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Roughton, R.E. (1993). Useful Aspects of Acting Out: Repetition, Enactment, and Actualization. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 41:443-472.

(1993). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 41:443-472

Useful Aspects of Acting Out: Repetition, Enactment, and Actualization

Ralph E. Roughton, M.D.


In his seminal paper on acting out, Freud (1914) wrote: "We render the compulsion [to repeat] harmless, and indeed useful, by giving it the right to assert itself in a definite field. We admit it into the transference as a playground in which it is allowed to expand in almost complete freedom and in which it is expected to display to us everything in the way of pathogenic instincts that is hidden in the patient's mind" (p. 154).

This paper reexamines the ambiguous concept of acting out as both a resistance to and a useful component of the analytic process. Current concepts of repetition in the transference, enactment, and actualization avoid the pejorative connotation of acting out and, therefore, allow for a more neutral, analytic attitude toward these inevitable and vital components of the analytic process.

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