Commitment Issues & Impact on Relationships

Commitment issues are one of those behavior patterns that can make relationships exceedingly difficult. They can make us wonder if we’re even in a relationship or if it is only wishful thinking.

Signs of commitment issues can be mistaken for other types of problems, so the committed partner might frequently wonder if they did something wrong and become self-conscious about their own behavior. However, as a sense of instability and uncertainty persists, it becomes evident after a while that one of the partners can’t commit.

The term commitment issues, particularly in romantic relationships, refers to a pattern of behavior in which one partner has difficulty forming or maintaining long-term relationships. It can manifest in various ways for different people; for some, it’s feeling anxious or suffocated by the idea of commitment, and for others, tending to end relationships as soon as they start feeling serious. They frequently sabotage or avoid relationships, sometimes without consciously realizing what they’re doing. They might not even see any problems with their behavior or be aware of what commitment issues are.

The impact that these issues can have on relationships is significant. They can lead to a lack of trust and the person with the commitment issues being seen by their partner as unreliable or unpredictable. If the problem is left unidentified and unaddressed, it can lead to the breakdown of the relationship. The matter of how to deal with someone with commitment issues is tricky, particularly since it might seem like you’re trying to force your partner into a relationship they don’t want to be in.

Can You Have A Relationship With Someone Who Has Commitment Issues?

Depending on the circumstances, the answer to this question can be both yes and no. Sometimes it’s a case of “he’s just not that into you,” and sometimes, your partner’s commitment issues might stem from various underlying causes, like past relationship trauma, fear of vulnerability and intimacy, or the need for independence. Some of these causes require digging into, so they can be accurately identified and addressed to help the person with the issues cope with their fears in a healthier way.

If a person does want a committed relationship, but the fear of commitment is preventing them from maintaining one, there are ways to practice changing this behavior pattern. For example, professional help might be necessary in cases where distressing childhood experiences like neglect and abandonment caused the fear of commitment as a defense mechanism protecting them from the possibility of experiencing the same type of feelings. In addition, people who grew up with a lack of attention and care from their parents or caregivers might have grown accustomed to being independent and caring for all their needs on their own.

Sometimes a fresh perspective on things can change the established thought patterns and make the person with commitment issues feel and behave differently. Depending on the severity of the factors underpinning the problem, the process might require time, patience, and frequently, a giant leap of faith. However, the crucial thing to determine is whether the person perceived to have commitment issues simply prefers short-term relationships and has no desire to commit to anyone romantically. In such cases, moving on is usually the best option.

What Can Commitment Issues Lead To

What Can Commitment Issues Lead To?

Aside from causing problems in romantic relationships, commitment issues can also cause difficulties in other areas of life. The mental distress they cause can be felt even in most circumstances that demand dedication and commitment to long-term goals. They might make those commitments willingly, but the emotional and mental health issues they might face can be quite severe and lead to anxiety and other stress-related disorders.

The environments and situations that can bring up one’s fear of commitment are not limited to romantic relationships. They can lead to problems in the:

  • Professional environment. A person with commitment issues might reject or avoid long-term projects, negatively impacting their performance, effectiveness, and ability to keep a job.
  • School. Higher levels of education, in particular, require committing to long-term goals and assignments and investing time and effort into plans that take years to achieve. As a result, a person with commitment issues might be discouraged from pursuing their education or career goals.
  • Interpersonal relationships. Commitment issues can seriously affect relationships with most people in one’s life. For example, a person might lose close friends, have strained relationships with family members, and have complicated relationships with their partner and children.

How Do You Make A Relationship Work With Commitment Issues?

The first thing to remember is that working through commitment issues can require a lot of time and effort from both partners. Arm yourself with patience, and don’t hesitate to seek expert help if you suspect that the underlying causes might require addressing suppressed emotions from early childhood or other highly stressful life events or circumstances. The process can be challenging, but it’s certainly not impossible. After getting accurate information about what commitment issues are, do your best to:

