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Defense Mechanism 2: Displacement

The second defense mechanism in coping stress that found in the movie “The Miracle
Worker” is displacement. According to Gokdag (2015), displacement can simply refer to
directing the repressed emotion or motivation from the actual object to the other object that
will substitute the actual object. For instance, a person who wants to become a father and yet
he knows that it is impossible for him to have a child maybe because he is not getting married
or any other problems. As a result, he may feel himself inefficient and he might attach
himself excessively or overly dependent to his sibling or a pet. Another example of
displacement is a woman who has to behave as a manager in her employment with an
obedient and friendly manner all day long together with her employer, her colleague or
subordinate as well as customer. However, she might also the one who shouts at her husband
or child at home. Horowitz, Cooper, Fridhandler, Perry, Bond and Vaillant (1922) also
explained that displacement is an individual resolvable emotional conflict or sources of
internal or external stress by redirecting or generalizing one object to another, usually a less
threatening object. In addition, Baumeister, Dale and Sommer also mentioned that, the
concept of displacement refers to changing an impulse’s target.

In this movie “The Miracle Worker” had clearly shown the defence mechanism which
is displacement by Helen Keller (Helen). It can be shown in the scene when Helen want the
new doll that Annie Sullivan (Annie) present to her so much. From the beginning of the
movie, it can be observed that Helen is a six and a half year old little girl who is blind and
deaf since she was an infant. She also does not know how to speak as she cannot learn any
words by reading and listening. Since she is blind, she does not know how others look like
such as her mother Kate, her father Captain Keller, her brother James as well as herself.
When Annie presents Helen with the new doll, she found that the doll like a human as the
doll also has a face which include a pair of eyes, nose, ear and mouth. Then, she has tried to
grab the doll from Annie but Annie want her to finger spell the word “doll” before she take
the doll away from her. Helen wants the doll so much as she can know how a human look
like by touching the face of the doll. As mentioned before, she is blind. Hence, with the doll
she can sense how a human look like by touching the face of the doll. Before she meet Annie,
she has always touch the face of the others as well as their sensory system which include
eyes, nose, ear and mouth. However, they does not know actually she just want to know how
a human look like. They misunderstand that she was going to hurt them by twist or pinch
their face and their sensory system. In this scene, it can be conclude that Helen has resolved
her stress which is blindness and knowing how a human look like by redirecting from seeing
with her eyes to touch the face of the others and touch the face of a doll which may not hurt
anyone.

Besides, displacement also shown by Annie Sullivan (Annie) in this movie. It can be
shown in the scene that every time Annie patiently taught Helen Keller (Helen) to finger spell
the word and she work hard to make her understand. From the movie, Annie has a younger
brother named Jimmie. Annie and Jimmie were sent to a poor house by her devastated father
three years later after their mother passed away. They were sent to the poor house which
surrounded by the people, including men, women and children who suffer from mental illness
and sickness. However, Jimmie has passed away due to sickness and he left Annie to fend for
herself. Then, Annie has put her love for Jimmie on Hellen. Annie and Helen met were
because of Helen’s parent has sought the advice of an authority on the deaf, Alexander
Graham Bell. He suggested Helen’s parent to contact the Perkins Institution and in return,
Annie was recommended as Helen’s teacher. Annie has started to teach Helen to finger spell
the word during the first met which is “doll” when she present her a doll. Furthermore, she
also requested Helen’s parent, Kate and Captain Keller to let Helen stay with her alone
outside. At first, Captain Keller was not agreed to let Helen to stay with Annie alone outside
but with the encouragement of Kate, he finally agreed to let Annie stay as well as followed
her teaching method. In these two weeks, she has continue teaching Helen not only the sign
language but also how to be polite and orderly. From all of the hard work that made by
Annie, it shows displacement. In concluding, as she lost her beloved brother and caused her
redirect her love towards Jimmie on Helen. Thus, she loves Helen very much, she patiently
taught her even she faced a lot of hard times such as Captain Keller not agreed on her
teaching method, the violence that she gained from Hellen and so on.

Last but not least, the scene that Helen Keller (Helen) return back home from the
garden house also shows displacement. She has continued back her old bad behaviour when
she returns back home from the garden house. For instance, tossing her napkin on the floor
and throwing a tantrum when Annie Sullivan (Annie) tries to correct her. Although Captain
Keller, Kate and Aunt Ev have convince Annie to let Helen to have her own way in this
special occasion but James has told them to believe on Annie because both of them can see
that this will undo all the progress Helen has made. Annie agrees with James that Helen is
testing Annie and she begs the Kellers not to interfere. In the past two weeks at garden house,
Helen has followed everything that Annie taught such as be polite and orderly. After back
home from the garden house, she has redirect all her impolite towards her family. This is due
to the reason that when she was at garden house, she knows that Annie would not let her to
behave in that way and she would not entertain all of her misbehave and impolite. Therefore,
when Helen back home, she redirects all of her misbehave and impolite that she gained from
the past and accumulate in that two weeks toward her family.

In conclusion, displacement is one of the defense mechanisms which redirect the


impulse to a powerless alternative target (McLeod, 2019). The target can be either a person or
an object that used as a symbolic substitute. From the movie “The Miracle Worker”, it shows
displacement when Helen has resolved her stress which is blindness and knowing how a
human look like by redirecting from seeing with her eyes to touch the face of the others and
touch the face of a doll which may not hurt anyone. In addition, Annie redirects her love
towards Jimmie on Helen as she lost her beloved younger brother and Helen redirects all of
her misbehave and impolite that she gained from the past and accumulate in that two weeks
toward her family also presents displacement that found in the movie.
References

Baumeister, R. F., Dale, K., & Sommer, K. L. (1998). Freudian defense mechanisms and
empirical findings in modern social psychology: Reaction formation, projection,
displacement, undoing, isolation, sublimation, and denial. Journal of
Personality, 66(6), 1081-1124.

McLeod, S. (2019). Defense Mechanisms. Retrieved from


https://www.simplypsychology.org/defense-mechanisms.html

Gökdag, R. (2015). DEFENSE MECHANISMS USED BY UNIVERSITY STUDENTS TO


COPE WITH STRESS. International Journal on New Trends in Education & their
Implications (IJONTE), 6(2).

Horowitz, M., Cooper, S., Fridhandler, B., Perry, J. C., Bond, M., & Vaillant, G. (1992).
Control processes and defense mechanisms. The Journal of psychotherapy practice
and research, 1(4), 324.