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Vanggaard, T. (1968). Contribution to Symposium on Acting Out. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 49:206-210.

(1968). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 49:206-210

Contribution to Symposium on Acting Out

Thorkil Vanggaard

Quite frequently acting out is used as a general designation for action which has the effect of easing the tension created by unsolved unconscious conflict. Fenichel (1945), for instance, speaks of "acting out inside of analysis" and "acting out outside of analysis". Greenacre (1950), following Fenichel, does the same. This use of the term implies that many forms of psychopathy, addiction, action prompted by unconscious need for atonement, and all manner of inexpedient repetitive patterns of behaviour are included within the concept of acting out, whether they originate in an analytical situation or not. From a formal point of view this is logical, if the delineation of the concept is based solely on the characteristics mentioned above.

However, it may be debated whether it is practical to give such a wide scope to the concept of acting out. By doing so, our zest to generalize is satisfied, to be sure, but the precision of meaning and the usefulness of the term are correspondingly reduced.

When Freud (1914) introduced the concept of acting out he ascribed to it a much narrower and more specific content. This original conception he maintained in his later years, as can be seen in the Outline(1940). He characterized acting out exclusively in connexion with the analytical situation, as a complication of and contrast to remembering. The patient does not remember, he acts, Freud says, thus determining the meaning of acting out on the basis of remembering. Remembering, recall, here stand for all the factors in the service of the secondary process responsible for therapeutic effect.

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