  • Be patient. Whether it’s you or your partner that are struggling with commitment issues, remember that changing behavior patterns takes time. Just because you managed to identify the problems doesn’t mean that they will disappear overnight. It takes practice and patience.
  • Communicate. Open and honest communication between partners can help understand each other’s needs, concerns, and fears.
  • Build trust. This is a crucial component of any relationship. Consistent and reliable behavior and honesty are the goals to aspire to.
  • Focus on the present. Avoid putting too much pressure on the process by focusing on the future. Instead, try to enjoy the present and take it one day at a time. This can help reduce anxiety and stress.
  • Set boundaries. Establishing clear boundaries and expectations from the relationship helps both partners know what to expect.
  • Seek expert help. Both partners can benefit from expert guidance and support from an objective party. It can help if you get stuck along the way or succumb to wrong assumptions and unrealistic expectations.
How Do You Make A Relationship Work With Commitment Issues

PIVOT Is Here To Help You Deal With Commitment Issues And Achieve A Lasting Relationship

If both partners agree that the long-term relationship is what they want, working on resolving the causes of commitment issues might be easier with the guidance of an experienced relationship advocate. Individual sessions can help both partners determine their goals and expectations and work through the steps of establishing trust and connection that will make a lasting relationship possible.Escaping the stress of everyday life for a few days can help you focus on your life and relationship goals. Glass House retreats can offer the peace you need while attending small group workshops guided by PIVOT coaches. They can help you gain a new perspective and hear the experiences of other people going through similar issues. You can learn how to deal with someone with commitment issues or resolve your own and finally achieve the stability of a healthy relationship.

Emotional Detachment & Communication in Relationships

Emotional detachment is a symptom of deeper unresolved emotional and psychological issues. It goes beyond the inability to be present in the moment and the mindfulness that many self-help books and articles discuss. 

Emotional detachment makes our lives difficult. It affects our relationships with people. And it can have a particularly damaging effect on our romantic relationships and marriage. The causes of marital problems are often difficult to pinpoint, and most people have a hard time accepting that the problem might be them. It’s easier to place the blame on the other person. However, even if the problem is you, it doesn’t mean it’s your fault. Some things we have no control over, and quite often, we’re not even aware of them.

If you frequently experience communication issues or can’t even identify what you’re feeling to be able to express it to your partner, it might be helpful to look into how to fix emotional detachment in a marriage. There are ways to get to the bottom of this pattern of behavior that’s keeping you from having a healthy and happy relationship with your partner. It will take time, patience, and hard work, like most everything that matters in life.

Can A Relationship Survive Emotional Detachment?

Emotional detachment might seem like an impossible obstacle to overcome. The fact that the detached partner doesn’t show emotions or interest or share their thoughts and needs can easily be construed as a lack of love. The sense of distance and disconnection can grow over time, making it seem like there’s no way to overcome it. After all, a solid emotional bond is what draws people to one another and keeps them together.

Whether or not your relationship can survive emotional detachment depends on various factors, but the most important one is whether you want it to. It’s possible to adapt to the particularities of an emotionally detached partner and work on self-improvement and resolve the issues that prevent you from having a fulfilling relationship. If both partners are willing to put in the effort to overcome the obstacles and build a relationship that meets their needs, this goal is achievable in most cases. However, it does require dedication and time.

What Causes Emotional Detachment In Relationships

What Causes Emotional Detachment In Relationships?

A variety of factors can cause emotional detachment in a romantic relationship. For example, one or both partners might have unresolved emotional issues that prevent them from having a harmonious relationship. Since emotional detachment is a defense mechanism, it’s essential to consider the factors and events that lead to the need to create such behavioral patterns. In other cases, emotional detachment can be a temporary state rather than a permanent trait.

Some people find it challenging to connect to others in general, including their closest friends and family, even their children and romantic partners. If you’re in a relationship that lacks intimacy and connection due to your or your partner’s emotional detachment, it’s essential to understand the underlying causes and possible reasons behind it. The most common factors that can cause emotional detachment in relationships include:

  • Trauma. Experiencing abuse or neglect in early childhood can make forming emotional connections extremely challenging. Traumatic events in adulthood can have the same effect.
  • Fear of intimacy. Being vulnerable opens people to being hurt, and the fear of such an outcome can make them avoid emotional intimacy to protect themselves.
  • Lack of communication. Frequent verbal conflicts or complete communication breakdowns that go unresolved can make partners distance themselves from one another.
  • Significant life changes. Emotionally intense events that cause a difference in your routine can lead to detachment. Some common examples are the birth of a child, career change, financial crisis, or relocation.
  • Mental health issues. Conditions like depression, anxiety, or stress-related disorders can make someone withdraw emotionally from most people, including their partner.
  • Incompatibility. In some cases, partners are emotionally incompatible, and the feeling of detachment reflects that.

