16 Things You Don’t Realize You’re Doing Because You Have Displaced Anxiety

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By Brianna Wiest

What if the biggest problems you struggle with in life are actually façades for pain your subconscious mind won’t let you feel, or remember?

Human beings are not designed to suffer. We are designed to feel pain. Suffering is holding onto pain; pain is just a feeling that our bodies and minds self-heal. It is our attachment to what the pain does for us that keeps it sustained.

“Displaced anxiety” is a Freudian concept; it refers to what happens when people project or deflect their issues onto something irrelevant – something safer.

Here, 16 signs you’re projecting and deflecting what’s really wrong, and creating bigger problems in its place.

1. Experiencing intense jealousy.

Jealousy has almost nothing to do with other people, and almost everything to do with your relationship to yourself. Whatever you feel jealous of in others is usually a direct reflection of something you subconsciously deny yourself. To sum it up, I offer you this Susan Piver quote:

“If I really think about it, I don’t actually want others not to have things that make them happy. What I find in myself is a tremendous well of longing for my own joy. And that longing is not bad in any way; it’s something to be embraced. And it sort of takes other people out of the equation.”

2. Maintaining habits that you know are holding you back.

Habits become us, or rather, we become our habits. What we do repeatedly is our fate, and that includes the things we do out of fear and anxiety. Often, when someone is avoiding an emotion, they will become fixated on controlling one particular thing (for example: someone who is afraid of feeling socially rejected may develop a paranoid about vomiting, because they associate it with being “gross” and outcasted).

However, it’s easy for a lot of these to become so much the norm that you forget they are not healthy habits that move you forward, but rather games you play with your mind to avoid your real feelings about serious things.

3. Making problems into patterns.

If you always seem to find yourself in the same situations over and over again, it is not that life keeps handing you the same few cards, but rather that you are pulling them for a reason. Realize that when people repeatedly create the same “bad” situation in their lives, there’s some unconscious desire that they are trying to fulfill. Nobody puts themselves in pain repeatedly without purpose, it’s just realizing why you think something serves you (gives you love, attention, avoidance, etc.) or more commonly, why you think it keeps you “safe.”

4. Suppressing the feeling of happiness, not letting yourself feel good.

As Alan Watts says, it is impossible to numb just one half of our feeling capacities. If we are avoiding our anxieties, we must do the same to our happiness. When we open ourselves up to receptivity, we open up to everything. This is why some people find themselves incapable of just relaxing or enjoying some down time: as soon as they allow themselves one feeling, the others they have been suppressing come immediately bubbling to the surface.

5. “Hating everyone,” or finding problems with everyone you know.

This is about as standard an example of “projection” as it gets. If there seems to be something wrong with everyone and everything (or you’re one of those people who just says they “hate everyone”) the problem is you, and everything that you cannot reconcile within yourself that you instead try to control and condemn in other people.

6. Intellectualizing life, having trouble empathizing.

This is yet another common coping mechanism, one that some people do with their personal lives, but almost everyone does at some point or another when it comes to thinking about overarching, systemic issues.

It’s easier to blame poor people for being “lazy” rather than empathizing with the enormously painful burden they have to bear, which is that people in our society create a demand for service industry jobs and the like, and yet do not want to compensate people fairly to do the work that they insist be done by someone else. But simply intellectualizing the why instead of imagining their suffering excuses us from having to experience that feeling, and then the labor of perhaps having to do something to correct the injustice.

7. Regressing to the coping mechanism you used when you were first traumatized.

If you were traumatized by something when you were 7, and felt like you had to act as though you were okay when you weren’t, your mechanism now may be denial. If you were traumatized when you were 20 and in the depths of an eating disorder, your coping mechanism may be obsessively working out. The way you respond to an alarming or stressful trigger can tell you a lot about what it’s root is.

8. Maladaptive daydreaming.

It’s normal to listen to music as you stare out the train window, or occasionally fantasize about upcoming conversations or potential situations, but when you live so much of your life in an alternative reality that only exists in your mind, problems tend to arise.

Typical signs of maladaptive daydreaming include: fantasizing intensely about alternative realities in which everyone you know or whom you’ve wanted to impress are watching you and being impressed by you, done typically while listening to music or moving (walking, swinging, etc.)

9. Avoiding other people even though you desperately crave connection and love.

If you keep denying yourself the one thing that you claim to want more than anything (you want a relationship, won’t put yourself out there and date) you have too much anxiety surrounding a potential negative outcome, like the feeling of rejection. It also doesn’t help that the more we fear the negative outcome, the more we crave the positive one, which is why a lot of people who are afraid they are unworthy of love also want to be loved more than anything else.

10. Attracting and getting attached to partners you know will hurt you.

When you continually choose to date and become involved with partners who are clearly uninterested, incapable of committing or unwilling to treat you well, there is an unconscious desire to re-create a past relationship you couldn’t control, and try to fix it this time. Broken people often attract broken people, because there is a level of recognition and desire to change what you cannot in yourself. If this isn’t true, you must ask yourself why you are in love with the idea of people who cannot love you back – there is always a reason.

11. Worrying about what other people think nonstop.

Everyone worries about other people’s opinions at some point or another. However, people with displaced anxiety obsess over it to an extreme degree, and end up taking precautionary actions to ensure that they do not elicit people’s negative responses more than is healthy or sane. Their anxiety shifts from “I know this is wrong with my life,” to “I hope that nobody else notices this is wrong with my life, then I won’t have to face it.”

12. You try to create a life that looks perfect on the outside.

The less happy that you are with your life, the more you will feel the need to convince other people how that isn’t the case.

This is why a lot of people who are avoiding how their lives really feel will focus intensely on how their lives look to others. If they don’t know what to do with their anxiety, a common way to try to control it is to create a picture-perfect Instagram or relationship or home or anything else. It is soothing to see something perfect when they don’t feel that way on the inside.

13. You worry about freak circumstances and unlikely possibilities.

Often, worrying about irrational fears is a way to release the anxiety that you feel about things that actually scare you. Choosing something that is unlikely to project the fear on is the safest way to do this – you can be afraid of it (and express the emotions you’re suppressing within) with the smallest degree of chance that it will actually come true.

14. You are hyper self-conscious, struggling with body issues.

A lot of people who claim to struggle with their self-image are often not really struggling with their size or appearance. They are struggling with issues far deeper than that, some cornucopia of self-loathing and fear and feeling unsafe and unworthy of love. Some people just dislike how they look. Others obsess over it because there’s something deeper that’s scarier to address.

15. You are easily set off; can easily become distraught over one offhand comment or two.

Do you ever look at a bad photo of yourself, and it ruins your entire night out? Do you have one tense interaction with someone and find that it easily derails your entire afternoon? The ability to be so shaken by some mild to moderate discomfort is usually a sign that there’s a deeper imbalance just beneath the surface.

16. You conflate and ascribe intent.

You frequently take “snapshots” of your life and then use them as a measurement of whether or not you can be happy or not. You conflate the present moment for being a statement about your entire existence as a whole. On top of that, you also falsely ascribe intent. You think that every bad thing that happens to you is a slight against you, or that everyone is out to get you in some way. The truth is that when you’re super self-conscious and worried, you’ll find anything to worry about. The problem is the way you’re interpreting reality, not how it actually is.

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