Defenses: Acting Out

Here is a snippet from our Clinical Camp!

 Acting Out

Acting Out is a term often used by parents or teachers to mean misbehaving. However, for psychodynamic therapists this is a much richer concept. Psychodynamic therapists believe all behaviors have meaning AND that unwanted thoughts and feelings which are unresolved will find expression through unconscious means.   Thus, acting out means that unresolved thoughts and/or feelings are being expressed in some way – however- this is outside of the awareness of the actor! For example, a person who feels she is guilty over some perceived misdeed may conduct herself in a way that results in her getting into trouble (sometimes repeatedly). This way, the guilty feeling can be somewhat satisfied by being punished over and over. Since the original ‘misdeed’ is never dealt with, she is unconsciously compelled to repeatedly get herself into a position of being punished.  Acting out is a defense in that the problematic thought or feeling does not gain conscious acknowledgment, but finds expression in behavior (outside of the person’s awareness!).  One clear example is the ‘Freudian Slip’ in which a person says something which is really on her mind, without any conscious awareness she is about to do so (revealing some true and often problematic thoughts or feelings).