Reaction formation is a defense mechanism in which a person reacts to an unacceptable or undesirable thought, feeling, or behavior by displaying the opposite behavior or feeling. For example, a person who is unable to express their anger towards their boss may instead become overly kind and complimentary towards them. Here are a few more examples:
- A person who is deeply homophobic may express extreme admiration and support for the LGBTQ+ community.
- A person who is struggling with jealousy towards their best friend may express excessive concern and care for their friend's well-being.
- A person who is struggling with drug addiction may become a fervent advocate for drug-free living and may even join organizations that promote drug-free lifestyles.
In all of these examples, the person is exhibiting a behavior that is opposite to their true feelings or desires, as a way to cope with their unacceptable thoughts or emotions. Reaction formation can be a useful coping mechanism in some situations, but it can also lead to emotional distress and a lack of authenticity in one's relationships.