Acting Out

Acting out

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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

See also: 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 a child develops 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 the need to regulate emotions that are too difficult to be handled in any other way.

In addiction

See also: addiction

In criminology

See also: criminology

External links and references


Self 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.


See also

Emotional dysregulation


Source: Wikipedia

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