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#47151 - 12/22/03 02:54 AM Re: Acting out
The Dean Offline
Moderator Emeritus
Registered: 07/15/02
Posts: 2080
Loc: Milwaukee, WI
Len, this is a thread with many questions and distinctions in it.

CSA occurs when an adult uses his/her power to, make us in some way, experience sex against our will--it is not our choice.

The acting out that is eating way too much, or being a drunk as opposed to being alcoholoic is something quite different. We are not using or abusing another person, nor are we forceing booze down someone else's throat for example.

We also use the word acting out for what is promiscuous and irresponsible sex between consenting adults. But, I think that we usually also say that there is some definite link to our past abuse that leads us to act this way. We have men here who were never sexually assaulted as a child, but who have been raped as an adult--often under threat of violence and with the victim being alone against two or more perpetrators.

The porn business in the USA is a multi-billion $$$$ industry. Surely, not all the folks paying money to look at porn are survivors. But survivors may look at porn for different reasons than say a man who had not been abused but likes to look at the girls.

Looking at porn solely to get the energy to masturbate would seem to me to be more a sexual disfunction. But, again, it might be that survivors do that because of conflicted feelings about sexuality, or the inability to have intimate relationships with another person.

Dave made a huge point. Taking responsibility for our actions should lead to our having less shame and guilt. And not acting so complusively either, I feel.

I am not sure what the number of years in age makes an act no longer just "kids messing around," versus an older child, who is still a minor, but still legally abusing a younger child by overpowering the child in some way.

Power seems to be the most important word when we think of something being abuse--physical, mental sexual, or even financial.

When I hear men here speak of their "acting out" they are not overpowering some less powerful person. The acting in seems to be harming ourselves because we feel we are such bad people. Personally, I think that is more mental illness than a freely willed act of punishing ourselves--but I could sure be wrong there.

I have rarely seen a compulsive over-worker admit that he or she is "acting out" anything. They have some need to put in 14 or 16 hour days and find it nearly impossible to take two consecutive weeks of vacation. But, I am a guy who does that at times. And I am aware that I keep busy simply because there is something that my mind wants me to think about and I refuse to allow the mental state needed to give serious thought to it.

Using power to harm a weaker person seems the most important element in abuse from what I understand.


If we do not live what we believe, then we will begin to believe what we live.

#47152 - 12/23/03 11:43 PM Re: Acting out
survive75 Offline

Registered: 09/27/03
Posts: 304
Loc: Massachusetts
This is always a controversial subject - but I do believe it is an imperitive one if we want to truly stop the cycle of abuse.

Despite the difficulty and pain (and god knows I can't do it with my own abuser,) we as survivors have to admit that sexual abuse begets sexual abuse, and therefore, many abusers have learned that behavior from somewhere. Murderers, rapists - hell, bankrobbers! - don't just fall out of the sky to spread their evil around the world!

I think that many people have a difficult time accepting that someone can hurt someone else, admit it, determine what the root cause was, and still accept responsibility and punishment for his or her actions. On both sides of the coin. People either want to label them evil and say things like, "Well, my dad hit me and I never grew up to be a serial killer." Or the more liberal side where they think that there should be no penalty whatsoever. There has to be treatment and real understanding, and that takes work and time and compassion and it forces people to take a look at the fact that what happens to you when you are a child affects you in profound ways as a teen and adult.

Sorry, this subject always fires me up.



"Even though I know/I donít want to know/Yeah I guess I know/I just hate how it sounds"

#47153 - 12/24/03 05:59 AM Re: Acting out
senordeaner Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 12/01/03
Posts: 11
I have a hard time building an opinion between acting out and abuse. For one thing, I was abused, but my abuser was actually a year younger than me. He most likely was acting out, because he tried to perform the same acts with most of the kids in the neighborhood. Some of them rejected, and some were unfortunate and he threatened us with a gun to the head or a sword to the throat. He threatened us. I was afraid for my life, so I did what he said, no matter how sick it made me feel. Now, I don't mean to offend anyone, but I believe he was an abuser. Sure, he may have been "acting out", but there was a definite element of abuse involved ALSO.
Acting out, in my opinion, can only go so far. When you threaten a person's life, that definitely turns out to be abuse in my book.

