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What Is Reaction Formation In Psychology

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When we are troubled or frightened, our behaviors often become more childish or primitive.

A child may begin to suck their thumb again or wet the bed when they need to spend some time in the hospital. Teenagers may giggle uncontrollably when introduced into a social situation involving the opposite sex.

What Is Meant By Reaction Formation

Reaction formation is the fixation in consciousness of an idea, affect, or desire that is opposite to a feared unconscious impulse. … one’s own rejected tendencies and reaction formation, turning into its opposite a tendency rejected in oneselfas in excessive generosity as a defense against avarice.

Why Do We Need Ego Defenses

We use defense mechanisms to protect ourselves from feelings of anxiety or guilt, which arise because we feel threatened, or because our id or superego becomes too demanding.

Defense mechanisms operate at an unconscious level and help ward off unpleasant feelings or make good things feel better for the individual.

Ego-defense mechanisms are natural and normal. When they get out of proportion , neuroses develop, such as anxiety states, phobias, obsessions, or hysteria.

Here are a few common defense mechanisms:There are a large number of defense mechanisms the main ones are summarized below.

Here are a few common defense mechanisms:

  • Identification with the Aggressor
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    What Is An Example Of Introjection

    A child who is left alone frequently, may in some way try to become “mom” in order to lessen his or her fears. You can sometimes catch them telling their dolls or animals not to be afraid. And we find the older child or teenager imitating his or her favorite star, musician, or sports hero in an effort to establish an identity.

    Reaction Formation: All You Need To Know

    15 common defense mechanisms

    As one of the most common defense mechanisms, reaction formation helps us avoid anxiety-inducing, painful, or simply unwanted emotions and impulses. It entails replacing these negative or maladaptive impulses with their opposite, which is often expressed in an exaggerated manner.

    Why do we use reaction formation and similar defense mechanisms? How do we stop them from harming our romantic relationship building skills and our overall well being? There are numerous ways to go about this: you might attend a specialized couples workshop, take up mindfulness or yoga, and learn as much as you can about regression formation and other maladaptive mechanisms.

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    Can Reaction Formation Affect Relationships

    One way reaction formation occurs in relationships is when one person is uncomfortable with their feelings of affection for the other. Instead of embracing the person, reaction formation may lead them to disengage, argue, or hurt the person. This is an adult version of a common childhood dynamic, when teasing, hair-pulling, and other calls for attention may signal that one child has a crush on another.

    Signs You’re Engaging In A Defense Mechanism

    Even if you don’t realize you’re engaging in a defense mechanism like reaction formation, you may be able to see signs that can tip you off. Here are some clues that may mean you’re defending your ego unconsciously.

    • You’re having difficulty relating to others or maintaining friendships.
    • You often seem to argue with the people you care about most.
    • You try to control conversations.
    • You criticize others often but feel like you are being criticized.
    • You feel like you need to respond to a minor gesture or look in your direction, even if the other person didn’t say anything to you or really indicate that they were thinking anything negative about you.
    • You put other people down to feel better about yourself.

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    What Is Reaction Formation Psychology Definition And Applications For Your Relationship

    Nearly all people commonly use defense mechanisms. In fact, most people are familiar with a few types of defense mechanisms but are not aware of the names associated with them. Reaction formation is another defense mechanism that you likely are aware of but had nothing to call it.

    In psychology, reaction formation is a defense mechanism in which the person behaves in a way opposite or contrary to their true feelings. It is typically the result of societal pressures or a sense of ego. If you’re struggling to picture this, imagine an individual that lives an extremely fit lifestyle and condemns anyone that is overweight. In truth, this person was overweight as a child and has since changed his or her lifestyle. He or she does not inwardly hate people that are overweight but hate that part of themselves.

    How does this kind of defense mechanism play a part in an individual’s psychological makeup? Discovering the psychology behind it, analyzing the definition, and learning how it might apply to your relationship can help to understand reaction formation completely. Uncovering the truth surrounding it and why you or your loved one feels the need to use such a defense mechanism might help you personally and your relationship.

    How Do You Fix A Reaction Formation

    Reaction Formation- Psychology video

    Working to identify your defense mechanisms, whether on your own or with a relationship coach, can help you overcome intimacy issues and stabilize your self esteem. Its not an easy process. Youll most likely have to deal with feelings and thoughts that you find uncomfortable or painful. This may involve examining any underlying impulses that may have caused you to rely on reaction formation in the first place.

    In addition to speaking with a professional relationship coach, you can also try the following steps to detect and overcome reaction formation:

    • Learn more about defense mechanisms and reaction formation and look for symptoms in your own behavior.
    • Analyze when and why you use this mechanism. What activates it? Where does it take you emotionally?
    • Set aside more time to spend on your own and reflect on your thoughts and actions.
    • Speak with your partner openly and honestly about your feelings and allow yourself to be vulnerable.
    • Work on setting healthy boundaries and give yourself time to overcome maladaptive tendencies.
    • Try yoga and mindfulness to learn how to stay present in the moment and free yourself from your past.

