Reactance is a motivational reaction to offers, persons, rules, or regulations that threaten or eliminate specific behavioral freedoms. Reactance occurs when a person feels that someone or something is taking away his or her choices or limiting the range of alternatives.
It's a damnable thing, a real thing, a useful thing to know of, and yet far too few people know of it.
Reactance theory assumes there are "free behaviors" individuals perceive and can take part in at any given moment. For a behavior to be free, the individual must have the relevant physical and psychological abilities to partake in it, and must know they can engage in it at the moment, or in the near future.
"Behavior" includes any imaginable act. More specifically, behaviors may be explained as "what one does (or doesn't do)", "how one does something", or "when one does something". It is not always clear, to an observer, or the individuals themselves, if they hold a particular freedom to engage in a given behavior. When a person has such a free behavior they are likely to experience reactance whenever that behavior is restricted, eliminated, or threatened with elimination.
In the phenomenology of reactance there is no assumption that a person will be aware of reactance. When a person becomes aware of reactance, they will feel a higher level of self-direction in relationship to their own behavior. In other words, they will feel that if they are able to do what they want, then they do not have to do what they do not want. In this case when the freedom is in question, that person alone is the director of their own behavior.
When considering the direct re-establishment of freedom, the greater the magnitude of reactance, the more the individual will try to re-establish the freedom that has been lost or threatened. When a freedom is threatened by a social pressure then reactance will lead a person to resist that pressure. Also, when there are restraints against a direct re-establishment of freedom, there can be attempts at re-establishment by implication whenever possible.
Freedom can and may be reestablished by a social implication. When an individual has lost a free behavior because of a social threat, then the participation in a like free behavior by another person similar to himself will allow him to re-establish his own freedom.
In summary the definition of psychological reactance is a motivational state that is aimed at re-establishment of a threatened or eliminated freedom. A short explanation of the concept is that the level of reactance has a direct relationship between the importance of a freedom which is eliminated or threatened, and a proportion of free behaviors eliminated or threatened.
So, there's this thing called reactance. If you're like most people, you've probably never heard of it, and yet it has huge implications for your life.
Reactance is a psychological phenomenon -- in response to loss of a freedom, loss of choice, or a perceived loss of freedom/choice, people are quite likely to feel psychological reactance.
Psychological reactance makes you want to push back against the new restrictions, to fight and combat them, to reassert yourself and control over your world.
This can be in the form of direct resistance or pushback against the loss of freedom, and increased desire for the prohibited action.
But it does a lot of other things, too. Reactance causes people to like and enjoy whatever their threatened freedom is more than they liked it in the past, often permanently. Reactance causes people to want to reestablish freedom/control through similar types of behavior -- like increased eating of junkfood in response to being prohibited from drinking alcohol.
Freedom is understood in many different ways by different people at different levels of intellectual, moral and spiritual consciousness. It is the masculine in us all that seeks autonomy and freedom (as noted by David Deida and others). The feminine yearns for fullness and relationship. This is yet another manifestation of emptiness and form as the masculine and feminine. We all have both the masculine and feminine within us whether we are men or women, but these aspects of us may be at very different stages of development. Nevertheless, the masculine within all of us seeks freedom.
When I first started 'waking up' a few years ago, I became interested in Anarchism. Like many people with a liberal background (see previous article on the individual and socio-cultural environment), I was impressed by how social structures constrain and limit people.
Most people who don't take the time to think about themselves and their environment simply adopt the values and culture supported by the social structures around them. Using our individual-environment model, we can say that the environment feeds strongly into the individual, but most individuals simply regurgitate this feed of values and culture back into the environment, contributing little to its growth and evolution. Most of us are like the human batteries in the Matrix (what would we ever use for analogies had that movie never been made? ;), never questioning the reality or legitimacy of the environment presented to us.
At the time, I determined that if the social structures were forcibly changed, that individuals could be changed, in this case freed, as well. This is true to a large extent, of course, but it also neglects the role of the autonomy of the individual, one of the very ideals we are trying to realize through social change in the first place. That is, it focuses solely on how to change the society to effect change in ("freeing") the individual. It does not consider how it may be possible to develop the individual to change society.