Compulsion To Repeat: The Act of Forgetting
Posted by Dr. Vollmer on October 18, 2013
Freud said that we have a compulsion to repeat so that we do not think or remember painful experiences. In other words, we attach ourselves to people who repeat our early traumatic relationships so that we do not have to mourn the traumatic aspects. In the repetition there is a denial of the negative feelings. Ulna, fifty-two, said that she did not want to go on medication for ADHD because she did not want to feel that she should have done this years ago, so to avoid mourning her lost years, she would rather not see if a stimulant could help her focus. In Ulna’s case, the compulsion to repeat, or to continue her life, with all of her difficulties, was preferable to feeling the regret of not acting sooner. Usually, this compulsion to repeat is unconscious, and hence needs to explored in a psychotherapeutic setting. This repetition is seen in people who continue to pick relationships which are “the same,” meaning that even though they pick different people, the feelings which get triggered are very similar. This unconscious replication of previous relationships requires in-depth psychotherapy, as no amount of the “Ts” or time-limited psychotherapy, can begin to dig into the depth of this repetition. This compulsion to repeat can also be a way of understanding addiction. Why do people drink when they know it is bad for them, and it hurts their family? Perhaps, they need to numb themselves, as a way of repeating the suppression of feelings that they had to do as children, as no one was around to attend to their inner world. Rather than understanding this phenomena, they repeat the need to escape from their fully functioning mental world. This notion, “the compulsion to repeat” is at the heart of psychotherapy, as wrestling with this concept, by working in the transference, is at the heart of mental transformation. Turning the compulsion to repeat into the act of remembering, allows the patient to mourn the past, and move on to a new way of being in the world, which means new kinds of relationships. This work is called “working through” as the time, and patience, to do this mourning and re-structuring is lengthy and hence not amenable to the time-limited therapies, which I call the “Ts”.