People of the strongest character exist here.

#47154 - 12/24/03 11:33 AM Re: Acting out
phoster Offline

Registered: 11/21/03
Posts: 758
Loc: ohio
The terms are not all that important. It is like sexual addiction or sexual compulsion. Doctors argue over them, but in the end the effect on your life is the same. Regardless of what we call it, we all have symptoms and things we do as the result of what was done to us.

I have started using acting out, because before I kept calling my childhood sexual encounters relationships. Encounter makes it seem lighthearted and fun, or too abstract. It doesnít capture the darkness of it somehow. Relationship definitely is wrong, because children donít have sexual relationships. A relationship is something the people involved choose, and when I was molested or when I passed that on to others there was no choosing with understanding. It was acting out for lack of a better word.

I guess the reason it is important to me to make that separation is that I need to stop taking all the responsibility on my self. It is important that I look at those things as a response to being molested, not as relationships I chose to be in.

When I molested, abused, passed on what I was shown, I justified it as a relationship or encounter, but that wasnít it. I felt I needed to make that distinction in my own mind, because distorted views of the facts kept me locked into where I was. Rationalizing and distorting the truth are what we do to deal with painful things that we canít face. Only by facing those demons can we heal, in my opinion, and I am trying hard to call black, black and white, white now.

i have started to realize a health child would run or tell if someone aproached them with sex. those that i molested, acted out with, whatever, most likely had thier own issues going on. with the girl i acted out with when i was ten for example, we were sexual for two years. clearly she was there for her own reasons, acting out just as i was.

i used to call that my first relationship, but we were there for love, affection of longterm, we were there to be sexual, period. it is important in my recovery to quit thinking theses were relationships, and to label them soemthing else. i guess acting out was what my doctor called them, so i use it.

compassion is a light even to the darkest soul

#47155 - 12/24/03 04:55 PM Re: Acting out
theo Offline

Registered: 09/28/03
Posts: 1122
this thread has way too many fine points to truly respond coherently right after you wake up, so i will limit myself to a few comments only \:\) . acting out, reponsibility, and possible equivelance with our abusers are three very different things in my opinon. while it is definitely true that we are to take responsibility for our own actions (such as my irresponsibility this past summer) there is a difference between acting out and our perps. that difference is the intent of the action and what it is sourced from. i was making a bad choice in my behavior this past summer then it got out of my control in a very serious way that all most cost me lady theo. that first decision to respond to the depression that way was the action i was responsible for. the intent was to escape from something i could not understand. the intent of perps is not escape it is coercion and power. when a person is coercive, forcing another to do something they would not otherwise do, that is abuse, not acting out. it can be said that our acting out is a form of seeking power, but there is a huge difference between trying to regain power for self through self then it is in seeking power over another. it is not the same by a long chalk. acting out is something we do to escape something we do not understand and we are respnsible for bad choices. trying to coerce someone into something is entirely different. take care, all.

journey well,
theo dewolfe

- It is gift, and gift will find its way
- I inherit through my choice. I build through my affirmation. It is through my freedom that I nurture, or fade into autonomy
- I was not given to serve life, but to embrace it

#47156 - 12/25/03 02:21 AM .


#47157 - 12/28/03 12:39 AM .


#47158 - 12/28/03 12:42 AM .


