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Greenacre, P. (1950). General Problems of Acting out. Psychoanal Q., 19:455-467.

(1950). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 19:455-467

General Problems of Acting out

Phyllis Greenacre, M.D.

Not very much has been written about the problems of acting out in the course of analysis, although they are most difficult to deal with, frequently interfere with analysis, and sometimes escape detection unless and until they become flagrant. Perhaps the earliest extensive discussion of acting out appeared in Freud's Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901) under the headings, Erroneously Carried-out Actions, and Symptomatic and Chance Actions (1). Particularly the latter chapter included some illustrations of what was later called acting out. At that time, however, such actions were generally considered from the angle of what other elements in the current situation were being displaced onto and concealed by them, and less emphasis was laid on their significance in relation to the earlier history of the patient. Perhaps the most systematic description of acting out has been presented by Fenichel (2), who defined it tentatively as '… an acting which unconsciously relieves inner tension and brings partial discharge to ward off impulses (no matter whether these impulses express directly instinctual demands or are reactions to original instinctual demands, e.g., guilt feelings); the present situation, somehow associatively connected with the repressed content, is used as an occasion for the discharge of repressed energies; the cathexis is displaced from the repressed memories to the present derivative, and the displacement makes this discharge possible'.

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