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Stein, M.H. (1973). Acting out as a Character Trait—Its Relation to the Transference. Psychoanal. St. Child, 28:347-364.

(1973). Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 28:347-364

Acting out as a Character Trait—Its Relation to the Transference

Martin H. Stein, M.D.

FEW TERMS IN OUR FIELD OF INQUIRY HAVE BEEN SUBJECTED TO more abuse than has the expression "acting out." For the most part it has been interpreted so broadly as to include any behavior which is assumed to be irrational. As a reaction to this trend, there has been a move to confine it narrowly to the status of a transference phenomenon.

Even analysts are by no means unanimous about what acting out is, in whom it occurs, and how it should be treated. Some have suggested that we do away with the term altogether, but I am inclined to agree with those (e.g., Greenacre, 1968) who feel that we should be in no hurry to do so. It is my thesis that acting out, adequately defined, is the prototype of complex human behavior and that a thorough study of the phenomenon can teach us a good deal about the nature of human activity on a wide scale, including something about the nature of social and political forces.

One attempt to resolve the confusion which has beset the term was that of Anna Freud (1968). At the 1967 Copenhagen symposium she advanced the thesis that in the neurotic patient, acting out occurred only in the analytic situation, thus: "Unlike the neurotic, the delinquent, the addict, and the psychotic act out habitually, i.e. also without the releasing benefits of the analytic technique" (p. 168).

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