Reaction formation

Reaction formation

In Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytic theory, reaction formation is a defense mechanism in which anxiety-producing or unacceptable emotions are replaced by their direct opposites. [cite web

This mechanism is often characteristic of obsessional neuroses. When this mechanism is overused, especially during the formation of the ego, it can become a permanent character trait. This is often seen in those with obsessional character and obsessive personality disorders. This does not imply that its periodic usage is always obsessional, but that it can lead to obsessional behavior.

exual identity

A man who is overly aroused by pornographic material who utilizes reaction formation may take on an attitude of criticism toward the topic. He may end up sacrificing many of the positive things in his life, including family relationships, by traveling around the country to anti-pornography rallies. This view may become an obsession, whereby the man eventually does nothing but travel from rally to rally speaking out against pornography. He continues to do this, but only feels temporary relief, because the deeply rooted arousal to an "unacceptable" behaviour such as watching pornography is still present, and underlying the implementation of the defense. At that point he can be said to have developed an obsessional personality above and beyond the defense mechanism.

An example of Freud's theory is when a "heterosexual" individual supports and maintains strong "homophobic" beliefs as a way to cover-up their deep-seated and often untouched homosexual desires. A reaction formation is used to balance the ego-id-superego emotion of this "homosexual" living as a "heterosexual" in order to relieve the individual's anxiety. [Adams, H.E., Wright, R.W. & Lohr, B.A. (1996). [ Is Homophobia Associated With Homosexual Arousal?] "Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 105, 3," pp. 440-445.]

The case of prominent Congressman Mark Foley (R-Florida), in 2006, might also be considered an example of reaction formation. As chairman of the Missing and Exploited Children's Caucus, Foley had introduced legislation to protect children from exploitation by adults over the Internet. He also sponsored other legislation designed to protect minors from abuse and neglect. His resignation followed the revelation that he exchanged sexually explicit electronic messages with a teenage boy, a former congressional page, and that he had engaged in potentially inappropriate contact with pages for a number of years.

A possibility may also be Governor Eliot Spitzer (D-New York), who spent many years cracking down on prostitution, only be to allegedly identified as "Client Number 9", engaging in sexual acts with prostitutes totalling up to $80,000.

Another possibility could be Ted Haggard for engaging in homosexual activities while at the same time preaching against homosexuality as the pastor for a prominent church in Colorado Springs. Ted Haggard also used methamphetamine purchased from drug dealers who he had met through his male prostitute lovers.

Relationship Assessment

When the ego cannot deal with the demands of desires (including sexual and love) and reality, anxiety follows. Freud believed that anxiety is an unpleasant inner state that people sought to avoid. In an attempt to protect ourselves from this anxiety, people employ Reaction formation unconsciously in their daily lives. Reaction Formation involves adopting opposite feelings, impulses or behavior. Someone adopting a reaction formation defense strategy would treat a spouse or loved one in the same manner in which they’d treat a hated enemy. Another example would be that two people really fond of each other fight all the time, in order to suppress their desire of love for each other. This may also occur when there is a failure of acceptance that the other person is really important to them. In order to suppress their feelings for that person, they may resort to reaction formation and try to hate or fight with their loved ones in order to avoid the anxiety of not having them around.

A Muskogee lesson

In his autobiography "The Wind Is My Mother", [cite book |last=Heart |first=Bear |authorlink= |coauthors=Larkin, Molly |title= The Wind Is My Mother |year= 1996 |publisher= Berkley Books |location= New York |isbn= 0-425-16160-9 |pages= pp. 24-25 |chapter= A Well-Rounded Education ] Muskogee shaman Bear Heart relays a lesson he as a child was presented by his uncle, Jonas Bear:

Jonas Bear once took me down to a pond and told me to look into it, asking, "What do you see?"
:"I see my reflection."
:"Put this stick in the water and stir up your reflection."
:After I stirred it up, he asked, " Now what do you see?"
:"My face is all distorted."
:"Do you like what you see?"
:"I know that it's not supposed to look that way."
:"When you meet someone and you immediately dislike them, always remember you are seeing a reflection of yourself—there is something you don't like about yourself that you're not owning up to. When you see it in someone else, then you don't like that person, but in reality you are being displeased with yourself. Always remember that."

See also



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