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Lipin, T. (1963). The Repetition Compulsion and 'Maturational' Drive-Representatives. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 44:389-406.

(1963). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 44:389-406

The Repetition Compulsion and 'Maturational' Drive-Representatives

Theodore Lipin


This paper reports on a reinvestigation of the clinical phenomena first described by Sigmund Freud in 1919 as the repetition compulsion.

Freud's observational data on the phenomenon and his inferences about the unconscious activity producing it are reviewed.

Findings are presented supporting the view that the phenomenon exists and is clinically detectable. Observations are described outlining some features of the unconscious activity that produces recurrent experiential replicas of stressful past experiences whose essentials are unrecallable. Three patterns by which this unconscious activity constructs such replicas are considered.

Characteristics of the unconscious activity are examined to determine its source. Freud's contention, opposed by some, that it is an instinctual drive representative, is supported by this study.

Investigation of the activity's unique features, that differentiate it clinically from all the drive representatives described before 1919, leads to the delineation of two categories of instinctual drive representatives. Drive representatives of one category are aligned with processes that produce, as accurately as circumstances permit, progressive maturational unfolding of structured functioning, according to an innate genetic blueprint and timetable, until adult organization materializes. They are classified as maturational drive-representatives. Drive-representatives of the other category are aligned with processes that maintain integrity of phase-specific structured functioning as effectively as circumstances permit. They are classified as structural drive-representatives. Repetition compulsion activity is inferred to be a maturational drive-representative.

Characteristics of processes bringing about mental development and conditions for optimal operation of such processes are studied to infer the operational features and discharge patterns of maturational drive-representatives. Certain experiences appear to be essential for the proper discharge of these representatives and for the actualization of impulses and capacities that make development possible.

Deficiencies of such essential experiences lead to discharge-blockage of normal maturational drive-patterns and to complex distortions of structured functioning. The resultant defensive-adaptive stress structure is based on a profound intrasystemic reorganization wherein instinctual drive representatives subserving tension regulation discharge to inhibit and distort instinctual drive-representatives subserving maturation. One clinical manifestation of this intrasystemic id conflict is repetition compulsion activity.

When stress structure is substantial and repetition compulsion activity is correspondingly intense, it is likely that all mental functioning and mental elements are co-determined in varying proportions by the interaction of unconscious maturational and structural drive-representatives.

Experiencing (a) repetition compulsion activity's actualization of new impulses and capacities, and (b) concomitant activation of anachronistic structuralized defences, brings into perception a network of impulses that was previously unconscious. Such perception makes it possible for the ego's working-through processes to support and reinforce the thrust of normal maturational drive-patterns to restructure distorted structured functioning along more normal lines.

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