Repetition Compulsion – Definition, Causes, Theories, and Treatment

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Repetition Compulsion – Definition, Causes, Theories, and Treatment

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Trauma reenactment, or repetition compulsion, may also be referred to as trauma reliving. It entails reliving terrible events from one’s past, whether physically or emotionally. Reenactments may take the shape of repeated nightmares and have a variety of effects on personal relationships. There are a number of hypotheses put up by experts to explain why this is happening.
In an older study, conducted in 1998, According to Trusted Source, Sigmund Freud, the originator of psychoanalysis, is one of these specialists. Because of their incapacity to communicate or recall prior traumas, he believes that they could be compelled to relive these experiences.

Repetition Compulsion

Repetition Compulsion

Psychoanalysis, which focuses on uncovering and diagnosing early traumas that may be the source of subsequent reenactments, is one approach to resolving the tendency to repeat one’s behaviors. Continue reading to discover more about compulsive repetition, including the underlying ideas about its roots, the effects it has on relationships, and techniques to overcome it.

Definition of Repetition Compulsion

The term “repetition compulsion” refers to a person’s urge to relive the tragedies of their childhood. These traumas are relived in new contexts that may represent the original experience for the sufferer. A person’s tendency to repeat things again might be a roadblock to therapeutic progress. The goal of therapy is to assist the individual recall the trauma and comprehending how it has affected their present behavior.
The reenactment takes many forms, including dreams. According to a case study conducted in 1990, a person suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may have recurrent nightmares about the original incident, leading them to obsess over it. Research from a reputable source shows that a large percentage of individuals have flashbacks to traumatic events in their past. Adults who have been sexually abused as children are more prone to do it again.
Additionally, a person who has been subjected to violence as a kid is more likely to engage in violence as an adult. To avoid experiencing the same sense of powerlessness they had as a kid, they may resort to violence as a last resort. Reenactment is what this is.
Reenactment may have both beneficial and bad impacts, as seen by these cases. An adaptive reenactment can be a bereaved person’s habit of retelling their lost loved one’s experiences. This allows people to work through their grief and alleviates some of the discomforts that comes with it.

Repetitive compulsions in partnerships

Repetition compulsive patterns of behavior in relationships may be shown in the following instances from a reputable source:
Detachment may be a coping strategy for someone who was beaten violently as a kid and has now learned to separate oneself from the trauma. Later on, this might develop to a sense of estrangement. Disengagement from one’s own or others’ sentiments is referred to as detachment.
The comfort of familiarity, even if it’s unfavorable, might be sought by many people. Because of a distant parent or caregiver, an individual could look for a spouse with the same personality traits.
Abuse as a kid may develop to emotions of self-hatred and the belief that one is deserving of punishment because of their past experiences. When they grow up, this might lead them to seek out more people who treat them badly.
It is common for people who have been abandoned in their childhood to become possessive and clingy when they meet new people. In an effort to avert further disengagement, these actions are being carried out.
A person who was neglected by their parents or caretakers as a youngster may have sentiments of resentment over it. Consequently, the individual may get irrationally enraged at the first provocation, even if it is a little one. For example, if a buddy does not answer a phone call, they may grow irritated.
An example of a behavior driven by fear is the relationship that has been shown between childhood sexual abuse and adult prostitution. There’s a particular case in which a lady explains that her prostitution engagement was an effort to dominate the opposite sex after she was a victim of abuse earlier in life.


Repetitive compulsive behaviors may be caused by a variety of factors.

Defenses that are unyielding

Reenactment may happen despite people’s best efforts to avoid it, even if they have a tight or inflexible defense mechanism in place to prevent it. For example, a person who has been abandoned as a kid may subsequently use possessive behavior in romantic relationships to escape the loneliness or neglect they experienced as a child. Although this individual may lose their spouse if they behave in this manner, they may still experience these feelings as a result of their actions.

Dysregulation of emotions

Dysregulation of emotional responses to unfavorable stimuli is known as affective dysregulation. Many individuals suffer from poor self-esteem because of the frequent and severe criticism they get from a parent or caregiver. Moreover, they may be very prone to emotional reactions to criticism. Therefore, in subsequent relationships, these individuals may perceive criticism harsh, even when it is not, and react with hostility with hatred to it.

A lack of self-awareness

The term “ego deficiencies” may be used to describe a lack of mental capacity. A person’s mental health may be affected by this restriction. Abuse that goes on for a long period of time may cause a wide range of mental health issues.

  • self-inflicted wounds
  • a poor sense of self-worth and a problem with drug abuse
  • an unwillingness to put oneself in the shoes of others
  • People who grew up in abusive homes may have a hard time breaking up with an abusive spouse later in life, for example. This hesitancy may be due to a lack of faith in others to assist.

Theoretical explanations for the need to repetitive compulsion

There are a number of possibilities that might explain this sort of conduct, according to experts. These are some examples:

Freud’s ideas

Actions rather than words may be a way for some individuals to convey their feelings over a prior event. As stated by Freud, persons who are unable to recall traumatic events in the past may have a strong desire to relive such events in the present.

Mastering one’s craft

Reenacting trauma as a strategy to survive and recover is a possible definition of mastery in this context. Reenactments seldom lead to mastery without therapy, which is an issue with this idea. Instead, those who have been traumatized are more likely to endure lives marked by trauma.

Theories based on hyperarousal

Repetition compulsion may be exacerbated by physiological hyperarousal, according to a research published in 1989. This indicates that a person is more sensitive to things that remind them of the trauma they experienced in the past. Anxiety, an increase in heart rate, and tension may all be signs of over-arousal. One’s capacity to make sound decisions may be impaired by this sort of reaction.

Strategies for dealing with the problem

Having the drive to do the same thing again and over may be quite difficult.
However, according to a study published in 1998, psychotherapy may be beneficial. Reenacting a trauma might be discovered through delving into one’s prior painful relationships and experiences. A person’s purpose is to get insight into their own subconscious motivations.
The traumatizing event may be integrated into the individual’s life after they realize how the past affects the present. For example, this might lead to less powerful sensations and better judgment. Treatment’s goal is to interrupt the cycle of recurrence. The in-depth psychoanalytic or psychodynamic treatment may not be for everyone. Individuals in this situation might benefit from cognitive behavioral treatment (CBT).

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