Repetition compulsion is a psychological phenomenon in which a person repeats a traumatic event or its circumstances over and over again. This includes reenacting the event or putting oneself in situations where the event is likely to happen again. First studied and named by Dr. Sigmund Freud in 1914, the principle is not well known by the lay population, but has seen a resurgence in interest in the late 20th century.
In the context of Loveline's subject area of sexuality and romantic relationships, repetition compulsion is a frequent subject brought up by Dr. Drew about why callers seem to engage in certain maladaptive behaviors, or are extremely attracted to people that hurt them. Dr. Drew often uses the definition "Events that are terrorizing in childhood become sources if immense attraction in adulthood" and describes the causal relationship as "magical," refering metaphorically to how reliably it occurs, yet people are unaware of it. At present, no one has been able to come up with a definitive evolutionary reason why this phenomenon occurs. Drew and other mental health professionals have only been able to speculate that it is a misguided attempt for the person to "master" the terror of their childhood by doing it again but this time it having a different result. Though as Rita Mae Brown's famous quote goes "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results."
Over the years of Loveline, several prominent examples of repetition compulsion have come up so often it is almost uncanny. Yet most callers are utterly oblivious to the connection between their current problems and the events of their childhood; some are even in extreme denial, claiming no trauma happened, only to reveal the exact event Drew speculated happened to them later in the call. When the childhood event is revealed, Drew is known to shout "sssshocking!" sarcastically and sometimes go into fits of frustration if the caller attempted to obfuscate the matter.
Popular examples of repetition compulsion in Loveline calls include:
- Women who had violent alcoholic fathers growing up and dating/marrying men who were "normal" at the beginning of the relationship, only to have their drinking and violence get out of control at a later time.
- People who were sexually abused before puberty experiencing a rape in the teenage years.
- Rape victims who suddenly experience a surge in libido and become sexually compulsive .
- People who were physically abused in childhood engaging in rough or even sadomasochistic sex as adults.
- Women who were sexually abused who then grow up and date or marry men that later sexually abuse that women's children (Drew calls this behavior "inviting foxes into the hen-house").
- Women whose fathers left the the household for any reason (usually divorce) or were otherwise emotionally distant, then grow up and end up with emotionally unavailable men. This is possible with men too, but much less frequent due to mothers staying with their children much more often than fathers.
- People whose parent had an affair, who then date people that cheat on them.
- Children of teenage parents who become teenage parents themselves.