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Mitscherlich-Nielsen, M. (1968). Contribution to Symposium on Acting Out. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 49:188-192.

(1968). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 49:188-192

Contribution to Symposium on Acting Out

Margarete Mitscherlich-Nielsen

Before entering into the description of the experiences our group of analytical workers has made with acting out patients, I should like to give a short review of what is meant by acting out in psychoanalysis. We distinguish between acting out in everyday life and the special forms of acting out that we observe in psycho-analytical treatment. In everyday life, acting out is usually an attempt at solving an unconscious conflict by motor or other activity; it is motivated by instinctual needs rather than called-for by the real situation. Whether or not it serves its purpose will depend on the ratio of the components making up the motivation, namely the personal conflict and the amount of reality-testing faculties the individual's ego has been able to retain for a sound evaluation of his surroundings. The actions of a revolutionary, for instance, even if his discontent is partially based on unconscious personal problems, may still be sensible if severe abuses in the social conditions around him call for a change. Success or failure of the cause will then as a rule depend on whether or not the factual evaluation of reality outweighs the share of subjective need-satisfaction. The need for dramatization inherent in the tendency for acting out will often prove detrimental; on the other hand, severe restrictions suppressing this need may paralyse the learning process through "trial and error" apart from the lack of impetus and colour such a restrictive behaviour would be bound to display.

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