How Do You Communicate With Someone Who Is Emotionally Detached?

If you’re in a relationship with an emotionally detached partner, you might feel like you’re making all the wrong moves. Try to remember that their behavior is frequently not a reaction to something you do or don’t do. They’re dealing with emotions that, in most cases, stem from events that happened long before you met, frequently in early childhood. There are also cases of people becoming emotionally detached as adults after particularly stressful life events that they haven’t been able to work through.

Whatever the case, the best way to deal with emotional detachment in relationships is if each partner does their best to identify and address their own issues while expressing love and supporting the other. This can require a lot of patience and self-control, and you’ll most likely need to constantly remind yourself that healthy relationships are built on trust, without placing blame or succumbing to overly defensive behavior patterns.  

If you’re wondering how to fix emotional detachment in a marriage, you can help your partner by:

  • Accepting that they deal with their emotions differently. People are different by nature, so their communication style and the way they show love and affection might differ significantly from yours.
  • Not forcing them into intimacy and connection if they don’t feel ready. If your partner is detached due to trauma or other stressful events, this might scare them even further away from you and the present moment.
  • Avoid blaming them for everything that’s wrong with your relationship. Criticism can make them feel vulnerable and trigger all the distressing emotions that caused their detachment in the first place.
  • Giving them the space to deal with their issues at their own pace and in a way that doesn’t make them scared or uncomfortable.
  • Focusing on your own growth. If you devote your attention to what you can accomplish on your own, your partner might feel less pressured to respond to your needs and expectations.
How Do You Communicate With Someone Who Is Emotionally Detached

Rely on PIVOT To Overcome Emotional Detachment In A Relationship And Improve Communication

Building emotional intimacy with a detached partner is a challenging task that frequently requires some outside help and guidance. Whether it’s you or your partner whose emotional detachment prevents you from having the kind of relationship that makes you feel safe, loved, and understood, it all begins with self-improvement. PIVOT’s relationship coaches are available for individual sessions to help you manage your or your partner’s detachment.Since communication is one of the building blocks of a healthy relationship, you might benefit from practicing these skills in a small group workshop of Glass House retreats. You can escape the stress of your everyday life for a few days and allow the experienced coaches to gradually guide you to self-realization and self-improvement. Then, after identifying and addressing the causes of emotional detachment, you can adopt healthier behavior and communication patterns and finally have the relationship you deserve.

Emotional Detachment & Childhood Trauma: Is There a Connection?

Emotional detachment is a tricky issue, as it can have beneficial effects or present a serious challenge in your emotional life and relationships with other people. The useful role of emotional detachment can, for example, help health workers do their jobs calmly and with the focus that would be impossible if they were overwhelmed by emotions. Aside from being beneficial for others, it also serves a self-protective function by allowing them to distance themselves from traumatic experiences, which is significant for maintaining their well-being.

As this example shows, emotional detachment stems from the need to protect oneself from negative emotions or experiences. Childhood trauma is undoubtedly one such experience, particularly in the case of childhood abuse or neglect. The variety of events that can cause traumatic experiences in childhood is quite wide. They can lead to different outcomes as the child grows into an adult with unresolved feelings. 

One of the severe outcomes is emotional detachment disorder, which can be treated in different ways. It can be a generalized pattern of behavior or a singled-out occurrence as a result of a specific situation. In case of a chronic occurrence, the matter of how to fix emotional detachment becomes something that might need to be explored more thoroughly.

Is Emotional Detachment A Trauma Response?

It’s possible and quite common for emotional detachment to develop as a response to childhood neglect, abuse, or any other type of trauma. It serves the purpose of protecting oneself from intense and overwhelming emotions children aren’t equipped to deal with. A mixture of fear, shame, secretiveness, and the desire to please the abuser and deserve their love and approval can be impossibly confusing for a child.

Children find ways to disconnect from overwhelming emotions, even in cases of other types of traumatic experiences, when there’s no abuse involved. Over time, this pattern of suppressing emotions develops into a chronic coping strategy that develops as the child grows up into an adult. Now they face other types of experiences that trigger those or similar emotions. Still, their coping strategy has solidified over time and persists through adulthood, complicating their relationship with people and themselves.

