Displacement’s Two Faces

So, we were talking about how the displacement mechanism has two faces. If a person is stuck in what seems like a no-win situation, where no good answer is within sight, and the deck is stacked against them, sometimes they will just dive into the nearest pool of alcohol, or pick up the nearest crack pipe, or spend a day’s pay on half a dozen cheeseburgers and four large orders of curly fries, washed down by a strawberry milkshake and a chocolate milkshake.

Then, there is the benevolent side of displacement. Faced with a grim life event, that same person might follow a friend’s advice and go out for a run. It might feel pretty good, and they might go for another run the next day. This has no direct effect on the dire circumstances, but somehow the person feels like the awfulness has been pushed back just a bit, and the tiniest glimmer of light shines through the clouds.

Who knows, they might even decide to make running a habit! And while it won’t directly change whatever the heck is going on in other compartments of life, somehow the person feels more confident, and actually dredges up from deep inside the mental and emotional resources needed to cope.

Creating hope

It is just possible that a child who overeats can be induced to try some of life’s other satisfying activities, like the ones Dr. Pretlow’s team has suggested. In a certain way, it resembles the quaint homespun psychology of our great-grandparents, who repeated such maxims as, “The devil makes work for idle hands.” Children would be assigned chores to keep them busy, and if along the way the child discovered a talent for helping farm animals through the birthing process, or for making quilts or embroidering wedding dresses, so much the better.

Even in a limited environment with few material possessions, people discovered activities that gave their lives meaning and purpose. They found behaviors that could be engaged in productively and with satisfaction, while their less fortunate peers got lost in addictions like moonshine and gambling.

An expanded universe

Caged rats are frustrated and unhappy, and if given the chance they will press a lever to obtain as many hits of cocaine as they can. But also, if housed in a more generous cage with social relationships and other interesting ways to pass the time, they will expand their behavior repertoire and leave the dope alone, or at least cut down.

That’s what we want to see happening with kids — for them to find activities they can master and excel at and profit from and gain satisfaction from, to the point where they won’t be tempted to use substances to gain a momentary illusion that their challenges have magically been met. Our best hope is that they will achieve actual goals and satisfactions that will remove them from the all-encompassing grasp of their problems.

An article was published about a month ago about different kinds of children who might need some extra attention that could help them steer clear of difficulties like addiction. Of course, for a lot of kids, the very last thing they want to hear is that some grownup has diagnosed them as being in need of intervention. And worse, they are deeply insulted by the implication that an adult would possibly be capable of helping them in any way. The natural reaction is, “You want to know how you can help me? Get off my back.”

Come back for more about these distinct types, and how to approach their particular personalities.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “There are 6 ‘extraordinary’ types of kids, says psychologist,” CNBC.com, 03/18/23
Image by Jason Evans/CC BY-SA 2.0

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Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

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The Book

OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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