Internalizing Behaviors: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:01 Internalizing Behaviors
  • 0:41 What Are Internalizing…
  • 1:37 Internalizing &…
  • 2:27 Effects of…
  • 3:08 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Yolanda Williams

Yolanda has taught college Psychology and Ethics, and has a doctorate of philosophy in counselor education and supervision.

Internalizing behaviors are negative, problematic behaviors that are directed toward the self. Learn about internalizing behaviors, their effects, how they differ from externalizing behaviors, and more.

Internalizing Behaviors

Imagine that you're a psychologist working with a 14-year-old female client. You notice she is very shy and withdrawn in your therapy sessions. She frequently makes self-degrading statements such as 'I am so stupid' or 'I should have known better.' As your sessions continue, you notice that she has very low self-esteem. You notice that she has cut marks on her wrist. You ask her about them and she tells you that she is cutting in order to deal with her emotions. Your client's cutting, low self-esteem, and degrading comments about herself are examples of internalizing behavior.

What Are Internalizing Behaviors?

Internalizing behaviors are behaviors that result from negativity that is focused inward. People with internalizing behaviors have difficulty coping with negative emotions or stressful situations, so they direct their feelings inside. For example, a young girl may respond to being bullied by a peer by blaming herself or withdrawing from social activities. Because they occur on the inside, internalizing behaviors are usually not visible to others.

Examples of internalized behaviors include:

  • Social withdrawal
  • Feelings of loneliness or guilt
  • Unexplained physical symptoms, i.e. headaches and stomachaches not due to a medical condition
  • Not talking to or interacting with others
  • Feeling unloved
  • Feeling sadness
  • Nervousness or irritability
  • Fearfulness
  • Not standing up for yourself
  • Changes in sleeping or eating patterns
  • Difficulty concentrating

Difference between Internalizing and Externalizing Behaviors

Externalizing and internalizing behaviors both result from negative responses to stress. Unlike internalizing behaviors, externalizing behaviors are focused outside of oneself. They include:

  • Physical aggression
  • Destruction of property
  • Underage drinking
  • Running away from home

Whereas externalizing behaviors are easily observable by others, internalizing behaviors or not. For example, you can easily spot when a student is being physically aggressive toward another student (externalizing), but we cannot hear the negative self-talk (internalizing) that may be going through someone's head. Internalizing problems are more common among females, while externalizing problems are more common among males.

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