“Repetition compulsion is a psychological phenomenon in which a person repeats an event or its circumstances over and over again. This includes reenacting the event or putting oneself in situations where the event is likely to happen again. This “re-living” can also take the form of dreams in which memories and feelings of what happened are repeated, and even hallucinated.
Sigmund Freud’s use of the concept of “repetition compulsion” (German: Wiederholungszwang) was ‘articulated … for the first time, in the article of 1914, Erinnern, Wiederholen und Durcharbeiten (“Remembering, Repeating and Working-Through”)’. Here he noted how ‘the patient does not remember anything of what he has forgotten and repressed, he acts it out, without, of course, knowing that he is repeating it … For instance, the patient does not say that he remembers that he used to be defiant and critical toward his parents’ authority; instead, he behaves in that way to the doctor’.
Repetition compulsion can also be used to cover the repetition of behaviour or life patterns more broadly: a “key component in Freud’s understanding of mental life, ‘repetition compulsion’ … describes the pattern whereby people endlessly repeat patterns of behaviour which were difficult or distressing in earlier life”.”
Denise K. Shull wrote, in The Neurobiology of Freud’s Repetition Compulsion (2003):
“Freud originally spoke of undesirable repetitions in his 1920 treatise Beyond the Pleasure Principle. He described how some people behave not according to the “pleasure principle” but apparently in response to a “compulsion to repeat:”
“…people all of whose human relationships have the same outcome: such as the benefactor who is abandoned in anger after a time by each of his protégés, however much they may otherwise differ from one another, …or the man whose friendships all end in betrayal by his friend; or the man who time after time in the course of his life raises someone else into a position of great private or public authority and then after a certain interval, himself upsets that authority and replaces him with a new one; or, again, the lover each of whose love affairs with a woman passes through the same phases and reaches the same conclusion” “.