Lecture 121 – Displacement, Substitution and Superimposition | Abbreviated Version

P1             As you know from my previous talks, each emotion, each feeling, each thought, each attitude, each need is an energy-current. For example, displacement and superimposition result in a conflict between the need for vocational self-expression and the need for mutuality in a love relationship; between the need for solitude and the need for companionship; the need for physical and mental activity; the need for sexual and creative expression; the needs for self-assertion and for flexible adjustment; the needs for ego-gratification and for unselfishness.

P2             The most prevalent denial due to false guilt is in the area of receiving. Anything you wish to attain for yourself often carries with it a vague feeling that this is wrong. Because the need to receive is completely disapproved of or denied, its counterpart—the need to give, as part of a rich, healthy, fulfilled life—cannot grow into maturity. Denying the need to receive causes the psyche, in this respect, to remain childishly selfish, so that a one-sided greed exists. The greed may then be superimposed with a false, compulsive giving which—just because it is superimposed and not the result of natural growth—brings disharmony, resentment, self-pity, and invites unjust exploitation. To recapitulate: unfree, compulsive, problematic giving is often the result of denying a need to receive.

P3             Another current problem: self-assertion. Suppose a man feels guilty about expressing his healthy, masculine aggressiveness, confusing it with unhealthy, hostile aggressiveness. He desists from expressing his natural need for masculine self-assertion in the confusion that this makes him wrong. Consequently, he emasculates himself. His weakness causes self-contempt and resentment toward others, whom he blames for the unpleasant results of his weakness. Or, he expresses aggressiveness, and because he vaguely feels that this is “unkind” or “unspiritual,” he wavers.

This wavering, in itself, makes the expression of self-assertion—independence, natural healthy aggressiveness—problematic because his own attitude toward it is uncertain, either consciously or unconsciously. In addition, his resentments—the result of suppressing his natural aggressiveness—now mingle with the confusion. He no longer expresses the healthy facet of aggression, but, instead, a negative version of it. He confuses flexibility, adjustability, the ability to take advice with weakness, and rigid stubbornness with strength. An overconcern with one’s creative abilities hardly leaves room for other needs to be expressed, regardless of how constructive such self-expression may be in itself.

P4             You may be frightened of love and substitute your need for it with the expression of a talent. “I am still afraid of love. I do not yet fully understand why and therefore I am not ready to love and be loved. But I know that love is a universal need. What does its denial do to me? How do I really feel this lack? How many of my emotions involved in my substitution actually belong to the need for love?”

Even though you may still shirk love, you gain full possession of yourself by not shirking truth. Fear of love may, in other personalities, create an overemphasis, an exaggerated need for purely sexual expression. A compulsion for sex may also be a denial of one’s need to assert oneself, or of one’s need to develop a creative talent.

P5             Lack of ability to give the ego its necessary gratification is a result of ignoring its healthy, unexaggerated existence. “I do need some measure of approval, some degree of gratification of my ego,” chances are, provided you do not feel guilty about it, that ways will begin to open affording you this fulfillment. It is of utmost importance, my friends, to ascertain all your needs—to what extent they are fulfilled, to what extent unfulfilled. Ascertain which particular needs cause you to feel guilty and ashamed. Ascertain which needs must remain unfulfilled due to your personal images, main problems, unresolved conflicts, pseudo-solutions and idealized self-image.

How have you displaced your needs—by substituting the opposite or shifting the need or denied feeling into a different channel—and to what extent? Then look at your displacements from the opposite approach. Examine your present negative involvements, disturbing emotions, the impasses from which you cannot extricate yourself because the alternatives available to you—both inner and outer—are equally unsatisfying. What possible real needs are at the bottom of such a nucleus? What needs have grown disproportionately strong due to denial and false guilt?

P6             Not being aware of this original need and its present unfulfillment is bound to cause it to attach itself to another situation. It does not suffice to be generally aware of the unfulfilled need for a mutual relationship, for a mate. You have to specifically recognize that several needs are embedded in this expression. For instance, apart from the pleasure principle, there is the need for being needed and important; the need to give and receive; the need to be protective or protected—or both; the need for egogratification. All these are legitimate needs, provided they are not overgrown and one is not disproportionate to another.

If a boss, an employee, a person you work for, a friend or a group of people, or an activity or interest are supposed to furnish you with all the unfulfilled needs of the missing mate, you must become overintense, anxious, hostile, insecure. I do not mean to imply that the pleasure principle can be displaced into another outlet in its original form—of course not. It transforms itself. A hankering after luxuries may be such a transformation, or a craving for food and drink. Let us take one more example, assuming your main problem is a difficulty in making the best of yourself. In the course of this work you have found and dissolved the idealized self-image, the pseudo-solutions, etc. Hence, the small, precarious success you had before is temporarily lessened.

P7             In this interim phase, in which you find yourself more frustrated than before, the respective needs are left without any outlet. Unconsciously, you seek a substitute channel. Again, it is important to recognize various needs connected with this one issue of vocational self-expression. Apart from the need to earn a living, which is the most obvious and most readily recognized, there are others: the need for creative accomplishment, the need for ego-gratification and self-esteem, the need for the pleasure of accomplishment, the need for carrying responsibility and coping with challenge, the need for self-assertion, as well as the need for cooperation and interaction. Provided one need is not disproportionate to the others, all of them have their rightful place and should not cause guilt.

Let us now consider the possibility of the various layers of substitution. Originally the need exists. This is one layer. But you may—unconsciously or vaguely half-consciously—feel that you, as a mature and good person, ought not to have it. You therefore deny its existence. This denial is the next layer. To make the denial successful, you produce its exaggerated opposite. You not only try to convince yourself that the need is nonexistent, but you “prove” it by emphasizing the opposite. This, then, becomes compulsive. This is the third layer.

As a further result, there must come resentment, dissatisfaction—the fourth layer. As a fifth comes guilt about the resentment. As a sixth, there is confusion because all these powerful emotions cannot be dealt with. They are merely a result of denying the original need or feeling. Displacement, as discussed here, is horizontal, as it were. One layer covers the other. Vertical displacement substitutes one form of self-expression with another.

P8             Acknowledging your needs—even though you may not yet be able to distinguish between distorted and healthy needs and emotional attitudes—but acknowledging them for better or for worse, is bound to relieve the involved situation of surplus intensity and painfully twisted, conflicting emotions. In the lecture dealing with transference I said that it is necessary to determine a negative feeling toward a person which is persistent and cannot be resolved by finding that you originally felt similarly toward a parent, but did not dare to acknowledge it. The moment you allow yourself to feel the original feeling toward the parent in connection with the new person, the negatively involved situation must clear up.

—The Pathwork® Guide