Signs of emotional detachment in adults usually include:

  • Problems maintaining healthy relationships.
  • Having difficulty being honest and open about your feelings.
  • Not being a “good listener.”
  • Avoiding or craving any type of intimate contact: verbal, physical, or sexual.
  • Having low self-esteem
  • Being ambivalent about relationships with people and important life decisions.
  • Substance abuse as a way to escape reality.
Is Emotional Detachment A Form Of Dissociation

Is Emotional Detachment A Form Of Dissociation?

Even though emotional detachment and dissociation have similar manifestations and are in some ways related, these are two distinct concepts. Dissociation refers to a disconnection between one’s thoughts and emotions and the outside world they’re experiencing. For some people, these disconnections can be mild and temporary and could be compared to daydreaming. However, in more severe cases, they can be long-lasting and, if not addressed, lead to dissociative identity disorder that requires professional help.

Dissociation can be triggered by highly stressful events and traumas, resulting in detachment from oneself or reality. Emotional detachment, similarly, is an attempt to avoid or suppress certain emotions. However, while emotional detachment is usually viewed as a coping mechanism, dissociation is a more severe symptom of trauma or other stress-related disorders. Another difference is that emotional detachment generally involves awareness of one’s emotions, while dissociation is unconscious disconnection from the sense of self, environment, and reality.

Emotional detachment can also be a symptom of certain mental health conditions, most commonly:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • Depression.
  • Personality disorders.

Do Childhood Traumas Affect The Development Of Reaction Formation?

Reaction formation is a defense mechanism that involves behaving in a way opposite to one’s true feelings or impulses, and it’s often used as a coping mechanism to deal with conflicting emotions. It occurs when a person feels a strong urge to act in a certain way but then behaves opposite to their unconscious desires. Reaction formation is presumed to appear as a way of dealing with conflicting emotions and reducing anxiety. By acting in a way that’s opposite to their true desires, individuals avoid the discomfort of confronting their true feelings and thoughts.

The connection between childhood trauma and reaction formation certainly exists. However, childhood trauma can have many different forms and levels of severity. It can include severe physical, sexual, and emotional abuse or witnessing violence or trauma. Neglect and abandonment can also cause prolonged traumatic experiences for young children. Depending on the type, severity, duration, or frequency of exposure to trauma, a child can respond in different ways and form other coping mechanisms.

Children lack the ability to manage intense emotions like fear, helplessness, or anger that generally emerge when they experience any type of trauma. One of the ways they can get through these emotions is by developing reaction formation. A typical example of reaction formation due to childhood trauma would be behaving coldly and distantly in interpersonal relationships because of feelings of shame and vulnerability stemming from unfulfilled needs for love and attention. This is how childhood neglect can directly influence the development of reaction formation.

An opposite example would be the case of childhood abuse. A child might feel the desire for revenge or retaliation stifled by fear or powerlessness. To cope with these conflicting emotions, a reaction formation of excessive obedience toward the abuser can be formed. Although this type of behavior goes against their true desires, it becomes a coping mechanism to deal with difficult emotions and suppress them.

Do Childhood Traumas Affect The Development Of Reaction Formation

Cope With Emotional Detachment Disorder And Regain A Sense Of Well-Being With PIVOT

Emotional detachment might affect your ability to maintain healthy relationships or cause issues in other aspects of your life. Unfortunately, this means that it doesn’t serve its protective or beneficial role. If you’ve been preoccupied with how to fix emotional detachment, you might benefit from the expert guidance of relationship advocates who can help you identify emotions that are causing you to withdraw from your feelings and miss out on all the good ones by trying to avoid the bad.Emotional detachment is a self-isolation issue, so confronting it in a group setting can be productive. Glass House retreats’ safe and pleasant environment can provide the perfect opportunity to experience togetherness with other five people who want to have healthier relationships. Our retreats are small to give everyone a change to be seen, heard, and helped. Experienced PIVOT coaches guide these workshops to ensure you feel safe every step of the way. They can teach you how to keep yourself grounded in reality. Applying these skills to your relationships and life in general can help you address and satisfy your needs and achieve a sense of well-being.

Emotional Effects of Stonewalling

Conflicts in their many forms have been and will be an integral part of human experience. From night-time stories to history books to current events, our existence is littered with major disputes and minor disagreements, petty squabbles and serious differences of opinion. 

Therefore, it is only natural for conflict to be a part of relationships, too. And, it is. In fact, it is an integral and necessary part, as every successfully resolved dispute makes a relationship stronger, more stable, and ultimately worth fighting for. This last bit is of paramount importance, as it is what drives us to continuously look for ways to make our relationships better.

