Psychoanalytic concepts that might help in life and on the spiritual path: repetition compulsion 2

So why do we/I keep repeating distressing experiences? In The Language of Psychoanalysis Laplanche and Pontalis (1988) describe the central concepts put forward by Freud and how they were developed later by Klein and others. They see the compulsion to repeat as an almost ungovernable impulse as it originates in the unconscious. It is where one deliberately places oneself in distressing situations time and again repeating an old destructive experience. Like in verse 2 of the poem from last week:

Chapter 2
I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend that I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in this same place.
But, it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

When this happens, we have the strong impression that it’s just happened because of current circumstances – in other words we don’t see the habitual nature nor part that we play in it.

It’s particularly in chapter 3 that it’s easy to get stuck and that can be for years – the habit takes hold:

Chapter 3
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in … it’s a habit … but, my eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

It maybe that in our unconscious we believe it is possible to repeat the experience, but change the outcome or ending – however, usually, the circumstances are too similar to allow for enough room for change. As Freud wrote, ‘a thing which has not been understood inevitably reappears; like an unlaid ghost, it cannot rest until the mystery has been solved and the spell broken.’ It is about realising what and why we are doing this that causes us so much distress – all over again.