Stumbling Over The Same Stone Again

May 16, 2016

Sometimes you realize that there are problems in your life that inexplicably repeat themselves again and again. Maybe you even notice that the same thing happens to other people that you know.

“I always end up with men who cheat on me,” says one friend. “I never get a job where they value me as a worker,” says another. “Why does everyone end up using me?” claims someone else.

“Life is such a good teacher that if you did not learn the lesson, it will explain it to you again.”


Upon seeing this, sometimes you end up thinking that fate really does exist and yours is already written down somewhere. Or that maybe it’s all karma and your past lives are now influencing your present.

However, there is another explanation for this eternal cycle of repeating the same things over and over…

man opening many doors

Repetition compulsion

Repetition compulsion is defined as that unconscious impulse that leads people to repeat situations, facts, feelings, thoughts, and painful realities.

But that doesn’t make sense! Why would someone want to experience something negative again if it’s possible to learn the lesson and avoid the same mistakes again? Aren’t we supposed to avoid what causes us pain and look instead for what leads us to happiness?

Animals learn after a single experience. Human beings do not. A mouse does not go down a path twice where he found out that there was a trap, or where he can sense that one of his own fell. An elephant is able to remember the face of someone who hurt it forever. If it finds that aggressor after 50 years, it will avoid or attack him.

But human beings act differently. They can be cheated a thousand times in the same way. Or surprised 150 times by the same tricks. Or be the eternal victim of the same aggressor. Human beings do not learn the lesson and they stumble over the same stone again.

People also do not learn from the experiences of others. They assume that in their case, everything will be different. Sometimes they literally repeat the mistakes, problems, and conflicts of their loved ones without even noticing it.

How does repetition work?

Repetition compulsion works like this: in a person’s life, some sort of trauma is produced, mainly during their childhood. It is so painful that they take it out of their consciousness, they forget it, or they interpret it as something trivial.

The impact that this trauma leaves behind is never forgotten, but rather suppressed. It remains latent and comes back to make itself present until the person is no longer aware of it.

The problem is that it does not emerge repetitively as a memory. Instead of remembering it, you act it out, you put it into practice. You create an entire series of circumstances so that the same thing that traumatized you will happen again, with the unconscious hope that the result will be different.

Sad Woman, Curly Tears

An example to demonstrate this is the case of Norma: her mother was cold and hard towards her. She had sexual relations for money, behind the back of the girl’s father, and forced her to watch the bedroom door so that nobody would find out about her.

Years later, the daughter gets married to a man who has connections to pimps and the daughter herself has sexual relations for money. However, she is obsessed with watching over her husband to know his actions down to the detail. Furthermore, she has a daughter that she labels as unbearable.

In this way, it looks like Norma is repeating the basic content of that which impacted her: the promiscuity, the distance between mother and daughter, and her job as a watchman.

The great effect of trauma is precisely that: it condemns the victims to enter in a vicious circle of pain and suffering, time and time again.

Therefore, it is fundamental to seek psychological or psychoanalytical help if you have suffered a trauma (it does not matter if we think that we have already gotten over it in some ordinary way) or when there is something in our life that is repeating itself dramatically and always leading us to stumble over the same stone.