-Shubhashi Karki

DALL·E 2024 03 27 05.42.18 Illustrate an image focusing on the dynamics of an unhappy family relationship highlighting the emotional distance and tension between members. Ensur

I have often heard people express that they desire a relationship or marriage as ideal as their parents’, and even manifest it to end up in a marriage just like them. When children see their parents in love, respecting each other, and having a very supportive and fulfilling relationship, they are likely to look for similar traits and values in their own relationships. These children are also more likely to have healthier relationships in general. On the contrary, children tend to have a very negative perception towards marriage and relationships if parents have a very conflicted marriage, aggressive and abusive tendencies, neglect, and avoidance. These children are more inclined to have troublesome and destructive relationships.

This tendency can also be explained through the “Social Learning Theory” by American Psychologist, Albert Bandura. He argued that children observe the behavior of their elders or any other individuals who function as their role models. They observe the behavior, learn that behavior, and mimic that particular learned behavior themselves. For instance, a girl and a boy observed their father physically abusing their mother and also saw that the mother was barely doing anything to protect herself from the violence. On the contrary, the girl child is likely to follow in her mother’s behavior by enduring an abusive partner in the future. However, it is crucial to note that this phenomenon cannot be generalized, since people who have had adverse relationships with their parents can and are able to experience pleasant relationships.

Are you wondering why I asserted that the girl who witnessed her mother being abused by her father ended up in an abusive relationship? How could I say so with such certainty? Well, I did it on purpose to introduce you to a phenomenon known as “Repetition Compulsion.” I learned about this phenomenon while I was reading a book named “Maybe You Should Talk to Someone” by Lori Gottlieb (2019). Here, the author discusses what is commonly referred to as our “type.” While looking for our partners, we analyze them and determine whether or not they are our ‘type.’ You might have said, “Oh, he is my type,” or “Nah, she isn’t my type.” So, what does this type mean? Gottlieb (2019, p.193) says that “type is a sense of attraction, a type of physical appearance or a personality that turns someone on.” But what underlies an individual’s type is a sense of familiarity. The first relationship that the children look up to or have are those with their parents or caregivers. This shapes the children’s perception of how relationships function or should be. Children who have parents with difficult and unpleasant behavioral patterns tend to seek partners with similar tendencies. Why couldn’t they avoid it then? Familiarity. It is because of the familiarity that they believe they have prior experience with this kind of individual (parents) and can deal with this individual (current partner) or even adapt to their behavioral patterns, something they couldn’t do with their parents. As a result, the unconscious mind recognizes these identical behavioral patterns, and people tend to choose partners similar to their parents or their ex-partners. They have come to learn that they deserve to be mistreated internally. People tend to believe that they can revisit identical memories or experiences with a different individual who places them in similar situations. They believe that they can predict what will happen next, alter the outcome, undo the perceived mistakes, and heal the old wounds. When they encounter someone who respects them or treats them well, this unfamiliarity scares them, and they avoid these individuals. This is an unhealthy tendency that reopens wounds and makes them feel unworthy of being loved and cared for, diving into the vicious cycle of unfulfilling relationships. This happens as repetition compulsion causes individuals to re-experience and reenact distressful experiences over and over again.

Here are some steps that can be taken to break free from the cycle of repetition compulsion:

    1. Be aware of these repetitive patterns: Being aware of these patterns is attainable through different techniques of self-introspection like engaging in mindfulness exercises, meditation, journaling, and so on.
    2. Give small credits to yourself: When you have small achievements in breaking these patterns, appreciate your efforts by rewarding yourself with something you love.
    3. Allow different perspectives: Looking at things from different perspectives is also essential to let go of repeated self-destructive patterns from the past.
    4. Establish healthy boundaries in relationships: Learn to say ‘NO’. Prioritize your needs and well-being over others at times and do not forget to be kind to yourself.
    5. Step out of the box: Try out new activities, explore to gain noble experiences, and come out of your comfort zone to open doors to new possibilities.
    6. Seek professional assistance: If you notice that these repetitive patterns are severe and frequent, seeking assistance with a mental health professional can also be helpful. The mental health professionals apply various therapeutic approaches to help you become aware of these patterns and find ways to deal with them (Bowman, 2021).

“Each small step is a victory, celebrate them. And remember, you are WORTHY of being loved.”


Bowman, S. (2021). How To Stop Repetition Compulsion From Controlling Your Life. Scary Mommy. https://www.scarymommy.com/repetition-compulsion
Gottlieb, L. (2019). MayBe You Should Talk To Someone. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Shubhashi Karki is an undergraduate psychology and social work student passionate about decoding the complexities of the human mind. An aspiring clinical psychologist, she holds a deep commitment to creating a safe space for individuals to talk about their mental health openly. Besides her professional inclination, she loves music, art, literature and nature.