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A Bioenergetic Approach to Repetition Compulsion

There are many reasons people do things, and often, these motivations are not obvious to the external world. While we tend to portray motivation as the desire to do something,  motivation can also represent the desire to return to something.

The concept of motivation as a regressive experience was first discussed by Freud, who introduced the concept of repetition compulsion. According to Freud, repetition compulsion happens for two reasons. While both are unconscious processes, the first is lodged in the patient’s physiology.

When trauma happens, Freud explained, there is a bioenergetic response that corresponds to it. Trauma that is unresolved leaves a bioenergetic residue that the body is then compelled to return to, being that it has not been resolved. The second reason a person may repeat a traumatic experience has to do with mastery. After all, trauma involves an emotional response that exceeds the person’s ability to handle — or master — it.

The difficulty is that in looking at the two reasons a person may engage in repetition compulsion, it is easy to see that one is more easily tackled in the clinical setting. After all, most people are highly unaware, and even less able to control there bioenergetic responses.

However, all animals, and especially horses, are quite adept at identifying and controlling bioenergetic responses. This ability drives herd behavior, and underlies the ability to communicate quickly, easily, and silently. Examples of this include a horse’s response to another in a state of panic, even when out of sight or sound. Additionally, a horse that is bonded to another can identify its friend’s presence over another horse, even though again, this horse is out sight or sound.

This bioenergetic ability is not exclusive to equine relationships. In fact, it is the only way horses know to respond to any other being — including humans. Horses are then very useful to humans in that their response to a person can be very indicative of that person’s bioenergy

For example, a horse may display any number of herd behaviors — dominating, being submissive, protecting, and avoiding to name only a few — in the presence of a human, and when interpreted in the context of herd behavior, can indicate just what may be happening with a person under the surface. Another side to the horse-human relationship is that most people want to be close to a horse and have a reciprocal relationship. In order for this to happen, a person’s bioenergy must be relatively clear and calm.

Bioenergy that is hidden to a person is also not clear to a horse, because horses simply express what is felt — much like Freud’s id principle. In this way, nothing is disguised. Humans on the other hand, disguise a multitude of information, and particularly in the case of trauma, unresolved bioenergetic information.

Through identification of this unresolved material, and then the natural opponent of it — authenticity — a person can begin to unravel trauma from a bioenergetic approach. Of course, this is only natural to a horse.

Horse’s eye photo available from Shutterstock.

A Bioenergetic Approach to Repetition Compulsion

Claire Dorotik-Nana, LMFT

Claire Dorotik-Nana LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist specializing in post-traumatic growth, leveraging adversity, and other epic human achievements. Claire has written multiple continuing education courses for Professional Development Resources, Zur Institute, and International Sport Science Association. Claire has also authored multiple books, including:
Leverage: The Science of Turning Setbacks into Springboards and On The Back Of A Horse: Harnessing The Healing Power Of The Human-Equine Bond. For more information about Leveraging Adversity or Claire, visit

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APA Reference
Dorotik-Nana, C. (2012). A Bioenergetic Approach to Repetition Compulsion. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 25, 2020, from


Last updated: 2 May 2012
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