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Mental Mondays: What Is Repetition Compulsion?

Mental Mondays: What Is Repetition Compulsion?

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epetition compulsion might sound ambiguous, but it simply means reliving your trauma in an unhealthy way. It’s the unconscious repetition of past experiences, behaviors, or relationships, often despite unfavorable repercussions. Also called trauma reenactment, it involves being drawn to reenact patterns from your past. This is often true about unresolved conflicts or traumas.

Repetition compulsion may occur in various aspects of life, such as relationships, work dynamics, or personal habits, and is driven by unconscious desires to master or resolve underlying issues, even if it leads to undesirable outcomes. Sometimes we seek closure or have become addicted to the trauma and its effects.

Repetition compulsion and the significant implications for mental health…

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Repetition compulsion often stems from unresolved trauma or negative experiences from the past. Continuously reenacting these patterns can perpetuate emotional distress and prevent healing. It can be likened to a wound we keep peeling its surface — it will never heal. And if we continue to tug at it, the wound can worsen.

When it comes to relationships, we all know that person who has a “type”. But what if your type is toxic and in the habit of inflicting pain? You’re at risk of being in a cycle of perpetual hurt. (You need to “untype” ASAP). Simply put, if you continue to choose partners with abusive or neglectful caregiver traits, it can lead to unhealthy dynamics and difficulties in forming fulfilling connections.

Individuals may also engage in self-destructive behaviors as part of repetition compulsion, such as substance abuse, risk-taking, or jumping nose-deep into toxic relationships, which can aggrandize mental health concerns and increase susceptibility to deterioration.

The link to Freudian theory

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Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, introduced the concept of repetition compulsion as part of his theory of the unconscious mind. He suggested that individuals are driven to repeat traumatic experiences as a way of trying to gain mastery over them. Recognizing and understanding repetition compulsion can be important in therapy. Through insight and exploration, individuals can work towards breaking these patterns and resolving underlying issues.

Repetition compulsion can also occur on a societal or cultural level, where groups or societies repeat destructive patterns of behavior or relationships. Repetition compulsion highlights the complex ways in which past experiences can influence present behavior and relationships, often outside conscious awareness.

Ways to manage this mental issue

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The number one step for problem-solving is an awareness of a problem, and the next step is the willingness to resolve the issue. Repetition compulsion can interfere with efforts to address mental health concerns or seek therapy, as individuals may unknowingly resist or sabotage their own progress by repeating familiar patterns of behavior. Continuously repeating negative patterns can perpetuate a cycle of distress, bolstering feelings of helplessness, low self-esteem, and hopelessness, which can contribute to conditions such as depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

At this point, seeking professional help is non-negotiable. If you have tried to do it yourself with little or no result, ask for help immediately. Recognizing and addressing repetition compulsion is often a key aspect of therapy. Through insight, exploration, and therapeutic interventions, such as cognitive-behavioral techniques or psychodynamic therapy, individuals can work towards breaking these patterns, resolving underlying traumas, and promoting healthier coping strategies.

Featured image: Kubkoo/iStock


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