Repetition Compulsion

Kari BrowningBlog, Healing

I’ve observed that people often repeat traumatic events over and over again.

It’s called “repetition compulsion” in psychology.

Today, I was reading the memoir of a well-known person who recently re-experienced what she had experienced in junior high school. She had a career as a very popular highly-paid news anchor who suddenly had people turn on her and bully her. She eventually found herself without a job. When she was in junior high school, she had a group of friends that rejected her and bullied her. They were very cruel to her and it was quite traumatizing. She went from being popular to being very alone. The similarities were uncanny.

According to psychiatrist and researcher Bessel van der Kolk, “Many traumatized people expose themselves, seemingly compulsively, to situations reminiscent of the original trauma. These behavioral reenactments are rarely consciously understood to be related to earlier life experiences.”

According to Sigmund Freud, an Austrian neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis, we seek out these experiences in order to recreate history and change the outcome, thereby gaining mastery over what we could not control as a child.

I believe that another factor is that “we create what we believe.” During the initial trauma, we form negative core beliefs that will cause us unconsciously to keep drawing situations and people into our lives that match our beliefs.

In order to stop the cycle of repetition and to repair the damage of past trauma, we need to recognize and stop unhealthy survival patterns. We often numb our emotions through addiction. As Dr. Gabor Mate says, “I never ask why the addiction, I ask why the pain.”

We need to heal past trauma and identify the negative core beliefs we formed – and then actively “rewire our brain” with the truth.

After bringing healing to the traumatic memories, we may need to do some form of somatic work to release trauma from our bodies. This can involve deep breathing and trauma-informed exercises. This helps to change the central nervous system’s arousal response which puts us automatically in “fight, flight, freeze” mode.

Healing is a journey, but help is available and we can stop the repetition cycle.