Have you ever come home from a stressful day, stepped in a puddle on the way to your door, tripped over the garbage can, and then turned around and yelled at your dog? Poor Fido… it wasn’t his fault your boss sucks. But for some reason, you took it out on him. Feeling guilty yet?
Acting like this isn't ideal, but it is understandable. We often take out our stress or frustrations on those we're closest to, even when it’s not their fault.
So, why do we do this? And even more importantly, how do we stop?
Displacement is when we take out our aggression on an innocent victim. Essentially, we are displacing our emotions onto someone else. These innocent victims are often those we are closest to, the people (or animals) whom we know will love us unconditionally. They are a “safe” outlet for us to vent to.
Acting like this is a defense mechanism. We can’t yell at our boss who is driving us crazy because that's not socially acceptable (plus it’s a great way to get fired). So we wind up holding our emotions in all day, where they boil up more and more until we find a way to let them out.
What to do about this? The first step to change is acknowledgement. To avoid taking out your stress on those who love you most, notice when you're doing it! Separate your experiences and remember that your dog is not the person who was rude to you earlier. It’s okay to be in a bad mood and have a bad day, but it is not okay to ruin someone else’s day because of it. Rather than snapping at a loved one, take a moment to realize that the people who love you and are not against you now surround you. Allow yourself to let your guard down, tell them you had a bad day, and maybe just maybe let them love you. If you do mess up and take something out on them…apologize! The great thing about the people who are closest to us is that they understand us. Allowing yourself to be open and honest with them is the best way to put an end to this displacement. Though just because they're more likely to forgive you, don't abuse that or take them for granted.
The goal is to learn to live our lives with actions, rather than reactions. Reactions are often automatic and over-emotional. Separate each interaction rather than letting one negative interaction cloud every interaction for the rest of the day. Start fresh with each new activity and person that you come into contact with. Be deliberate in each thing that you say or do (actions), rather than just reacting to something (reactions). When you feel yourself overreacting, take a moment to realize what you are actually reacting to. More often than not, it won’t have anything to do with Fido, so let it go and be present in that moment with him… he was waiting all day for you to get home!