of the population; it can be inherited as an autosomal dominant trait. Patients with sleepwalking have a rise of brief arousals in the EEG tracing.

Sigmund Freud said that the unconscious sexual desires of the “Id” are usually repressed by the “Super Ego” during the waking period but when the conscience dims down, they surface to take control of the person’s volition. Those impulses metamorphose into dreams and in certain cases into motor impulses that can prod the individual to walk and talk. Sleepwalking has been adduced to be an attenuating factor in many crimes by the defense attorneys. It could be a trait in persons with agitated legacies like being born in the convulsed Celtic festivity of Samhein.

The above article was originally written in May 2017 for the series Emotional Frustration, which constituted the scaffolding for our homonymous book. As many years have passed since we presumably had one incident of sleepwalking, we thought that were totally. However, during the Social Distancing imposed by the pandemic, my son Gian Luca and I shared the same apartment for six months. He told us that once or twice, he would come in in the wee hours when I was asleep but that I would sit up on my bed to chat wide-eyed with him several minutes about where they had gone, what they had eaten, etc. Then I would immediately go back to resume my sleep. The following day, I would greet him when he was waking up and asked how the outing was.  He looked at me blankly.

-“Dad, we talked all about it last night…Can’t you remember?” he said, a little exasperated.

-“Talked with me? No…After going to bed early last night, I slept the whole night like a baby.”

Mmm…it seems that our nightly adventures might still be far from over…

Stay distant. Stay safe. Stay beautiful.

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.