However, an old idiom states that “it takes two to tango” which means that both individuals involved in a situation (i.e. conflict) are equally responsible for its outcome. The question here is what stonewalling does to your partner if one side doesn’t want to “tango” and, instead of actively looking for a solution to the problem, shuts down completely? This is stonewalling.

What Does Stonewalling Mean?

Stonewalling is a communication tactic where one person (“stonewaller”) completely withdraws from a situation or a conversation, creating a metaphorical “stone wall” between them and the person trying to communicate. This type of behavior isn’t exclusive to romantic partnerships alone. Rather, it can occur in friendships, as well as professional and parent-child relationships, too.

While it may seem like a simple coping mechanism, aimed at avoiding conflict and difficult feelings, stonewalling can have severe emotional consequences for the recipient, leading to the question of if stonewalling is gaslighting. Over time, it can erode mutual trust and destroy the emotional bond that holds the relationship together.

Finally, it is important to note that stonewalling can be a form of emotional abuse if it is employed consciously to manipulate, belittle, or humiliate the recipient. For this reason, and the fact that stonewalling is detrimental to everyone involved, it is important to understand its implications, as well as to seek support and help, preferably from a professional relationship coach or counselor, or trusted friends and family members.

What Are The Negative Effects Of Stonewalling In A Relationship?

Without exaggeration, we can say that the emotional consequences of stonewalling can be devastating, both for the recipient and the relationship as a whole. It can make the person on the receiving end feel like their thoughts and feelings simply don’t matter. Like the effort and dedication they put in to connect with their partner and better the relationship is worth nothing.

Needless to say, this type of treatment can leave a person feeling lonely, rejected, and invalidated. Over time, these feelings can lead to a full breakdown of trust and emotional intimacy which, in turn, can cause feelings of resentment and disconnection toward the stonewaller.

Additionally, when one person withdraws from a conversation, it does nothing to help resolve the issue. Instead, it leaves the other feeling frustrated and unheard, which only causes increased tension and leads to more arguments, therefore escalating the conflict.

This causes communication breakdowns where both individuals struggle to effectively express themselves, their needs, and their emotions, yet aren’t able to find any common ground. Ultimately, pent-up anger and frustration may lead to dissatisfaction with the relationship which can (and often does) end up in a breakup, especially if the issue is left unattended.

What Are The Negative Effects Of Stonewalling In A Relationship

Is Stonewalling A Part Of Gaslighting?

Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse where one person (“gaslighter”) psychologically manipulates the other person to make them doubt their own sanity. It is a different communication tactic than stonewalling, but both can have catastrophic repercussions for the recipient and the relationship.

While essentially different, stonewalling can be a part of gaslighting, as a way for a gaslighter to avoid accountability, further confuse the other person, and make future manipulation attempts easier.

When employed regularly, this tactic can leave the recipient feeling confused, doubting their own memories and perceptions, ultimately leading to the loss of trust in oneself and the relationship as a whole.

It is crucial to note that gaslighting can leave devastating lasting consequences to the recipient, including persistent self-doubt and crippled self-esteem, as well as cause mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).

What Are The Emotional Effects Of Stonewalling?

The emotional effects of stonewalling can be profound and long-lasting, affecting different types of relationships in various ways:

  • In romantic relationships, stonewalling can cause feelings of isolation and disconnection. It can erode the trust and emotional bond between partners, creating a sense of emotional distance and dissatisfaction, which can ultimately lead to a breakup.
  • In parent-child relationships, stonewalling can create a sense of confusion and insecurity in the child. They may feel unheard, invalidated, unloved, and even insignificant. This can leave lasting emotional scars on the child’s psyche, which can make it difficult for them to form healthy relationships in the future.
  • In friendships, stonewalling can create a sense of rejection and hurt, leaving the other person feeling excluded and unimportant. It can also trigger past traumas and emotional wounds, leading to further distress and emotional pain.
  • In professional relationships, stonewalling can lead to communication breakdowns, misunderstandings, and a lack of trust among colleagues, which can create a toxic work environment that cripples productivity and morale. Additionally, it can also prevent the resolution of conflicts and hinder problem-solving, leading to negative impacts on job performance and career advancement opportunities.

It is crucial to note that stonewalling can leave lasting consequences to the recipient’s mental health, including persistent self-doubt and low self-esteem. In addition, it can exacerbate existing mental health conditions and, in some cases, cause the formation of various psychological disorders such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).

