Without further ado, I want to keep today's Thought focused on Reaction Formation. This is a fascinating defense mechanism from the psychoanalytic theory (Freud)...but one that we use all the time in writing! So I thought I'd clue you in on it.
To break it down, a defense mechanism is a psychological strategy the mind employs to cope with reality. Freud used a bunch of different words to explain this process more fully (id, ego, superego), but for our purposes, the above definition will do. There are over twenty identified defense mechanisms in four levels, Level One being severely pathological and Level Four being more mature and geared toward success.
Reaction Formation is in Level Three, which means it's usually considered neurotic, but is fairly common in adults. Reaction Formation is when a person converts unconscious wishes or impulses that are perceived to be dangerous or anxiety-producing into their opposites. A person could behave in a completely opposite way of how they really want or feel (i.e. a woman fakes indifference to men and gives off an independent vibe when all she really wants is to be loved and cherished). A person could also believe the opposite of something simply because the true belief causes anxiety (i.e. a man believes that all women are gold diggers because to believe only his ex-fiance was is too painful).
Photo by Katie Freeland
Hopefully your brain is already working on this, but I'll give a few more examples to solidify my Thought. I'll use some movies to do so. Take Maid in Manhattan. Jennifer Lopez's character takes on the opposite persona of what she is because the thought of telling Ralph Fiennes' character that she's actually a maid trying on expensive clothes belonging to another woman is too anxiety-producing. Reaction Formation. Take Twilight (Edward = sigh). Edward tells Bella that he's the bad guy and that she should stay away from him, but what he really wants is to get to know her much more intimately, to learn why he can't read her mind and why she smells so much better to him than other humans. Reaction Formation.
Now...how many books have you read where the entire plot hinged on a reaction formation? Seriously? Usually, this would be in the characters inner journey. The key to reaction formation is that it can work effectively only in the short term, because eventually is will break down. So it's a built-in plot tool for a writer to use. The character will have to give up the reaction formation in due time (hopefully by the end of the book...otherwise, we won't see the character's inner journey to completion).
Q4U: Think about your own works. Do you or have you used reaction formation for your characters? Did you resolve their reaction formation by the end of the book by having them once again embrace the truth?