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Int J Psychoanal. 2003 Apr;84(Pt 2):427-41.

Repetition compulsion and self-psychology: towards a reconciliation.

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The concept of repetition compulsion, which has never been fully acknowledged by Kohut and his followers, is re-evaluated in this article within the context of self-psychology. In line with the underlying principles of defensive contact-shunning on the one hand, and non-traumatic empathic failure on the other hand, the repetition can be seen as the twofold expression both of the wish for a new benign relationship and of the dread of traumatic, repeated disappointment. Therefore, early non-traumatic disappointments are initiated by the patient, and role-responded to by significant others. This way, the risk of disillusionment of full-blown expectations is avoided. The repetition compulsion, then, is a complex mechanism: preventive in one part, it protects the vulnerable self from potentially traumatising experiences; thus, it is operated in response to the danger signal of emotional cravings, once the latter are experienced as getting out of hand. Providing novel experiences, in its other part, it can lead to opening the road for change; such curative impact relies on lengthy working through in a safe, empathic, holding environment.

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