Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences

Living Edition
| Editors: Virgil Zeigler-Hill, Todd K. Shackelford

Acting Out (Defense Mechanism)

  • Maria PonsiEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-28099-8_1356-1



Acting out is a defense mechanism used when one is unable to manage a conflicted mental content by means of thought and by putting it into words. As some individuals have the tendency to express themselves by acting rather than by verbalizing their inner state, the term acting out has ended up referring to a wide range of behaviors directed either at the self or at others in which the discharge by means of action occurs without consideration of its negative consequences. It is often used as a synonym for impulsivity in the context of criminal, perverse, substance abuse, eating disorders, self-harm, and suicidal behaviors.


Freud first mentions acting out when one of his first hysterical patients suddenly interrupted treatment, thus acting out an unconscious fantasy instead of recalling a significant aspect of her past. He returned to the concept more extensively in 1914 in the essay “Remembering, repeating and working through” (Freud 1914...

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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Società Psicoanalitica Italiana (Firenze, Italy), International Psychoanalytical AssociationLondonUK

Section editors and affiliations

  • Simon Boag
    • 1
  1. 1.Macquarie UniversityNorth RydeAustralia