Is Stonewalling A Part Of Gaslighting

Choose PIVOT As A Way Toward Healthier Communication And Happier Relationships

While highly toxic, stonewalling is still a behavioral issue that can be successfully addressed and, in a lot of cases, rooted out entirely. Whether it is you or someone you know who is experiencing this problem in their relationships, struggles with commitment issues, or various detrimental coping strategies, know that help is close and all you need to do is reach out to PIVOT.  And, keep in mind that people who are typically demonstrating this behaviors, don’t even know it – they just don’t know how to manage and tolerate their own feelings.  Our couples intensives are so helpful to show individuals WHY they do what they do and give them tools to change this.  

Our Glass House retreat provides a peaceful and soothing setting, allowing you to forget about the stressors in your life and focus solely on your personal and relationship goals. In addition, we offer one-on-one counseling, group counseling, and a variety of workshops.

Conducted by skilled and experienced coaches, each of our programs can help you identify and address harmful patterns of communication. We’ll work with you every step of the way and assist you in acquiring skills and tools essential for achieving your goal of healthy and fulfilled relationships. Reach out to us today!

Reaction Formation: The Origin, Good, & Bad Aspects

Our lives are interwoven with different experiences, each unique and special in its own right. Every scenario evokes different emotions, builds up memories, and forms our thoughts and behavioral patterns. Some we can view as inherently good. Others, not so much.

Still, dealing with negative feelings and uncomfortable circumstances is all a part of the human experience. An integral part of life, through which we grow as individuals. However, some of these situations can be so stressful as to far surpass our ability to cope.

When that happens, our subconscious mind will don the cape of the “defender of the conscious”, creating various barriers known as “defense mechanisms” to help our psyche deal with the negative implications of said situations. One of these mechanisms is reaction formation.

Like any other form of defense, physical or mental, reaction formation has its strengths and weaknesses. While it can be difficult learning how to identify formation reactions and what reactions are formation reactions, knowing what they are is essential for our overall well-being. It can help us better understand our own thoughts and behaviors, as well as how to use this strategy favorably, to our ultimate benefit.

Who Discovered Reaction Formation?

The concept of reaction formation is more than a century old. It was first introduced in 1894 by Sigmund Freud, a famous Austrian neurologist and the father of psychoanalysis as we know it today. In his book “The Neuro-Psychoses of Defense”, Freud observed that individuals who experience anxiety, guilt, and shame often repress these emotions, as well as thoughts and desires that led to them forming. 

However, he also noticed that, in some cases, said individuals express thoughts, emotions, attitudes, and behaviors that are in exact contradiction with their real feelings, thoughts, or values. In psychology, this pattern of behavior became known as “reaction formation”, and can be summed up in the following definition:

  • Reaction formation is a defense mechanism that involves repression of a person’s true feelings or desires and expression of the opposite behavior or attitude.

Since Freud’s initial discovery, other psychologists and researchers, including his own daughter Anna, studied and expanded upon this concept. Today, reaction formation is widely recognized as one of the most common defense mechanisms that can manifest in various ways and impact virtually every aspect of a person’s life.

The Theory Behind Reaction Formation

Freud believed that reaction formation was a way for the ego (the conscious, rational part of the mind) to protect itself from unacceptable impulses of the id (the unconscious part of the psyche that governs our instincts and desires).

Freud theorized that, by creating an opposite (and, often, exaggerated) response, an individual can distance themselves psychologically from the unacceptable emotions or thoughts they’re experiencing. 

In simple terms, he believed that reaction formation is a way for a person to shield their ego and alleviate the feelings of guilt, shame, or anxiety brought on by said impulses.

What Are The Negative Effects Of Reaction Formation

Are There Any Benefits Of Reaction Formation?

Reaction formation is mostly associated with negative consequences and, therefore, viewed in poor light. However, there is a positive side to it. Unlike repression, which is a wholly primitive defense mechanism, reaction formation has a conscious component. This means that it can have some benefits, especially in social situations, where people are expected to act in certain ways, according to the established rules and norms.