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    What Is Reaction Formation Simple Definition

    Reaction formation is the fixation in consciousness of an idea, affect, or desire that is opposite to a feared unconscious impulse. ones own rejected tendencies and reaction formation, turning into its opposite a tendency rejected in oneselfas in excessive generosity as a defense against avarice.

    How To Recognize Your Defense Mechanisms

    The thing about defense mechanisms is that they often operate on an unconscious level. You may not be aware of which particular defense mechanisms you use, or if you even use any. But if you possess a certain level of self-awareness, you can uncover your unconscious coping strategies.

    Studying the types of defense mechanisms and examples of each may help you to make a better judgment about whether you are currently using any of them.

    It’s important to understand that defense mechanisms don’t always develop because we think or believe something bad. We are attempting to protect ourselves from something we think will cause us anxiety or guilt in front of others. As humans, we often fall into the trap of thinking that we need to be perfect to be loved or valued, and that just is not the case. Remember, no one is perfect.

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    The Sixth Installment In A New 10

    In this new series on self-deception, I will spotlight 10 of the most important ego defenses. This sixth article is on reaction formation, which can be defined as the superficial adoptionand, often, exaggerationof ideas and impulses that are diametrically opposed to ones own.

    A man unconsciously finds himself attracted to another man, but consciously finds this attraction flatly unacceptable. To manage the anxiety arising from this conflict, he over-acts the part of the straight or macho man, going out for several pints with the lads, speaking in a gruff voice, peppering his speech with loud profanities, banging his fists on the counter, flirting conspicuously with the barmaid, and so on.

    Other examples of reaction formation include the teenage boy who bullies the girl or boy hes attracted to, the immigrant who becomes more native than the natives, the rich student who attends and even organizes anti-capitalist rallies, the alcoholic who extolls the virtues of abstinence, and the politician or religious leader who advocates or legislates against his secret vicealthough, depending on the level of consciousness, this could be a case of hypocrisy rather than reaction formation.

    Examples Of Reaction Formation


    While reaction formation may seem counterintuitive, there are many scenarios in which an individual may outwardly support one view while unconsciously feeling its exact opposite.

    Here are some additional examples of reaction formation:

    • During adolescence, when people want to psychologically separate from their parents, a teenager expresses contempt for their parents to avoid acknowledging any feelings of love or affection toward them.
    • A man’s self-esteem is threatened by the possibility that he is not masculine enough, so he overcompensates by acting aggressive and macho.
    • A drug addict loudly preaches against substance abuse and for abstinence from them.
    • Individuals who cannot consciously accept their anger and aggressive desires act in a calm, passive manner.
    • A young man who craves romance but can’t seem to find a woman who will return his affection protects his ego by expressing sexist and misogynistic beliefs.
    • A woman proclaims she and her mother have the perfect relationship when, in fact, the pair have a history of strife and conflict.

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    Evidence For Reaction Formation

    While not all defense mechanisms have held up to research scrutiny, many studies have provided convincing evidence for reaction formation.

    • In a 1998 review of the research on reaction formation, Baumeister, Dale, and Sommer found that studies demonstrated that people exhibit reaction formation and that it defends the ego, as Freud expected. Their review revealed that studies exploring everything from responses to negative feedback about the self to various forms of prejudice showed that when people’s self-esteem was threatened, they would respond by claiming to believe the opposite of their true feelings.
    • For example, in one study, women who were high in sex guilt reported lower arousal levels when exposed to erotic stimuli even though physiological measures revealed they were actually more aroused than other participants.
    • Likewise, when a manipulation left participants in another study feeling completely accused of sexism and then read about a sex discrimination case in which a man was hired instead of a woman, they responded to the case by supporting harsher verdicts for the university than the control groups.
    • Similarly, when White participants in a third study who held egalitarian views were told physiological feedback showed they held racist beliefs about Blacks, they gave more to a Black panhandler after leaving the lab than those who hadn’t been accused of racism.

    More recent studies have continued to provide evidence for reaction formation.

    Overview: About Reaction Formation

    Reaction formation is a defense mechanism where you act in a way that is opposite to your actual or initial impulse, desire, or feelings. You form a reaction, albeit unconsciously, as a protective mechanism to protest, avoid, or hide the way you feel. Particularly, this occurs when someone finds their true thoughts and feelings anxiety-inducing or unacceptable, whether to themselves, society, the people around them, or all of the above. Like other defense mechanisms, its there to protect you, but while its sometimes genuinely protective or even necessary, it can have adverse consequences.

    The definition of reaction formation provided on is a defense mechanism in which a person unconsciously develops attitudes and behavior that are the opposite of unacceptable repressed desires and impulses and serve to conceal them.

