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Needles, W. (1962). Eros and the Repetition Compulsion. Psychoanal Q., 31:505-513.

(1962). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 31:505-513

Eros and the Repetition Compulsion

William Needles, M.D.

In Beyond the Pleasure Principle (6), Freud introduced the concept of a repetition compulsion to account for recurrent dreams of trauma, repetitive behavior in the analytic situation and in the outside world, and a game of a child he had observed. The feature in common was the reanimation of a previous unpleasant experience; hence, an abrogation of the pleasure principle. Characteristically he proceeded from empirical clinical observation to the search for an explanatory hypothesis. The primary-process mode of discharge involved in these phenomena showed him that instinctual activity was at work, and he reasoned that if the repetition compulsion strove for the reinstatement of an ever-earlier stage of existence, then the only logical end point was the state of inanimate matter. Therefore, he postulated a death instinct which he viewed as the instigator of the repetition compulsion. At the time, as for many years before, Freud was greatly influenced in his thinking by Fechner's principle of constancy. This predicates a correspondence between states of stimulus tension and unpleasure on the one hand, and states of stimulus extinction and pleasure on the other—a tendency for the organism to seek minimal stimulation. Four years later, in The Economic Problem in Masochism, Freud altered his views on this subject (7).

Since instinctual forces were involved, Freud himself raised the question whether the repetition compulsion with its revival of earlier conditions might not also be set in motion by eros, the sexual instinct. He answered the question in the negative. He reasoned that eros aimed to unite two individuals for the purpose of creating a new being which was a progressive process and consequently could not possibly represent a striving to re-establish a previous state.

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