Repetition compulsion is a phenomenon that happens when there is an unconscious need to re-enact old traumas. This may happen for someone that repeatedly experiences sexual assaults or endures relationships that may harm them emotionally or physically. If we repeatedly end up in abusive situations, we subconsciously have learnt along our timeline that this is somehow normal.
The quality of the relationship may be reflected in our family of origin or early traumatic school experiences for example. It important to map out the experiences we had, and the beliefs associated with those experiences. If we were abandoned by a parent growing up, we may attract a partner later in life that does that also abandons us. Repetition compulsion will highlight our core wounds.
Repetition compulsion can lead us to recreate unhealthy or harmful patterns that stem from our belief system. These limiting belief systems may lay under the veil of our consciousness and haunt us throughout our lives until we are made aware of them.
When it comes to repeatedly finding oneself in a dangerous or harmful situation for example, there may be a theme of toxic positivity underlying our belief system. Repetition compulsion enables us to repeatedly tell ourselves that the relationship will improve if we just stick it out. We may have witnessed our dysfunctional parents abuse each other and never leave one another.
A belief may develop that this is what love is all about and that in a relationship it is totally acceptable to be abused. A feeling of powerlessness from those earlier adverse events can be threaded throughout your history of relationships. A cycle of repetition compulsion happens in this case due to a feeling of powerlessness. Repetition compulsion can lead to maladaptive behaviours. If there is a history of witnessing escalated conflict growing up it may feel difficult to choose someone that is calm and less reactional. The compulsion to choose a partner that creates drama may feel more familiar.
We repeat what is familiar, something that I refer to as the familiarity frequency. The familiarity frequency is not unlike listening to a radio station that plays all your favourite songs, a station in which you recognise all the artists and know all the lyrics. It maybe that you too choose someone one that also has been listening to the same station all their life. This is the perfect environment for a trauma bond to develop and play out the relationship according to your core wounds. The best explanation of Repetition compulsion is that whatever is not repaired is repeated.
In a safe therapeutic relationship, it possible to efficiently process these faulty beliefs that lead you time and time again to repetition compulsion. Repetition compulsion can be effectively processed with EMDR as the best evidence-based treatment for PTSD, sexual abuse and toxic relationship recovery.