Recently, I noticed I’ve been using a lot of vulgarity and “acting edgy.” Not all the time, and certainly not around everyone, but enough to where it got me thinking. Vulgarity and edginess, I discovered, are ways I attempt to cope with negative emotions. For me, they often reflect how I’m feeling on the inside–maybe anger, maybe resentment, maybe frustration. My inner emotion becomes generalized to the point where it manifests in ordinary situations that have nothing to do with its original cause or source. This is a phenomenon known as “displaced emotion.”
Displaced emotion is a widely accepted concept in psychology. It is the idea that people’s behavior in situations often has more to do with what’s going on inside of them than it does the situation itself. Take road rage, for instance, an example of displaced emotion in the form of anger. Angry drivers go into a rage at the slightest perceived insult not because they are genuinely infuriated with some stranger who cut them off in traffic, but because they carry anger about other, more serious things, inside of them. Many people are a ticking time bomb waiting to go off. Their inner experience has become confused with their outer experience such that they can no longer distinguish cause and effect. Displaced anger, whether it manifests as vulgarity, edginess, road rage, etc., is all about confusion.
The problem with these coping mechanisms, and others like it (e.g. sarcasm), is that they don’t just express, they amplify and reinforce. When we express negative emotion, without clarity about what is going on or an intention to heal, we magnify it. (It may even be better to talk about this behavior in terms of “acting out” instead of “expressing,” since no processing or healing takes place.) Road ragers can rage for a thousand years–it won’t cure them of inner anger because they are disconnected from its source.
The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.LUke 6:45
What comes out of my mouth reflects and reinforces what is in my heart. When my mind is generating negative energy and negative speech, that is a tell that there is some healing that needs to take place on the inside of me. It is a prompt to investigate the pollution that I let get in me that now needs to be expunged.
Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.PRoverbs 18:21
I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.Matthew 12:36
The stakes of what I say, and the spirit with which I say it, are high because words make worlds. Words are an index of who I am, and a guide for where I am going. They reflect and reinforce. They are a symptom and a cause. Just as the source of a dirty mouth is a dirty heart, the cure for a dirty mouth is a clean heart. And the same is true of bad energy when it motivates we say and do, such that the cure for bad energy is a good heart.
As I said, displaced anger may not be a problem for everyone, but I know from experience that it can be for me, and I know from observation that it can be for many others, as well. Only you can know for certain the inner motivation or driving force behind your words and actions!
Today, it’s time to take out the trash. May our words serve the needs of others, not the subtle demands of our own psychological issues.