Basics What Externalizing Means in Psychiatry Externalizing Psychiatric Disorders By Kristalyn Salters-Pedneault, PhD Kristalyn Salters-Pedneault, PhD Kristalyn Salters-Pedneault, PhD, is a clinical psychologist and associate professor of psychology at Eastern Connecticut State University. Learn about our editorial process Updated on October 11, 2021 Fact checked Verywell Mind content is rigorously reviewed by a team of qualified and experienced fact checkers. Fact checkers review articles for factual accuracy, relevance, and timeliness. We rely on the most current and reputable sources, which are cited in the text and listed at the bottom of each article. Content is fact checked after it has been edited and before publication. Learn more. by Adah Chung Fact checked by Adah Chung LinkedIn Adah Chung is a fact checker, writer, researcher, and occupational therapist. Learn about our editorial process Print Leland Bobbe/Getty Images Externalizing is a term used by mental health professionals to describe and diagnose psychiatric disorders featuring problems with self-control of emotions and behaviors. A person with an externalizing disorder directs antisocial, aggressive behavior outward (externally), at others, rather than turning their feelings inward (internalizing). A person diagnosed with any externalizing disorder has problems controlling emotions and impulses and expresses them with antisocial behavior that often violates the rights of others. For example, they may confront other people angrily and aggressively, opposing or “taking on” authority figures or striking back against social limits. Psychiatric Disorders Featuring Externalizing The fifth edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) groups externalizing disorders under the formal heading of “Disruptive, Impulse-Control, and Conduct Disorders.” They include: Antisocial Personality Disorder: Unlike the other externalizing disorders, this Cluster B personality disorder is mainly discussed in DSM-5 under the heading “Personality Disorders,” where it’s described as “a pattern of disregard for, and violation of, the rights of others” in persons age 18 years or older whose antisocial conduct began before age 15 years. Criteria for diagnosing this externalizing disorder include combinations of symptoms that involve: Disregarding and violating the rights of others: for example, breaking the law, lying, acting irresponsibly, showing a reckless disregard for one’s or others’ safety, showing lack of remorse Other factors: Onset of this externalizing disorder before age 15 years includes evidence of conduct disorder. Symptoms and Treatment Options for Antisocial Personality Disorder Oppositional Defiant Disorder: Criteria for diagnosing this externalizing disorder include combinations of symptoms that involve: Angry/irritable mood: The person often 1) loses their temper, 2) is touchy or easily annoyed, 3) is angry and resentfulArgumentative/defiant behavior: The person often 1) argues with authority figures or, if a child or teenager, with adults; 2) actively defies or refuses to comply with rules or requests from authority figures; 3) deliberately annoys others; 4) blames others for their mistakes or misbehaviorVindictiveness (spitefulness): The person has shown this behavior at least twice within the past six months Other factors: The person’s behavior relates to their own distress or that of others close to him or her, or it has a negative impact on the person’s ability to function. Conduct Disorder. Criteria for diagnosing this externalizing disorder include combinations of symptoms that involve: Aggressive behavior toward people and animals: for example, bullying, threatening, intimidating, starting physical fights, using deadly weapons, physically abusing people or animals Destruction of property: for example, deliberately setting fires or otherwise destroying property Lying Theft Serious violations of normally accepted rules of conduct Other factors: The person's behavior seriously negatively affects their ability to function socially or at work or school. Also, if age 18 or older, the person does not meet the diagnostic criteria for antisocial personality disorder. Pyromania (Fire-Setting): Criteria for diagnosing this externalizing disorder include combinations of symptoms that involve: Deliberate fire-setting more than onceA feeling of tension or arousal before the actFascination with, interest in, curiosity about, or attraction to fire, the items used to set it, and its social consequencesFeelings of pleasure, relief, or gratification during and after the act and from watching firesLack of an underlying reason for setting fires (such as for money or to conceal a criminal act) Other factors: The fire-setting is not better explained by a manic episode or a diagnosis of conduct disorder or antisocial personality disorder. Kleptomania (Stealing): Criteria for diagnosing this externalizing disorder include combinations of symptoms that involve: Repeated failure to resist the impulse to steal objects not needed for personal use or for their monetary valueFeelings of increasing tension right before the theftPleasure, relief, or gratification during the theft Other factors: The thefts are not committed to express anger or vengeance and are not responses to delusions or hallucinations. Intermittent Explosive Disorder: Criteria for diagnosing this externalizing disorder include combinations of symptoms in persons age 6 years and older that involve: Impulsive, unplanned, and excessive verbal aggression, physical assault, and property damage that are not done to achieve things such as money or power Other factors: The repeated aggressive outbursts create severe distress or impairment of function in the person committing them, have financial or legal consequences and are not better explained by another psychiatric or medical disorder. How Childhood Trauma Relates to Intermittent Explosive Disorder Note: The brief descriptions provided above are intended to give you a quick overview of the diagnostic criteria for disruptive, impulse-control, and conduct disorders (externalizing disorders). They do not include the many levels of detail a mental health professional must consider in making any of these diagnoses. For additional information, consult your doctor. 7 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Frick PJ, Thornton LC. A Brief History of the Diagnostic Classification of Childhood Externalizing Disorders. In: Centifanti LC, Williams DM, eds. The Wiley Handbook of Developmental Psychopathology. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd; 2017. doi:10.1002/9781118554470.ch23 Rolston C. Antisocial personality disorder. In: Kreutzer J, DeLuca J, Caplan B, eds. Encyclopedia of Clinical Neuropsychology. Switzerland: Springer, Cham; 2017. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-56782-2 Pardini DA, Frick PJ, Moffitt TE. Building an evidence base for DSM-5 conceptualizations of oppositional defiant disorder and conduct disorder: introduction to the special section. J Abnorm Psychol. 2010;119(4):683-688. doi:10.1037/a0021441 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. DSM-5 Changes: Implications for Child Serious Emotional Disturbance. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; 2016. Johnson RS, Netherton E. Fire Setting and the Impulse-Control Disorder of Pyromania. Am J Psychiatry Resid J. 2016;11(7):14-16. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp-rj.2016.110707 Saluja B, Chan LG, Dhaval D. Kleptomania: a case series. Singapore Med J. 2014;55(12):e207-e209. doi:10.11622/smedj.2014188 Coccaro EF. Intermittent Explosive Disorder as a Disorder of Impulsive Aggression for DSM-5. Am J Psychiatry. 2012;169(6):577-588. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.2012.11081259 Additional Reading American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 5th ed. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association; 2015. By Kristalyn Salters-Pedneault, PhD Kristalyn Salters-Pedneault, PhD, is a clinical psychologist and associate professor of psychology at Eastern Connecticut State University. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist Online Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.