Reaction formation

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Reaction formation is a psychological term coined by the American criminologist Albert K. Cohen[1] to describe a theory of Sigmund Freud's. The term refers to a defense mechanism employed by people with deeply held thoughts and beliefs that they consider to be socially unacceptable.

Contents

[edit] Symptoms

The reaction formation manifests itself as deliberate and obvious actions running exactly counter to their true feelings, perhaps as a form of overcompensation.[2]

The behavior may also be seen among people who believe themselves to be "inferior" in some way and are atoning for the perceived inferiority. Cohen in fact coined the term to describe just this sort of case, illustrating his belief that gang members committed crimes as a consequence of their perceptions of social inferiority.

Also, people who believe in ostracizing some group but are personally acquainted with one or more members of that group might act against the group collectively but not against individuals within it; examples include adherents to the doctrine of "hate the sin, love the sinner," as well as misogynists who are devoted to their wives, as in the case of the Scottish church reformer, John Knox.

In most cases, a person with reaction formation makes every effort to keep his/her true feelings hidden for fear of being labeled a hypocrite. However, some don't care how their actions make them look because their fundamentalist beliefs require them to act a certain way no matter what. For example, Alan Keyes has often stated his opposition to gay people. He has backed up his position by ostracizing his lesbian daughter, Maya. Therefore, Keyes does not exhibit signs of reaction formation,[3] although he is still a hypocrite for being a self-styled advocate for family values.

[edit] Examples of reaction formation

  • A closeted homosexual who, outwardly, is a rampant homophobe.
  • A homosexual who marries a partner of the opposite gender in an effort to prove, whether to others or to him/herself, that s/he is straight.[4]
  • A parent who dotes on a child he/she secretly hates.
  • A homophobic parent of a homosexual child.
  • A philanderer who chastises other promiscuous people.
  • An addict who favors strict punishment for all substance abusers.

[edit] Notable people who have exhibited reaction formation

  • Recovering oxycontin addict Rush Limbaugh, who disdained medicinal marijuana initiatives on his radio show;
  • The Reverend Ted Haggard, who preached from first-hand experience against homosexuality;
  • Former Congressman Mark Foley (R-Fla), who liked young boys so much, he helped pass laws against sexual abuse of minors;
  • Senator David Vitter (R-La), who campaigned against Bill Clinton's philandering perhaps because Clinton got it for free with a girl he'd known for more than five minutes.
  • House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who called on his own experience cheating on his wife while in one of the top political offices in the nation to decry Clinton's infidelity.
  • Senator Larry Craig (R-Id), who opposed all gay rights legislation only to be busted for playing footsie with an undercover cop at the Minneapolis airport.
  • Joseph Stalin, who was an ethnic Georgian but believed Russians to be superior to Georgians, in consequence of which he became a very enthusiastic supporter of Russian culture.

It is quite possible that Fred Phelps might also have exhibited reaction formation in his deranged hatred of gays.

[edit] See also

[edit] Footnotes

  1. Albert K. Cohen faculty page, Florida State University
  2. "Reaction Formation" Changing Minds website [1]
  3. Unless he is in the closet.
  4. Note that some homosexuals will marry a close friend of the opposite gender for love or legal reasons, such as adopting a child, without denying or ceasing practise of their preferred sexuality
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