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Have you ever noticed that in certain areas of life, you or someone you know tend to somehow, almost magically, end up in similar situations over and over again? We may end up in similar jobs, places or with similar lovers. It may happen even though we are making no effort to repeat the pattern or even despite attempts to consciously choose a different pattern.

Granted, some of these cases may represent sheer coincidence. Others may reflect the fact that living within a particular society, we are likely to run into patterns in the types of people and situations that are prevalent. However, in many cases, there may be something more profound going on.

Many psychologists and thinkers have recognized a tendency for humans to be drawn to situations that trigger unresolved traumas from earlier in their lives. A child who has an abusive parent may later be repeatedly drawn to abusive partners. A person who grew up in a controlling environment may end up continuously taking jobs in which they feel stifled. Someone who was often abandoned may be drawn, unconsciously, to people who will become close to them and then suddenly detach and leave.

This tendency was called the "repetition compulsion" by Sigmund Freud and has gone on to be recognized by others. Its mechanism is partially explained by and/or plays a central role in many of the behaviors and models that fascinate me most, including:
Thinkers differ on whether the repetition compulsion exists for a purpose or not. Some feel that it simply represents a desire to return to a situation that feels familiar and comfortable - despite the fact that it may be destructive - for its own sake. Such thinkers may advise that we make even greater conscious attempts to avoid falling prey to the repetition compulsion and to build our comfort with healthier, though less familiar, situations.

Others believe that we revisit these earlier traumas in unconscious search of mastery and healing. In other words, we hope that we can replay the trauma and, this time, triumph and grow through the process. They may view the repetition compulsion as an integral part of healing and advise us not to avoid it, but rather to learn how to better handle those repetetive situations so that we can master them and break the cycle.

Given the repetetive nature of many of the most daunting challenges that face us on the individual, family, social and global levels, I believe that a deeper understanding of the nature and resolution of the repetition compulsion would prove invaluable.


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