Here are some examples of situations where reaction formation can prove beneficial:

  • Coping with stress and anxiety: Let’s say that a person has a fear of public speaking, yet has to give a speech in front of a large audience. Instead of letting anxiety cripple them, they can employ reaction formation to appear self-assured and confident.
  • Impulse control: In this scenario, we’ll assume that a person is in the middle of a heated argument that severely agitates them and spikes their stress levels. Rather than lashing out verbally or physically, they can use reaction formation to approach the conversation in a calm, controlled, and constructive manner.
  • Conforming to social norms: Lastly, let’s observe a person who is uncomfortable with public displays of affection, but has to attend a dinner party hosted by their partner’s parents. In this case, reaction formation can make them show exaggerated feelings of affection toward their partner, which is in line with their parent’s expectations. 

As evident from the examples, reaction formation can have some benefits. However, it has its limitations and the potential to cause an array of problems. As such, it needs to be used sparingly and, more importantly, mindfully.

What Are The Negative Effects Of Reaction Formation?

Relying on reaction formation as a default coping strategy can be detrimental to virtually every aspect of a person’s existence, including their mental and physical health, as well as social well-being.

  • Disconnection: Overusing reaction formation means that a person is distancing themselves from their true emotions and values. In time, this can lead to a fully-blown disconnection which can cause inner conflict and lack of authenticity;
  • Increased (psychological) distress: By masking their genuine emotions, an individual is avoiding addressing their true, root cause, which only prevents them from resolving the issues and moving forward.
  • Emotion suppression: Exhibiting behaviors that are in direct confrontation with a person’s true feelings and beliefs, means that they are failing to acknowledge an integral part of their being. Doing so can lead to an emotional detachment or built-up tension resulting in emotional outbursts.
  • Hindering personal growth: Using reaction formation not only means that a person is avoiding their feelings and thoughts but that they’re also avoiding self-reflection, which is a key component of personal development and fulfillment.

With the above factors in mind, it is easy to conclude how the negative sides of using reaction formation far outweigh the potential benefits. Therefore, it is best to avoid this defense mechanism altogether. Instead, a much better option is to adopt a fully mature coping strategy, such as humor or affiliation. Doing so does involve a lot of hard work and dedication, however, the end result is more than worth it.

Are There Any Benefits Of Reaction Formation

PIVOT Helps You Achieve Emotional Honesty That Will Lead You To A Fulfilled Life

Finding a healthy way to cope with distressing thoughts and emotions can be difficult. Fortunately, nobody said that you have to do it alone. At PIVOT, you can find all the support and guidance you need to overcome an unhealthy reliance on reaction formation and other defense mechanisms that are preventing you from spreading your wings. Our Glass House retreat offers a serene and inspiring environment where you can reflect on your emotions and values in a constructive, healthy way. Rely on our experienced and mindful coaching team to help you explore the underlying causes that may be forcing you to use this coping strategy and to give you the knowledge necessary to reform them into the tools of personal growth.

Reaction Formation & Repression: What Is the Difference?

As each of us walks our path through life, we often encounter uncomfortable situations that test our emotional ability to cope well with difficulties and challenge our mental strength. Sometimes, we endure these trials, pushing forward with sheer determination and force of will. However, in some cases, doing so misses the lessons that life offers us.

In situations where stress, tribulations, and discomfort threatens to overwhelm us, our subconscious mind has a tendency to take the wheel. In psychology, this is known as “forming a defense mechanism”, a set of thinking and behavioral patterns whose purpose is to protect us from mental and emotional harm, representing one of the 12 defense mechanisms. Among these self-preservation strategies, the two most habitual (and most commonly studied) are repression and reaction formation

However, while both serve the same purpose, they do so in essentially different ways which usually leads to vastly different outcomes. For this reason, as well as due to their undeniable ability to impact and, in some instances, define various aspects of our lives, learning the difference between repression and reaction formation can be absolutely crucial for our long-term mental, emotional, and social well-being.

What Are The Main Characteristics Of Repression?

Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, introduced the term “repression” in the late 19th century. He viewed it as one of the cornerstones of the human psyche and believed it was central in the development of many psychological disorders.

Definition of Repression

Modern psychology defines repression as a primitive (fundamental) defense mechanism that involves pushing (i.e. “repressing”) unwanted or distressing feelings, thoughts, or memories out of an individual’s consciousness, in order to deal with stress, anxiety, or traumas from the past.

Characteristics And Symptoms Of Repression

From the definition alone, we can find the first and main characteristic of this coping mechanism: it operates on the wholly unconscious level. In fact, this is the exact reason why it is so hard to notice and diagnose. However, there’s that old adage that “nothing stays buried forever”, which is all too true in this case.