#47159 - 12/28/03 03:52 AM Re: Acting out
ARW Offline

Registered: 08/29/02
Posts: 161
Loc: LA
I don't feel that my acting out is not abusive, in fact I'm heatedly aware of the effects of my abuse; on my wife, myself, whatever. However, the distinction of terms, or maybe more correctly, the importance of using the term "acting out" in addition to abuse, is to clarify that the subject of that behavior is aware and in some way dealing with his issues. He is taking responsibility for his behavior and admitting to himself (at the very least) that he has a significant problem. Abuse on its own strikes me as most often being used to describe another's behavior. I smile sardonically at the thought of my perp describing his molestations as either abusive or acting out. What a lovely thought. Makes me laugh, truly. He saw himself as a victim of, in his words, a horribly abusive and overbearing father (note: abuse describing another's behavior), and only described his relations with me and his obsessions with other children as "caring" and "deep friendship". I never saw the feintest glimmer of self-doubt or reflection. Not unlike Michael Jackson. In fact the similarities are frightening.

This isn't to say a full blown perp couldn't be someone in therapy who describes his behavior to himself as acting out, but it feels wrong doesn't it? It's almost impossible to imagine. Like a bad movie villain, who begs the cops to stop him before, gasp "he kills again." I'd be curious to hear from the pros on this site, whether that's a low-occuring type of perp.

anyway, my two cents. this thread has had some awesome contributions. really got me thinking. thanks.

In every cry of every man,
In every Infant's cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forged manacles I hear.
-William Blake

#47160 - 12/28/03 04:40 AM Re: Acting out
bountiful1 Offline

Registered: 08/24/03
Posts: 62
Loc: New York, New York, USA

Thanks for posting this question. I am not a therapist, so my opinion is only based on what I have learned in therapy with particular therapists and from the couple of dozen books I've read. (I travel - a lot - for work, and have seen 10 therapists in 4 countries).

When I have asked about acting out behaviors, they all gave me a definition that includes all of the behaviors refered to in this thread.

I was told that "acting out is any behavior that is done in an attempt to numb/negate/ or otherwise disown a feeling that comes up". (To avoid the discomfort of the feelings that come up as we move through space, and having to feel them). "A feeling we don't want to feel - so we act out to avoid feeling it - dealing with it as a reality". This includes numbing, suicidal behaviors, and harming any other person. It is "an act done by people in order to avoid feeling the discomfort of something that we don't want to feel".

As far as I have learned, acting out can include everything from; physically harming someone to demeaning someone to ignoring someone to ignoring someone's feelings in one's actions (abuse); - as well as physically harming your own body and demeaning and ignoring yourself and your feelings; to ritual numbing behaviors (cutting, sexual acting out, anorexia or over eating). It is "a behavior that gives a false sense of security/power about something that we don't feel that secure about" was how one therapist put it.

It is an "act done to yourself or others that avoids healthy expression of (sometimes terrifying and angry) feelings".

As I said, I am not trained in this field. This is what I have been taught by the therapists I have worked with, and have learned from the books I have read.

I think it is true; although I admit that what I think does not, in reality, make things so. But I have also experienced acting out. So I communicate from experience - which gives my thoughts meaning. I have never hurt anyone else. The harm I have done to myself has never had any outward signs. But I can imagine what it might be like to hurt someone and/or hurt myself. So from that I know that it can, and therefor must be a truth. It might even be a fact as well.

The only way I find the emotionally honest way of forgiving the dozens of men who abused me is that I assume they were acting out in their using me for their numbing out choices/actions. That they did it to me is a fact. That they took away my ability to experience anything as I moved through space for 25 yeras is also a fact. That they rendered me unable to learn (absorb things) is the biggest fact that makes me the saddest. That they were using me as an object to numb out on - as an acting out tool for things they could not face - is the only emotionally honest way I can forgive them.

Gosh, I didn't mean to go on. I have heard of so much acting out, it makes me very sad. Harmful to themselves (internally or externally), and sometimes others. It makes me very sad. Sad for them that they had to do that. Sad that abuse cycles bring about the need for escape. But I have also seen that emotion tinged with conscience has been so powerful and effective. I have witnessed such incredible growth when seeing that from the abused I have known. When, in one group I was in, people were given facts devoid of emotion, I have seen too many times, men stop and never move on. It's a toughie, like everything I've ever encountered worth knowing about.

Thanks for the question.

We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and I dream of freedom and happiness and fulfillment for us all.

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