Acting out

Acting out

Acting out is a psychological term meaning to perform an action to express (often subconscious) emotional conflicts. The acting done is usually anti-social and may take the form of acting on the impulses of an addiction (eg. drinking, drug taking or shoplifting) or in a means designed (often unconsciously or semi-consciously) to garner attention (eg. throwing a tantrum or behaving promiscuously).

The action performed is usually destructive to self or others and may inhibit the development of more constructive responses to the feelings. The term is used in sexual addiction treatment, psychotherapy, twelve-step programs, criminology and parenting.

Acting out painful feelings may be contrasted with expressing them in ways more helpful to the sufferer, e.g. by talking out, expressive therapy, psychodrama or mindful awareness of the feelings. Developing the ability to express one's conflicts safely and constructively is an important part of impulse control, personal development and self-care.


The interpretation of a person's acting out and an observer's response varies considerably, with context and subject usually setting audience expectations.

In parenting

Early years "temper tantrums" can be understood as episodes of acting out. As young children will not have developed the means to communicate their feelings of distress, tantrums prove an effective and achievable method of alerting parents to their needs and requesting attention.

Ideally, as children develop they learn to replace these attention-gathering strategies with more socially acceptable and constructive communications. In adolescent years, acting out in the form of rebellious behaviors such as smoking, shoplifting and drug use can be understood as "a cry for help." The young person may seem to be disruptive - and may well be disruptive - but this behaviour is often underpinned by an inability to regulate emotions in some other way.

In addiction

See also: addiction

In criminology

See also: criminology

External links and references


* [ National Library of Medicine - Medical Subject Headings]
* [ Acting out/Acting in (excerpt)] International Journal of Psychoanalysis
* [ "Projective Identification, Countertransference, and the Struggle for Understanding Over Acting Out"] Robert T. Waska, M.S., MFCC, Journal of Psychotherapy Practice and Research 8:155-161, April 1999

elf help

* [ Acting out] More complete explanation from a psychological perspective.
* [ Acting out] Understanding acting out from outsiders and insider's perspectives, suggestions for developing positive potential from acting out traits.


* [ Acting out]
* [ Acting out] Encyclopedia of Children's Health

ee also

Emotional dysregulation

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • ACTING OUT — Acting out , expression anglaise utilisée principalement en psychanalyse et en thérapie de groupe pour désigner une transgression de la règle fondamentale de verbalisation, dans l’association libre, ou celle du «faire comme si», dans le… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Acting Out — «Acting Out» Descarga digital de Ashley Tisdale Álbum Guilty Pleasure Duración 3:46 Discográfica …   Wikipedia Español

  • acting-out — ● acting out nom masculin invariable (mot anglais) Comportement impulsif mais à caractère occasionnel, lié au surgissement de motions pulsionnelles refoulées. ● acting out (synonymes) nom masculin invariable (mot anglais) Comportement impulsif… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • acting out — Expresión de un conflicto intrapsíquico o de una emoción dolorosa, que se manifiesta abiertamente como una conducta generalmente neurótica, defensiva e inconsciente, que puede llegar a ser destructiva o peligrosa. Diccionario Mosby Medicina,… …   Diccionario médico

  • acting out — index catharsis Burton s Legal Thesaurus. William C. Burton. 2006 …   Law dictionary

  • acting out — An overt act or set of actions that provides an emotional outlet for the expression of emotional conflicts (usually unconscious). * * * act·ing out (akґting out) the expression of unconscious feelings and fantasies in behavior; reacting to… …   Medical dictionary

  • Acting-out — Ac|ting out auch: Ac|ting|out 〈[æ̣ktıŋaʊt] n. 15〉 Abreagieren (von Aggressionen o. Ä.) [engl.] * * * Acting out   [ æktɪȖaʊt, englisch] das, , Psychoanalyse: Handlungen meist impulsiven Charakters, die nicht in die Normalpersönlichkeit integriert …   Universal-Lexikon

  • Acting-out — Ac|ting out* [ ɛktiŋaut] das; <aus gleichbed. engl. acting out> das Abreagieren [verdrängter Impulse] (Psychol.) …   Das große Fremdwörterbuch

  • acting out — /æktɪŋ ˈaʊt/ (say akting owt) noun antisocial behaviour often carried out with an unconscious or semiconscious desire to draw attention to one s frustration and anxiety, being a release mechanism which has its roots in an underlying troubled… …   Australian English dictionary

  • acting out — ac·ting out loc.s.m.inv. ES ingl. {{wmetafile0}} TS psic. 1. atto impulsivo e apparentemente imprevedibile di persone affette da squilibrio psichico 2. il rivivere emozioni e conflitti inconsci, riattivati dal transfert {{line}} {{/line}} DATA:… …   Dizionario italiano