The reaction formation is a psychoanalytic concept that tries to explain the occurrence of certain behaviors, habits and behaviors. According to this current, some ways of acting would be created in the unconscious mind, as a reaction to a repressed desire. Thus, they would be headed in the opposite direction to which it would point.
The existence of reactive training was first proposed by the Viennese psychiatrist Sigmund Freud . He saw it as a form of defense mechanism; By acting contrary to a desire that he sees as negative, the person seeks to escape from it. However, this can cause many problems in your life.
In this way, reactive training can lead to very extreme behaviors in the opposite direction to what the person really wants. For example, someone who is excessively rigid and disciplined may unconsciously want to relax more and enjoy life.
In fact, Freud believed that many of the symptoms seen in the psychoanalytic consultation stemmed from reactive training, also known as “counter-cathexis.” In this article we will study the concept in greater depth.
Why does reactive formation appear?
According to psychoanalysis, our personality is made up of three “distinct layers”: the ego, the self, and the superego. Each of them is in charge of certain psychological processes, of which we can be more or less aware, and often they collide with each other.
Sigmund Freud said that the ego is the part where our unconscious desires are generated, what we really want regardless of whether it is something moral or not. Often times, we are not fully aware of what we want, due to the mediation of the other two parts of our mind.
The superego is the opposite of the ego. It is about the idea that we have of what is ethical, moral and just; of what we “must” do. These two parts of our mind constantly conflict; and the third, the self, has to help mediate between them. Usually this is done using defense mechanisms.
Reactive training is one of the most common defense mechanisms. It occurs when the superego completely rejects one of the ego’s desires, and the ego decides to generate behaviors contrary to what the most primary part of our personality would like to avoid going against what we believe we “should” do.
Types of reactive training
Depending on the intensity of the compensatory behaviors, and the importance of the desire that they are repressing for the person, we can generally speak of two types of reactive training: localized and generalized. Next we will see what each of them consists of.
Localized reactive formation
The first type of reactive formation is considered the less serious of the two. It occurs when the person’s repressed desire is not central to their personality. Because of this, the reactive behaviors you carry out are usually not too intrusive to your well-being.
Generally, in addition, localized reactive training focuses only on one area of the individual’s life. In this way, the most negative symptoms caused by this defense mechanism will not appear often.
Generalized reactive training
The second type of reactive training involves desires and behaviors that are much more central to the person. The superego of some individuals cannot bear the most important desires of the ego, and tries to suppress them at all costs; but this battle generally causes a lot of psychological stresses.
People with generalized reactive training unconsciously want to avoid one of their main desires. Because of this, the alternative behaviors they adopt are generally very rigid, and they can take control of their lives. Furthermore, they often lead to all kinds of problems.
Is Reactive Training Always Harmful?
As we have already seen, reactive training is nothing more than a specific type of defense mechanism; that is, a way for the mind to protect itself from the stress of the constant struggle between the id and the superego. Therefore, in principle it should not be considered as something negative.
However, the very nature of this defense mechanism means that in practice it causes all kinds of problems. People who use it often (especially those with generalized reactive training) tend to adopt behaviors that are very damaging to their own psyche and cause them great suffering.
For example, these individuals are often very rigid in their behavior. This is because they want to avoid falling into the temptation of their repressed desires at all costs. In addition, their behaviors are usually generated from fear, not from the freedom to choose what they really want.
The higher the intensity of the desire for the id, the more rigid will be the compensatory behavior of the person, being able to reach very insane extremes that will generate all kinds of negative emotions.
Examples of reactive training
Here we will look at two of the most common types of reactive training that exist. These occur to a greater or lesser extent in almost all people, but in some cases they can lead to very extreme behaviors.
In many cultures around the world, sexual desire is viewed as “dirty” or negative. For this reason, for many people, being attracted to other individuals or wanting to have relationships is intolerable. This is generally more exaggerated in the case of followers of some religion, but is not limited to them.
When a person’s values tell them that sex is bad, it is common for them to overemphasize chastity and act like someone without any desire. In addition, he will usually try to educate others about the dangers or immorality of this act.
Desire for connection
One of the most basic human instincts is to belong to a group and connect with other people.
However, some individuals, for different reasons, believe they are unable to achieve this or think that trusting others is going to bring them problems, so their superego tries to avoid any behavior that leads to it.
People who try to avoid their desire for connection often act distant and as if they don’t need anyone else.
In the most extreme cases, this can lead to misanthropic behavior, extreme introversion, or great arrogance. All this, in order to avoid the pain that comes from being rejected by others.
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