    We all use defense mechanisms, and you may or may not be able to think of a time where youve used this one. It can be used on a smaller scale or a larger, more impactful one. For example, think of a time where you were a child and you or someone you knew pretended not to like something because the other kids said it was for babies, and you wanted to fit in. You internalized that it was unacceptable to enjoy that thing, so you acted as though you hated it. Maybe, you even made fun of the toy or movie – or the children who enjoyed it – with the other kids.

    When Is Reaction Formation Harmful?

    How Does Reaction Formation Occur?

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    How Is Reaction Formation Related To Strain Theory

    Reaction formation can be related to strain theory, in this scenario, by the strain that James has been forced to withstand due to a life without his father being present. … That strain could have caused him to regress into a reaction formation which allowed him to enter into a criminal lifestyle.

    Can Reaction Formation Involve Sexual Beliefs And Opinions

    Reaction Formation in Psychology I Defense Mechanism I Emotional Intelligence I Social Intelligence

    The tendency to publicly and vehemently protest an uncomfortable desire sometimes manifests in those who struggle with sex or sexuality. For example, there have been examples of politicians who preach against homosexuality yet are gay themselves, and politicians who advocate for legislation against child molestation yet have sexually abused children themselves. Research shows that conflicting moral and religious beliefs about porn may contribute to self-identification as a porn addict. Although there are many contributing factors in these situations, one might be that discomfort with aspects of sex and sexuality leads to reaction formation.

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    Why Do People Use Defense Mechanisms

    Here are common reasons why people like you and me use defense mechanisms:

    • Psychological strategies to deal with stress positively
    • To find an excuse to defend an unhealthy behavior
    • To avoid dealing with hurtful emotions
    • Avoidance to pain when you feel threatened
    • A mental time-out to adjust with changes in life

    How Do I Know If Im Projecting

    Feeling overly hurt, defensive, or sensitive about something someone has said or done. Allowing someone to push your buttons and get under your skin in a way that others do not. Feeling highly reactive and quick to blame. Difficulty being objective, getting perspective, and standing in the other person’s shoes.

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    Treatment For Unhealthy Defense Mechanisms

    Defense mechanisms can be viewed as a type of self-deception. You might be using them to hide emotional responses that you dont want to deal with from yourself. However, its done mostly on an unconscious level. Youre not always aware of the way your mind or ego will respond.

    That doesnt mean, however, that you cant modify or change the behaviors. Indeed, you can transform unhealthy defense mechanisms into ones that are more sustainable. These techniques could help:

    • Find accountability: Friends and family members can help you recognize the mechanisms. By drawing attention to the self-deception, they can help you identify the moment you unconsciously make an unhealthy choice. That allows you to then decide in the conscious state what you really want to do.
    • Learn coping strategies:Therapy with a mental health expert, such as a psychotherapist, psychologist, or psychoanalyst, may help you recognize the defense mechanisms you use most often. They can then help you learn active responses to make choices on a more mindful level.

    What Are Some Examples Of Reaction Formation

    Reaction Formation Psychology Definition

    You may use reaction formation as a defense mechanism in a variety of ways. Some examples may include:

    • Being overly friendly to someone you dont like
    • Preaching about abstinence while being an alcoholic
    • Giving too many gifts and not feeling any affection to the person
    • Expressing contempt for someone to avoid acknowledging the feeling of affection or love
    • Acting in a calm and collected manner while not being able to accept your anger
    • Being mean to someone because you are attracted to them

    As you can see, reaction formation is somewhat similar to the process of projection. When using both of these defense mechanisms, you are trying to avoid unwanted thoughts and feelings and compensate for them. You may do this by either displacing the thoughts and feelings on others or going in a completely opposite direction of what you actually think and feel.

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    Whats The Difference Between Reaction Formation And Undoing

    Undoing is another defense mechanism that involves thinking or behaving in ways that attempt to negate a previous thought or behavior. For example, an absent father may periodically return to spoil his children, or a woman who throws at a plate at her husband may try to make it up to him by smothering him with affection. These actions attempt to make amends and even strike the behavior from the record. While undoing involves, simply put, undoing a behavior in an extreme way, reaction formation involves shifting to an opposite behavior or viewpoint.

    What Is An Example Of Identification With The Aggressor

    Identification with the aggressor is a version of introjection that focuses on the adoption, not of general or positive traits, but of negative or feared traits. If you are afraid of someone, you can partially conquer that fear by becoming more like them.

    An extreme example of this is the Stockholm Syndrome, where hostages establish an emotional bond with their captor and take on their behaviors.

    Patty Hearst was abused by her captors, yet she joined their Symbionese Liberation Army and even took part in one of their bank robberies. At her trial, she was acquitted because she was a victim suffering from Stockholm Syndrome.

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