Displacement Theory

When speaking with a friend the other day, she asked a general question that we actually hear a lot, probably multiple times a day. She asked me ‘how are you?’ Now we are actually close friends and while we don’t get to catch up as much as I’d like, I knew I could skip over the ‘yes, great – can’t wait til Friday’ response that might have by habit, normally escaped my mouth. I decided to be real and tell her what was really up.

The problem was I didn’t really know what was up. I wasn’t doing poorly, sick or going through a really rough time, overall – things were good. Yet I still didn’t feel completely right about stating ‘I’m so ridiculously wonderful, thank you for asking’. In my prattling and in trying to explain my current emotional state – I said something along the lines of ‘I guess I’m feeling a bit displaced’.

I’ve never used that word to describe myself or my emotional state, and I don’t know if I’ve actually heard anyone else really use it either. The dictionary says it means ‘to move or put out of the usual or proper place’ and not until after I’d really thought about it, did I realise how truly profound my choice of words was. Essentially, I felt ‘out of place’ and out of the normal place and I know I’m not the only person who has felt this on occasion or in fact, felt it all too regularly.

Perhaps you’ve felt displaced as a result of a strange quirk of yours and you just can’t figure out how to fit in. Perhaps it’s been a literal displacement in that you’ve left your home town or country and you’re feeling a little too ‘fresh’ and new. Or perhaps, like me, as a result of a series of small changes and little to big decisions, you’re left feeling out of sorts. You can feeling it in varying degrees but the most common denominator is that something changed and you’ve been moved or put out of your usual or proper place.

To be honest, it’s not a good place. I actually don’t even know if anything worthwhile or good happens in this place. It’s not like a bad breakup that’s, like, so terrible – but you at least have the most legitimate excuse to eat tubs full of ice-cream and have a Gilmore Girls marathon. I don’t even think it’s really like a valley or trial where you know that you’re going to come out stronger or having learnt some valuable albeit painful lesson. Displacement is just that, it’s not fitting in, its removal, its change. If you’re feeling a little lost and you can’t figure out why – I’m guessing you’re feeling what I (and after doing another google search, psychologists apparently) term ‘displacement’ – its blech. Not gut wrenching, not amazing – because that’s what displacement is – the awful in between.

Sounds like all bad news right? I thought so too because I couldn’t even define or figure out what it was that was wrong in my life. Perhaps the only good news about displacement is that it can end. The answer actually lies in its original definition. By actually defining displacement, I found the answer. The dictionary says to ‘move OR put out of the usual OR proper place.

The key to overcoming my little displacement theory lies in deciding which ship you’re going to sail out of this situation you’ve found yourself in. Have you been displaced? If so, that sucks, sorry friend. Have you been displaced from your proper place, the place you are truly actually meant to be in? Then that really sucks. You should figure out how to get back there. Did you hurt someone and you now find yourself out of relationship –you need to make amends. Did you step out of line/make a bad call/end up somewhere you didn’t mean to go? You need to find your way back. Or perhaps someone hurt you – took you down a couple of notches, stole something from you. It’s time to go and get it back. Nothing is permanent. Take your integrity back. Do the right thing. Whether or not it was your choice that landed you here – you don’t have to stay displaced.

The tricky, yucky final option is if you’ve been displaced from your usual place.

This option is hard. It feels gross. It feels uncomfortable and awkward. Displacement might cause you to act out, in weird and awful ways which only serve to further enhance this uncomfortable place you’ve found yourself in. My displacement caused me to retreat, like that if I somehow avoided ‘humanity’ I could avoid the feeling of displacement, of no longer fitting into my usual place.

This type of displacement is hard because at some point, displacement becomes necessary for advancement. There is only so long someone can live according to habit, in comfort – succumbing to the trap which is their usual placement. If you don’t choose to step out of your comfort zone, life will eventually do it to you – and BAM, displacement.

Displacement is meant to be a transitional point in the journey. It’s necessary in order to propel you of your usual, run of the mill, playing it safe life into something better, scarier and ultimately, more fulfilling. Displacement is never the end destination. You aren’t meant to stay here.

And so my friends, you have a choice, just like me. We can stay and wallow in our uncomfortable-ness and refuse to step out into what’s coming ahead or you can look at this awkward phase of your life and choose to see God’s hand at work. Neither is amazingly pleasant – but if you don’t embrace some part of the displacement – you end up losing. You end up staying and never moving forward.

Choose to get yourself ready for whatever you’re about to been thrown into. Don’t stay displaced.


A while back I was sitting at a big conference table amongst other colleagues without any work to do. I mean, legitimately – no work to do. I’d been brought in for a project and while normally I was run off my feet busy, there was this weird stage in which I had nothing to do. I did as much prep work and as much organising as I could do until the next wave of crazy came through, but in that moment, I had nothing to do. So I reverted to my default position when I have nothing to do ‘Look Busy’. This involves a lot of shuffling of papers, ensuring things are typed at realistic speeds and intervals, keeping certain documents open so you can move and re-move things around when you need to ‘look busy’ for the sake of other people.

I had this moment though, where I felt a little convicted about whether or not this was the right thing to do. Not so much morally, because when you actually know that you have zero work that you can do, and your role doesn’t entail ongoing catch up work, then I don’t think you’re in moral trouble. But I just don’t know whether it’s the smart move. Sure, it shows that you’re a hard worker, and that you’re busy and that encourages them to keep you and think you’re indispensable, which in this economy, seems wise. But here’s the trouble with ‘looking busy’ when you’re not.. while I’m busy “typing” away and “shuffling” papers, my team thinks I am incredibly busy (nailed it!) and they then hesitate when approaching me for new work. I could potentially be helping out a team member who was going to ask if I was free, but all of my movement and scurrying has caused her to carry on in her own stress, when I could have helped and been busy for real. The trouble with looking busy is that it ties you up when potential work comes along. It actually makes you unapproachable.

The same goes in life. I think sometimes we get so insecure and busy fighting the constant need to prove ourselves that we set about making ourselves “look busy”. We fill our day with meaningless “appointments” and “meetings” so that everyone will think that we are busy. We spend a whole lot of unnecessary time projecting an image of a full social calendar, when actually, we’re pretty quiet and pretty lonely. Resting, or taking a break is not only “unproductive” but for some, it feels like a weakness. That if we aren’t out every single night of the week then somehow, we’ve failed. We live in a world that screams “I’m so, so, SO busy” that we compute this as the norm and as the expected, when it’s not reality for all.

The problem with projecting success or projecting busy or projecting popular is that it ties us up for potential greatness or relationships. It actually makes you unapproachable in life. It screams “I don’t have time for you” or “I don’t need anyone” when in actual fact, you might. There should be no shame or embarrassment in sitting back at your desk and admitting ‘I currently, don’t have any work to do’ just like there should be no shame or embarrassment in sitting back in your life and admitting ‘I don’t have anything on this weekend and I could do with a new friend’.

I don’t know about you but I need become better at recognising and accepting reality. For it is only from this place that we can make any real decision to change it.