• Faith Vazquez

Emotional Displacement and HBO's Insecure

Examining the effects of emotional displacement through the character Molly.



HBO's Insecure, created and written by director and actress Issa Rae, discusses a lot of serious topics in a light hearted and hilariously digestible way. One of those topics is mental health, which played a crucial role in season 4. The show touches on serious mental health struggles through characters like Lawrence, Nathan and Tiffany but one of the most prevelant, yet subtle, examples of mental health issues comes from Molly.


The effects of mental health and ineffectively dealing with life put a strain on Molly and Issa's relationship this last season. On the surface, Molly can seem to some like an unsupportive hater of a friend but when you look a little deeper you see that Molly has issues acknowledging when she's been hurt. Finding out about her dad's infidelity and feeling manipulated by Dro caused her to develop a zero-tolderance policy for anything "messy" and cling to her relationship for dear life. Molly did not fully recognize how deeply the men in her life hurt her and shaped her view of relationships, which greatly influenced how she treated Issa.


Issa asking Nathan to talk to Andrew about getting Vince Staples as her headliner for the block party wasn't the breach in trust that Molly made it out to be, after all Molly only knew Andrew because of Issa. Molly felt threatened by not being consulted with on the decision. In part because she labeled Issa "messy" in her head but also because she was feeling undermined and overlooked at her new firm. Molly's biggest threat at work, like in her life, was a man. She wanted to keep the one man who she felt comfortable around at all cost and Issa gaining something from him without Molly's permission felt like a personal attack to that comfortability.


Feeling threatened, undermined and sidelined in her personal and professional life caused Molly to lash out at her best friend and alienate herself from her and her "messy" ways. Issa seems like she is the one distancing herself from Molly but in reality, Molly had become toxic and Issa was trying to improve her situation and make the block party happen. Issa's distancing was a symptom of Molly's aggression.


Emotional displacement is real and can be very detrimental to relationships. Emotional displacement is an unconscious defense mechanism taking one emotion (usually a hostile or angry emotion) from one situation and dropping it into another, shifting displeasure away from ourselves and the person causing the stress to a less threatening target. In Molly and Issa's case, Molly was angry with her father, hurt by Dro, and feeling disrespected by Taurean but these were all forces she could not, or didn't know how to, defeat causing frustration and she took it out on a less threatening target, her best friend. Issa was a victim of proximity. Because she was both physically and emotionally close to Molly and Molly knew their friendship could withstand a lot and Issa was likely to forgive her, she felt comfortable to lash out at Issa with microaggressions, gossip, and eventually the fight at the block party.


Molly is not beyond redemption because we've all been there! Who hasn't snapped on someone when they've had a bad day? Was it that person's fault? Not always, yet they were close enough and didn't pose a threat so they felt the brunt of someone else's frustration. Sometimes it's even a stranger, you know like that drive-thru worker who you yelled at because they put cheese on your food...or is that just me?


I really respect the show for showing mental health issues in action in a real-life kind of way, emotional displacement can sneak up on all of us! It's important to recognize when you've misplaced your emotions and check back in with yourself, like when Molly started to go back to her therapist after Mexico. Unchecked, emotional displacement can cause you to needlessly burn bridges and hurt people that you love.


Have you ever let your emotions get the best of you and lashed out at someone who didn't deserve it? Let me know when and how you over came it in the comments!

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