How to solve a repetition compulsion

How to solve a repetition compulsion


Every one of us has been in a situation, that we have already experienced such similar ones or even lived through it several times. Whether it is always to get „the wrong“ person, to meet pejorative people, to be a victim of circumstances or just to be dismissed again and again and again.

What is a compulsion to repeat?

Nietzsche called it the eternal return. We repeat the same things over and over again. We are captured in a net of repetition. Psychology describes this as „being trapped“ or „turning around oneself“. Compulsion to repeat is a term defined by Sigmund Freud to justify the otherwise difficult to explain human impulse to repeat unpleasant or even painful thoughts, actions, dreams, games, scenes or situations.

Through this compulsion, we repeatedly get into situations and circumstances that trigger similar feelings and emotions in us, from our early childhood. Same feelings are still within us, because they were once suppressed over some insufferable event.
When we are ready at some point in the course of our adulthood or personal maturation, we usually unconsciously create similar situations that reflect our earlier experiences.

What’s the point of that?

To get back to our original drama and feeling!

What’s the purpose behind that, you ask?

Only through this you will be able to dissolve and finally let go of the original feeling.

This means that your external circumstances will also change. So you can come together with the right partner for you or get a fulfilling job. In short:

You will go from being a victim of circumstances to become the creator of your own life.

Why are compulsions to repeat so persistent?

Life does not want to annoy or expose you, it helps us to release things that have been stored in ourselves, in order to reach the next stage of development. This partly unconscious compulsion to commit ourselves again and again in challenging situations, serves as a mirror of our inner world. Because, in essence, nothing can affect us what is not somehow inside of us.

Repetitions lead us to situations in which we are given the chance to approach once suppressed feelings.

A simple example: If we grow up with an alcohol-addicted father, we can find ourself in a marriage with an alcoholic-addicted husband, who triggers the feelings we once buried. Why do we press them down? Because we could not feel our own powerlessness caused by our father’s weakness. We were too young to bear such unbearable feelings. As adults, we draw replacements into our lives. In our example, a needy man. He is the perfect mirror and helps us to feel the once deeply stored feelings. This is very healing, if we understand that pattern.

If we don’t take the opportunity and don’t dare to approach the originality, we draw again replacements into our lives until we finally feel everything out. Each time the mirrors become a little bit more intense.

Perhaps we only ever get through certain layers. Maybe we have to repeat things more often. Maybe life sends us many replacements, but at some point we will have made it!

They all help us to approach an original abandonment or fear. Therefore, we should not be afraid of it, but gratefully and accepting. Because nothing can trigger us that is not placed in us. It is a process of healing!

How does the compulsion arise?

Life strives for expansion. Therefore we put ourselves in the same situations again and again to feel old feelings. It basically has nothing to do with the person we are living with. It merely serves as a replacement or substitute.

It doesn’t always have to be the parents who planted unpleasant feelings in us, it could also have been an aggressive neighbor boy who beat us up, or a pejorative cousin or an intimidating teacher or a malicious grandmother. Our key figures from childhood accompanied us and they all leave permanent marks, for better or worse.

As a child, traumatic experiences (fear, abandonment, devaluation, etc.) activate those brain regions that are also active during acute physical pain. Since we as small creatures cannot stand such pain, we press them down. It’s a natural survival reflex. Only as adults, when we have the emotional and mental awareness to finally feel these suppressed emotions, we can truly detach ourselves from our emotionally past.

Since the original pain has been pushed into the unconscious and the resulting dynamics can last for decades, we often do not consciously recognize whats really happen.

Only an increasing and noticeable compulsion to repeat gives us clues about the things that still slumber as shadows within us.

Dissolution through conscious acceptance

Once again, when we have the wrong person on the hook, the best thing we can do for ourselves is to sit down and feel the original feelings and be welcomed to it. These feelings are there to be felt. And they will not disappear until we accept them and live through them and feel it. We may welcome them and congratulate ourselves that we are finally ready to give them space and accept our original trauma. Whoever needs accompaniment with this, should not hesitate to take it!

There are even many cases where the trauma of the grandparents was passed on. This is called a transgenerative trauma and can be passed on into the fourth generation.

If our parents weren’t capable to recognize the inner wounds and live through them, it is now our task. If we are not emotionally able to do so, we pass it on to our children.
In our context we can speak of a trans-generative compulsion to repeat.

In a certain way, feelings have a life of their own and they want to be accepted and appreciated. As long as we suppress them, life always brings us opportunities to pay attention to them.

How to dare a new beginning?

Have faith in the circumstances! We should put the fear of doing the wrong thing behind us. Life always means it well. It sends the right people to help us getting back to the original Emotion and to feel it.

In this way we free ourselves from our compulsion to repeat. It’s a wonderful thing. We have the possibility to become free inside. The only thing we have to do is to feel affirmative.

How do we do that?
Whenever there’s a feeling of grief or anger: we go into silence, close our eyes and say yes to everything inside. In my book Freedom and the Fear of it, I’ll go into more detail.

Therefore, accept all situations affirmatively! Don’t build up resistance against repetitive things, but recognize the message in them.

All right then, get ready on to the next round and this time with feeling !

Oh and if you get into an unpleasant situations once again, give your inner being the chance to act differently now. Maybe it is just this No! Stop!, which is very important for your inner peace. You will find suggestions in: The No of the Others!

So we shouldn’t curse things because they happen again. Instead, lets be thankful for the chance to set things right!

The key is: Build a relationship within yourself. Develop your inner self. Understand your emotional heritage and integrate your own history. Discover your true nature!


I have found a very interesting experience report. A woman describes a repetition of her dysfunctional relationship with her mother. It’s in German, but I translated the answer of the magnificent Alice Miller for you – she was true pioneer of psychoanalysis.

>The tragedy of the compulsion to repeat is, among other things, that the panic fear of the inner child of the first object of reference (the cruel mother?) forces us to spare the mother from the anger of the small, powerless infant so that she does not kill us. But the more conscious we become, the more aware we become of this once suppressed, once so feared fear, which is only now EXPERIENCABLE because the deadly danger no longer exists. In the new relationships it can happen that our power of judgement still suffers as long as we need these relationships to work through the original fear of the mother. But it’s your turn to write. And you will free yourself completely from this compulsion to repeat as soon as your panic fear of the mother weakens (because you have experienced it) and you can free the present acquaintance from her double role. Then you can defend yourself, show her your true feelings, you are no longer powerless and do not need to hide your anger. You do not need to hate this person because you are not dependent on her as you are on your mother, but you do not need to love her because she obviously does not understand you and is not up to you at all. I have the impression that you are already on the way to these solutions, hence the title of your letter. But do not forget that the anger experienced on substitute objects is not really liberating as long as it remains unjust, therefore confusing and unresolved, due to the confusion with the mother. The healing effect has only the RIGHTED anger, the anger on the object that fully deserves this anger of the child.<<


Posted on: 17. Mai 1020styx

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