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A tendency to repeat.

Psychotherapy — admin @ 8:37 pm

Here at Counselling Connections this week we have been talking about one of the more puzzling aspects of human behaviour. We’ve been looking into why we can find ourselves repeating the past. Sometimes it is one of the things that a new client will mention in a first session. The work of the therapy then becomes a process of remembering past events and trying to work out why some of the more painful things seem to reoccur. It can be quite distressing to overcome a difficult period only to find a similar set of circumstances cropping up again.

An example of the kind of thing that people come to us to seek help with would be if a tendency to repeat becomes evident in romantic relationships. It is not unusual for someone to wonder aloud ‘what it is about me that attracts these kinds of bad partners?’ It might be more profitable to reframe the question and wonder what it is about these others that attracts us. In trying to figure out why we might seek out a particular kind of partner we might uncover clues as to what our own individual patterns are. We might also succeed in uncovering hidden motivations behind our actions.

Some form of repetition can also be found following a traumatic event. We may have vivid and terrifying dreams in which the details of the trauma are replayed. This is a kind of repetition even if it is only in our imagination. Anyone who has been woken in the middle of the night by one of these kinds of dreams will testify to how real the feelings of terror are. The reactions in our body can be similar in intensity to those we experienced during the initial trauma. We believe that in these dreams we can find clues to what the phenomenon of repetition is really about.

The way we think about repetition involves taking into account the past, the present and the future. The past is represented by whatever event we experienced and which we have not understood or overcome. This might be a relationship which caused us pain and which ended in an unsatisfactory manner. In the present we replay some of the characteristics of that relationship. We can find ourselves acting out aspects of the past and often find ourselves at a critical crossroad faced with a decision as to how to proceed. If our thinking on this is correct the purpose of the whole repetition is to then try to bring about a more satisfactory conclusion and create a better future.

The purpose of repeating behaviours would be to return to a past difficulty which left us with a degree of dissatisfaction; to try to resolve it and bring about a better outcome. One of the difficulties this poses is that once we have succeeded in recreating the original situation we often do not then know how to proceed to bring about the desired result. There is even a danger that we might find ourselves stuck in a cycle of repetition. We may end up secretly striving for nothing more ambitious than to be able to live with the discomfort of the situation in the absence of any satisfactory solution to it.

The work of therapy is to lay bare the range of our hidden motivations in these situations. This can throw up some surprising insights as to how little control we have over our emotional lives. We would seek an understanding of these influences and to try to facilitate a different outlet for them. The repetition is about trying to find a solution to an old problem. We would hope to bring about an awareness of the inner self so that we can exercise more choice over how we proceed with things that we got stuck on in the past. In this way a cycle of repetition can be broken for good.

Counselling Connections, Dundalk.

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