A conceptualization of the repetition compulsion

Psychiatry. Spring 2000;63(1):45-53. doi: 10.1080/00332747.2000.11024893.


The concept of the repetition compulsion remains an enigma. Its etiology is not fully understood and the purpose it serves continues to be a mystery. Although it is often theorized that the compulsion to repeat may function to facilitate mastery of a past trauma, mastery is rarely achieved. In this article the concept of the repetition compulsion is reviewed and the unanswered questions that continue to exist about this phenomenon are summarized. A way to conceptualize the compulsion to repeat is then offered. The compulsion to repeat as it specifically relates to the attempt to master a previous trauma is reviewed, followed by a examination of the relationship between the compulsion to repeat and reenactments. Finally, how the compulsion to repeat can be viewed as a posttraumatic stress response and the implications of understanding it in this fashion is then examined.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Compulsive Behavior / diagnosis
  • Compulsive Behavior / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events*
  • Psychoanalytic Theory
  • Recurrence
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / diagnosis
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology