Repetition compulsion: Causes, theories behind it, and more

Some possible causes of repetitive compulsion behaviors include:

Rigid defenses

People may have a rigid or inflexible way of defending themselves against experiencing a repetition of their trauma, but having these mechanisms can inadvertently result in the reenactment occurring anyway.

For example, a person who experiences abandonment in their childhood may act possessively in relationships later on in life to avoid the past feelings of loneliness or neglect. However, the person may risk losing their partner if they behave in this way and may end up feeling those emotions anyway.

Affective dysregulation

Affective dysregulation relates to having poorly regulated emotional reactions in response to negative stimuli. For example, people who experience frequent, harsh disapproval from a parent or caregiver may have low self-esteem. They may also be very sensitive to criticism. Consequently, in later relationships, these people may consider criticism harsh, even when it is not, and respond with hostility.

Ego deficits

Ego deficits can refer to a limitation in mental resources. This limitation might manifest as various psychosocial problems in a person.

Long-term abuse may result in psychosocial effects that can include:

  • self-abusive behavior
  • low self-esteem
  • substance use disorders
  • inability to trust
  • difficult interpersonal relationships

For instance, a person with a history of growing up in an abusive environment may feel reluctant to leave an abusive partner later in life. This reluctance may stem from the inability to trust others to provide the necessary help.