Freud began with repetitions in relation to love relationships.There is the man who repeats the relationship in which he saves a fallen woman, a relationship in which there is an injured third party, etc. (A Special Type of Object Choice Made by Men). In Beyond the Pleasure Principle Freud writes:
Thus we have come across people all of whose human relationships have the same outcome: such as the benefactor who is abandoned in anger after a time by each of his protégés, however much they may otherwise differ from one another, and who thus seems doomed to taste all the bitterness of ingratitude; or the man whose friendships all end in betrayal by his friend; or the man who time after time in the course of his life raises someone else into a position of great private or public authority and then, after a certain interval, himself upsets that authority and replaces him by a new one; or, again, the lover each of whose love affairs with a woman passes through the same phases and reaches the same conclusion. This ‘perpetual recurrence of the same thing’ causes us no astonishment when it relates to active behaviour on the part of the person concerned and when we can discern in him an essential character-trait which always remains the same and which is compelled to find expression in a repetition of the same experiences. We are much more impressed by cases where the subject appears to have a passive experience, over which he has no influence, but in which he meets with a repetition of the same fatality. There is the case, for instance, of the woman who married three successive husbands each of whom fell ill soon afterwards and had to be nursed by her on their death-beds (p.22).
I've posted before on the myths of Heracles and Perseus and believe that the period of development which these myths cover also generates a few interesting repetition-compulsions.
The basic outlines of the myths are
1. child left alone with the mother (manifest in Perseus, latent in Heracles)
2. instinctual renunciation of sexual impulses and formation of ideal of excellence or gift-giving
3. Heracles performs his labours and Perseus kills Medusa
after these successes it seems like the inevitable failing of the ideal (i.e. it not being enough to be the desire of the mother) is not portrayed but the appearance of the father next shows the ideal failed and the ego split for the emergence of a new relation
the child in the failure of the ideal is left with self-hate or abandonment so the transcription of power to the father (the penis) is to pull oneself out of this depression.
4. There is the entrance of the father who is denigrated in Heracles. He appears as a centaur who tries to rape Heracles' wife. In Perseus there is a great sea serpent protecting Andromeda which Perseus kills.
This time Heracles is manifest but not everything, of course, is spelled out in the myth. The mother puts down the 'name of the father' and grooms the child to be 'special': it is good or belongs among the good in some way and the father is bad or is among the bad.
In Perseus there would be a reversal of roles. The masochist who was abandoned by the mother and who waited for a father who did not come or showed no interest is saved by, must return to, the mother.
In both these instances the penis is taken from the father to create a phallic mother.
Obviously this is still before the important and definite knowledge of sexual difference.
In the Perseus myth after he saves Andromeda and is going to marry her there is a return of her fiance Phineus who Perseus turns to stone with the medusa head. Andromeda being promised to another and the return of her fiance relates the castration of the mother (who had rescued the masochist)and the overcoming of this potentially traumatic event for the masochist.
If we follow the pattern of instinctual renunciation to drive or ideal and then to its failure, then what appears after the failure is self-pity which can be denied and externalized onto the mother. This gives us the situation in which the hysteric (of the subject masochist type) can't end a relationship with the person she had once idealized. She can't make a clean break from him or her because of the ties of pity (which is really her own self-pity; she'd be hurting herself to leave).
The repetition, as shown in the myth, can be enacted from the reverse side and the masochist can find a helpless waif and seek to save her and get her back on her feet at which point she leaves her rescuer and moves on (although the rescuer might lose interest too once the other is more stable or become upset because she doesn't see how hard things are for him- doesn't pity him in a sense).
With Heracles we have the repetition of the narcissist in terms of idealization and debasement. The narcissist idealizes a person, who he believes will make him special and help him find his hidden power but soon sees that this other person has some human frailties and won't form him and pay him the tribute that he deserves (he or she is found to be castrated) and he then turns on them. In the reverse enactment the narcissist seeks, as Freud mentioned above, to find a protege to groom and make special but then is left by the person.
It is the centaur's poison, given to Heracles' wife with the lie that it will help her keep him, that eventually does him in. So, while the myth of Perseus points us to the father entering before Andromeda is saved, the myth of Heracles points to the father's triumph and the failure of the ideal, but with the inferiority of the woman who would need to use magic to hang on to her beloved.
The sense of inferiority after the failure of the ideal (i.e. the mother desire for an adult and not a child) is denied and externalized onto woman as such, once knowledge of sexual difference is attained.
If we take this event as traumatic for the object narcissist we have a repetition-compulsion as detailed in Narcissistic Object Choice in Women by Annie Reich. The narcissist idealizes the other but then when her friends or the authorities in her life don't idealize him too she quickly "falls out of love".
Again, we often find both the narcissistic and masochistic in the same individual and an interesting compromise formation between the two positions. There is also always a social and sexual side and I hope to explore them more later, in relation to Freud's earlier sexual studies on object choice.