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Zeligs, M.A. (1957). Acting in—A Contribution to the Meaning of Some Postural Attitudes Observed During Analysis. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 5:685-706.

(1957). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 5:685-706

Acting in—A Contribution to the Meaning of Some Postural Attitudes Observed During Analysis

Meyer A. Zeligs, M.D.


A case has been described in which a fragment of an analysis dealing with the patient's postural activity and body movements while on the couch was highlighted and presented as the central theme. I have endeavored to show how visual observation and timely analytic interpretation of the postural activity served to bring about meaningful communication with the therapist in an analytic situation which for a prolonged period had been characterized by frequent periods of silence, difficulty in remembering, restricted verbalization and a repetitive postural pattern.

I should like now to make some comments on the relationship between postural activity and the processes of acting out, verbalizing and remembering. In order to point up more explicitly in terms of ego function what I believe to be the metapsychological relationship between postural activity, acting out and thinking (verbalizing and remembering) within the framework of the therapeutic process, I have introduced the concept of "acting in." I

have conceptualized "acting in" as a middle phase in a genetic continuum in which acting out, without verbalizing or remembering, is at one end—acting in lying somewhere in between—and verbalizing and remembering without action is at the other end. Acting in is a compromise phase between id impulse and ego defense. Postural acts or other kinds of blocked body movements on the couch may be thought of as acting in. It is acting in within the analysis. Though it is still acting (in the service of defense) without remembering and verbalizing, it is, however, closer to symbolization, verbal expression, and the gaining of insight, hence more easily able to be worked with analytically than is acting out (16). This relationship between thought and action may also be expressed in terms of the primary and secondary process: acting out being closest to primary-process behavior (dominance of id over ego), verbalizing closest to secondary-process behavior (dominance of ego over id), and postural acting in somewhere in between. These differing phases are, of course, not distinctly separated from each other by any fixed hierarchy; any of these modes of thought or action might be dominant while the other coexisting modes are more or less submerged (7).

The use of action instead of thought, outside the analytic situation, does not, of course, necessarily imply ego regression. Action in external reality may well signify the final carrying out of a task which has been successfully thought out. We must keep in mind the basic differences between acting out, which is an unconscious defensive process reproducing a conflict out of the past instead of remembering it (11) —and action, which is the conscious solution of a conflict situation (7).

In the case which has been described here, the clinical course of the analysis was beset by many episodes of behavioral fluctuation, ranging from the unconscious defensive use of postural acting in to various gradations and types of hysterical acting out within and outside the analysis. After the postural defenses had been interpreted and worked through, an altered but still closely related ego defense, conversion hysteria (somatic), came into

play. One may discern here an intrapsychic shift in ego function from primitive motor and postural devices to a highly organized symptom formation, conversion hysteria. The hysterical symptoms of globus hystericus and leg pain were much closer to reality-oriented thinking and current object relations than was the blind, repetitive postural activity.

This shift in the patient's behavior pattern evidenced, I believe, an important alteration in ego function. Instead of the predominant use of primitive action defenses, a more mature form of ego functioning emerged with the ascendancy into dominance of thought defenses.

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