Reactive training: a defense mechanism

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Louise Hay
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Reactive training: a defense mechanism

Reactive training is a defense mechanism. It occurs when a person feels an instinctive and in any case unconscious desire, which he consciously refuses.

Last update: April 07, 2019

Reactive training is a defense mechanism. It occurs when a person feels an instinctive and in any case unconscious desire, which, however, consciously refuses. This leads her to develop an impulse opposite to the one she rejects.



An example can help us understand better. Let's imagine that a woman does not share the attitude of her authoritarian mother. This rejection of her leads her to harbor hatred for the way in which her mother tries to impose herself and put limits on her daughter's life. This hatred is perceived as repulsive: after all, the daughter feels a bad person for the very fact of feeling hate towards the mother. Then he develops a reactive training behavior: he goes out of his way to please his mother and to take care of her.

Reactive training is a complex defense mechanism by which unacceptable feelings and impulses are modified to become acceptable.

-Isaacson Robert-

Obviously this mechanism of reactive formation arises and develops in the unconscious. The subject does not realize that he has developed it. Simply, as in our example, there is a strong urge to act in a certain way. To reveal the presence of this process is the exaggeration of the manifestations.

Reactive training, overprotection and laxity

One of the most typical cases of reactive formation is opposite to the previous example. It occurs when a parent harbor resentment or rejection towards their children. All social norms impose unconditional love on them. For this reason, hostility towards one's children gives rise to an unconscious sense of guilt.



In these cases, reactive training triggers a strong need for overprotection. But what do they protect them so much from actually? From the feelings of hostility that they themselves feel towards their children. They fear that rejection will hurt them. Protecting them too much is one way to avoid this damage, or to run for cover. Here then appear authoritarian parents, who feed addiction in their children.

The opposite situation also occurs, that is the unconscious sense of guilt gives rise to boundless laxity. You let your children do what they want. No limits are placed on them, according to a wrong compensation mechanism. As a result, they end up fomenting irresponsible attitudes and harmful behavior in their children. They turn them into pretentious and dependent people.

Other cases of reactive training

Other frequent cases of reactive training are typical of male chauvinists or so-called feminist women. Sometimes, a man does not tolerate his own frailty, because he has been taught that any manifestation of sensitivity or tenderness would question his manhood. For this reason, he has become a feignedly tough and reckless person, imposing unnecessary anguish and challenges on himself. Something similar happens with women who are hypersensitive to any manifestation of virility.

There are also cases that go beyond the limits. They are realities in which the defense mechanism is stronger and more rooted, e it gives rise to extremely rigid behaviors, which become compulsive. 

This is where people commonly referred to as "fanatical personalities" come into play. They feel strong sexual urges and become the standard bearers of chastity. They even flogged themselves for having “pushed” fantasies. Then there are also those who live by sacrificing themselves for others, reaching extreme results. He is probably trying to get rid of an unconscious sense of guilt.



Know each other, always know each other ...

It is important to insist that people are unaware of the process described. They do not know how to recognize the feelings or desires they reject and they do not realize that they have developed impulses to hide them. It creates a situation of self-deception and also an unclear behavior towards others, but all is unconscious.


Sometimes reactive training is a defense not only for the individual, but also for the community. A family, a group with a common idea, a group of work colleagues and so on. These contexts sometimes feed the sense of guilt with respect to some subjective realities. For example, they idealize love or place it on the level of perfection and not on the human level, of imperfection. These realities favor the emergence of these defense mechanisms.

There are cases where reactive training turns into such a powerful obstacle that it prevents us from progressing. It imposes itself and even affects a person's entire life. In these situations, it can become a physical and mental health risk.


At this point, the only reasonable solution is to undergo psychotherapy, so that this awakens the alarm bells and stimulates the awareness of unconscious contents.

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