Who uses it: Psychiatrists and psychologists
What it means: Behavior or emotion that is the polar opposite of the way someone is or should be feeling, because the authentic emotion is too frightening to deal with.
How you can use it: To explain your otherwise inexplicable behavior.
Reaction formation explains the Stockholm Syndrome, where kidnap victims ally themselves with their captors. It's why abused children often seem more attached to their abusive parent. It's also why I apologize profusely to total strangers who want to know why I have not yet done them massive favors other people have promised on my behalf. Hmm.
It may also explain why, when I found my brand-new passport in yesterday's Tub of Mail (Postmaster Jerry asked: "How long have you been away?"), I immediately suggested to my friend Dan that I hop a plane across the Atlantic to spend this weekend on the Welsh border, harassing him and teasing his chickens (no, that's not a naughty metaphor; he really does keep chickens). Dan, bless his heart, was game, but I couldn't find a decent fare, and in the time it took me to click through Expedia, Travelocity, BestFares.com and American Airlines, I realized that I had simply lost whatever was left of my mind.
I need not to go anywhere for a while. I need to stay home and clean my apartment and put away my window fans and vacuum all the dog hair out of my car. I need to go to Curves and start my ice-skating lessons and not be rushing around like someone on the run from the law.
I want to stay home for a while. Really.