Repetition compulsion* is a pattern we get stuck in where we are trying to ease the pain that manifests because our needs as a child were not met. The pain occurs when we are younger and because our feelings weren’t acknowledged, the emotions (of fear, anger and grief) are not resolved and we get stuck in a loop of recreating the pattern in an attempt to resolve the feelings that get triggered in us. As children when our pain is not seen, it is traumatic and we often end up questioning if there is something wrong with us and we can even think we are crazy because we feel so much and no one else sees how difficult things are for us. Children need acknowledgment of what they feel. When they don’t get it, it is likely they will end up repeating a dramatic pattern in an attempt to get those unfulfilled needs met or they will begin to self-medicate to numb themselves to those feelings.
Repetition compulsion manifests as an ongoing pattern of drama we recreate in our current lives which often disrupts our relationships. Typically we are trying to convince ourselves and others that we were wronged or hurt in an attempt to ease our pain. The manifestation of the pattern is emotional and could be fear/anxiety, anger, crying, and/or depression. We may withdraw or fight or disassociate. Often we create drama. When we were younger, we were typically told to get over it (usually not because our parents were bad people but because they didn’t know what to do to help us or they are too busy/wrapped up in their issues to even see that there is a problem) and no matter how much we cry, yell, withdraw or give, our pain was and is not recognized. So we end up repeating the pattern over and over to finally be seen, heard, and acknowledged. We think that if someone finally witnesses us, we will resolve the feelings in us. So we repeat and repeat a negative pattern without resolution.
Our drama response doesn’t work because it is not related to the present. It is a manifestation of past pain being acted out in the present in an attempt to resolve it. We are usually drawn to others who manifest the same patterns that caused the problem, so it is not likely that those interactions will help us feel better. Others just see the drama and typically they respond from their patterns. So then we get stuck with others in an ongoing drama that eats away at the safety and effectiveness of our relationships. We are not being mature in our relationships because we are stuck in a childhood pattern.
The way to resolve this is to be with the feelings underneath the pattern. This is not as easy as it sounds because we are not taught how to be with our feelings and we often deny our feelings in order to live with the people around us who don’t want to deal with our emotions. We get the message that they don’t want us to feel this so in order to belong, we suppress, deny and eventually act out or react (because the unmet need is still there trying to be met). It takes practice to fully allow emotions in our bodies so we can finally process them and let them go. It is a new coping mechanism to develop and it takes time to learn.
Typically our culture teaches us to bury or act out on our feelings as a way of dealing with the discomfort. When we are with our feelings with compassion, we develop a healthy adult who can sooth the inner child who was hurt rather than acting out in an attempt to rid ourselves of the discomfort. Burying feelings strengthens the pattern of neglect because we aren’t hearing the inner child who needs something. Our tendency is to want someone else to sooth us, but that won’t work, so again, the child ends up neglected. We need to learn to be with the pain and carry it forward with us with compassion. Ideally parents would do this for the child thus teaching them how to do it themselves—they would just be with him or her with the sad, anxious or angry feelings, but because most of us are not trained to deal effectively with emotions, that doesn’t occur. So we need to be the healthy adult for the child in us whose needs weren’t met.
When there is a desire to fill the hole with someone else’s love (or Source’s love) then we are trying to fill the hole and we are trying to make the pain go away; we aren’t being with what is, we are still resisting the feeling (which keeps it stuck). It is unconditionally and compassionately being with what is that allows the feeling to pass. Accepting it builds you up. If you can be with the pain with compassion, you can carry it forward and you step into your strength (mature adult) instead of your weakness (child) thus shifting the old pattern. We shift from wanting others to change so that our negative feelings dissipate to being responsible for our feelings by allowing the pain and being our own support system. Remember you are source so you have the strength to be with what is. This shifts the pattern from being a victim and blaming others (which results in reactions that hurt) to being accountable for yourself (so you can respond from a calm, clear place).
Until we fully witness and feel our inner child’s pain, we will keep being triggered by situations that remind us of our pain and we will keep acting out our drama to try to have our pain acknowledged. Processes like mindfulness meditation (listen to the Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron or read, The Presence Process by Michael Brown) and CLEAR and other energy psychologies can help with this process of attending to the pain of the inner child. As stated in Buddha’s Brain, “…if you call up positive emotions and perspectives while implicit or explicit (negative) memories are active, these wholesome influences will slowly be woven into the fabric of those memories. Every time you do this—every time you sift positive feelings and views from painful, limiting states of mind—you build a little bit of neural structure. Over time, the accumulating impact of this positive material will literally, synapse by synapse, change your brain.” ** The current term for this process is “memory reconsolidation.”
It is often helpful in the process to pose a question for yourself without any intention of figuring out the answer, but allowing insight to emerge from the process of being with the sensations and emotions being felt. Questions that may help: Is my anger at others due to the fact that my parents/guardians didn’t see my pain? Is my drama a way of legitimizing the pain to myself and saying, yes it is real even though they don’t see it? Is there loyalty to the suffering (meaning that because our parents suffered, we thought that to belong we needed to suffer)? Is suffering somehow important to you because you believe that if someone finally sees it you will feel better? Do you have to hold onto suffering because others didn’t see what you were going through and this is a way of saying that it was real for you? Can you see yourself and what you have been through? Can you be witness to the suffering of the younger you? Can you hold yourself in a place of compassion while you witness and feel your pain?
Witnessing ourselves with compassion is an ongoing practice that helps us mature and be effective members of society. With this tool we can learn to respond to situations instead of reacting and causing more turmoil in our world. Whenever we have strong emotions or drama bubbling up it is a cue to stop, imagine holding ourselves with compassion and witness the feelings and sensations in the body—be the healthy adult for yourself. And usually when we really do this, we have insight about the current situation and how to respond. With practice we can become centered and present in our lives so that we can respond appropriately in the moment to situations.
*Repetition compulsion is a psychological phenomenon in which a person repeats a traumatic 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. Wikipedia
** Buddah’s Brain, Rick Hanson, Ph.D & Richard Mendius, MD