For the most part, a person isn’t aware that they’re repressing thoughts or emotions. For example, someone who was bitten by a dog in their early childhood may develop a phobia of dogs in adulthood, without an obvious reason.

In most instances, this may not be evident even after the emergence of the related symptoms. Still, the fact remains that these buried feelings, thoughts, or memories need an outlet, which leads to different ways of manifestation:

  • Psychological disorders, such as anxiety or depression, are a common repercussion of overusing repression;
  • Dreams are a reflection of our subconscious mind and, as such, can serve as an outlet for repressed thoughts;
  • Slips of the tongue can sometimes indicate the existence of buried feelings or memories.

In addition, repression is often followed by feelings of guilt and/or shame. When a person pushes down thoughts they believe are unacceptable or dangerous, they may start subconsciously believing that they are doing something “wrong”, even if that is not the case.

How Are Repression And Reaction Formation Similar

Is Repression A Bad Coping Strategy?

Although there is some degree of negative connotation to repression, it cannot be classified as strictly “bad”. Rather, it is a part of being human as everyone, no matter how mature or immature, represses feelings and thoughts to some degree.

However, when repression becomes a default operating method or becomes overused to the point of extreme, it can become a severe impediment to a person’s social well-being, as well as their mental and physical health.

How Are Repression And Reaction Formation Similar?

To understand both the similarities and differences between repression and reaction formation, first, we need to familiarize ourselves with the latter.

By definition in psychology, reaction formation is an intermediate (less primitive, more mature) defense mechanism that involves expressing the opposite of what one truly feels or thinks, in order to avoid acknowledging harmful or stressful thoughts and emotions.

With both strategies now defined, we can start breaking them down into core components, to see how they really function and relate to each other.

What Are The Similarities Between Repression And Reaction Formation?

While repression and reaction formation are two essentially different coping mechanisms, they do share a lot of similarities. We already mentioned some of them, but we’ll reiterate for clarity:

  • Purpose: Both defensive mechanisms serve to protect the psyche from uncomfortable, unacceptable, or harmful thoughts, emotions, and memories.
  • Awareness: Both strategies are almost exclusively employed on a subconscious level.
  • Triggers: Both can be triggered by internal or external stimuli.
  • Process: Both involve the redirection of difficult thoughts or emotions away from conscious awareness.

From the above, it may seem logical to conclude that reaction formation and repression are the same since they share so many commonalities on the core level. However, this is not the case. Although both serve to establish and/or maintain psychological equilibrium within one’s conscious mind, they do so in vastly different ways.

What Are The Differences Between Reaction Formation And Repression?

Despite obvious similarities, repression and reaction formation are two distinct defense mechanisms. Right off the bat, we can see one major distinction from their respective definitions alone:

  • Repression is a primitive defense mechanism, which means it requires no conscious effort to employ. Rather, it takes place entirely in the subconscious.
  • Reaction formation is an intermediate coping strategy, meaning that some degree of conscious effort is involved in its utilization.

Next, there is a big difference in how both mechanisms help a person cope with harmful thoughts and feelings (again, evident from the definitions):

  • Repression entails pushing unacceptable thoughts, feelings, and memories into the subconscious. As such, we can say that it is a wholly inward-oriented process.
  • Reaction Formation involves expressing the opposite of what one truly thinks or feels. In that, it is mostly outwards-oriented.

It is important to note that the consequences of using either process, whether inward or outward-oriented, can end up impacting a person’s life, as well as those around them, usually in a negative way. Therefore, it is highly advisable to seek alternative, healthier ways to deal with negative emotions and thoughts, mainly by adopting more mature coping mechanisms.

What Are The Differences Between Reaction Formation And Repression

PIVOT Can Help You Deal With Repression & Reaction Formation

While defense mechanisms such as repression and reaction formation can provide temporary relief, they are detrimental to every aspect of your well-being. Fortunately, they don’t have to define or control your life. With PIVOT’s help, you can take that control back and give your life a positive turn.Our Glass House retreat is the perfect place to begin your journey to recovery, as it offers a safe and serene space where you can explore and address the underlying causes of your defense strategy. Our compassionate and mindful professionals will accompany you every step of the way, start to finish, and help you develop healthier coping strategies. Reach out to us today and begin down the road of recovery that will lead to happier and more committed relationships and healthier ways to deal with tribulations in your life.