Repetition compulsion — I’ve seen this movie before…

Freud gave us many weird and wonderful explanations as to why we do the things we do. Today, I am going to focus on one of the most toxic, “repetition compulsion”, the desire to return to an earlier state of things. Behind this relatively innocuous term lies a host of problems that can ruin people’s lives and relationships. In its more benign form, you may feel compelled to always order the same thing at your favourite restaurant, or always take the same route home, even though there are other yummy foods and other easy ways to get home.

In its more serious and destructive form it is a desire to return to an earlier state of things and fix them. For example, according to the father of modern psychotherapy, if your father was an abusive alcoholic, you are likely to seek partners that exhibit similar behaviour. The child in you hopes that this time things will be better and by fixing your current partner you will heal the wounds from the past. So, you always feel the urge to date people who treat you like crap, over and over, even though you know in advance it will turn out badly (just like the last ten times that you fell for this type of guy).

Whether you are a fan of Freud or not, the truth is that when women repeatedly date emotionally unavailable men it is not bad luck; they probably make it happen. These sort of patterns, are usually hard wired in early childhood and repeat in adult relationships. What these women saw in their parent’s relationship or what they experienced themselves with one of their parents is the relationship pattern that they are trying to re-enact hoping they can fix it. A woman that grew up with an alcoholic father will know what to do when her partner passes out drunk because she has seen her mom do it for her dad.

For someone like her, love is fixing her wounded, broken man and she will often lie to cover what is happening in the relationship, will avoid people in case they figure out that not all is well, will exhibit irrational acts, self-hate, anger, depression, guilt and repeated attempts to control the relationship. There is a lot of drama in such relationships that give the veneer of unbridled passion when in reality, it is mutual dependency and a need to continuously feel needed and validated. When things reach the breaking point there is even more drama with repeated breakups and reconciliations that prolong the torture and pain. When it finally ends, she moves on to the next relationship, almost always with the same type of partner, and gets disappointed once again. He does not change, there is no resolution or breakthrough and the pattern repeats over and over.

It is an unhealthy dynamic and there is really only one good way to resolve it. If you consistently find yourself in relationships with unsuitable men, liars, cheaters, addicts, or leeches, you must leave. You can’t fix them, and you shouldn’t try. It is through understanding why you find these men attractive that you will be able turn your back on these toxic relationships and move forward. Acknowledging a cycle is the first step to breaking it. Just by recognising and admitting to yourself that you’re systematically pursuing broken, emotionally unavailable or addicted men means you can start to understand why you glorify these men.

You can take all the energy you give these damaged men who cannot ever give you what you need and pour it into yourself. Take some time to process what you discovered and when you return to the dating scene, give good, decent guys a chance to show you what it really means to be loved in a healthy and mature relationship.

Author of the Dream series for women, I love to help women find happiness.

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