Website of Dr. Eugene B. Kalin

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An Evolutionary Window on Psychoanalysis

Posted by ebkalin on March 30, 2013 at 2:25 PM

All genetic adaptations increase security and promote survival because security is the primary goal and unifying principle that motivates all behavior. We are biologically programed to avoid pain and fear as an evolutionary adaptation, as pain and fear are signals of danger and pleasure is a signal that we are in a state of safety. Both physical and emotional security contribute to biological security (survivability) under the operation of natural selection.


Is the repetition compulsion equivalent to an addiction? The answer is yes, but the dynamic that leads to the repetition is the same dynamic that leads to all neuroses. This is not a process that is “beyond the pleasure principle” but is a specific manifestation of a security principle. All neuroses and defenses are attempts to avoid anxiety or pain. The idea that a repetition compulsion is a pursuit of pain is false, and the belief that it is an attempt to gain mastery of a trauma is misleading. In essence, a repetition is actually an attempt to eliminate pain, assuming harmony within an evolutionary paradigm between drive systems and attachment systems. A repetitive, compulsive defense is basically an attempt to avoid experiencing or feeling separation from a significant but un-attuned or rejecting attachment object, which is less painful than being alone and isolated. A painful attachment is easier to bear than being deserted with no attachment. A state of no attachment is an unbearable state for a dependent human being. A behavior that appears to be, or becomes, maladaptive originates in an attempt to tolerate unbearable emotional pain or fear. From an evolutionary perspective all feelings serve an adaptive function so that what appears to be maladaptive or irrational in the present may actually be a manifestation of an evolutionary trade-off that has led to a survival or reproductive advantage over an extended period of time. In addition, neuroscientific studies indicate that in the throes of high levels of stress, as when a child is neglected, endogenous opioid systems are activated, increasing tolerance for pain. Thus re-exposure to stress can have the same effect as taking exogenous opioids, providing a similar alleviation of anxiety and pain, which would encourage repetition of the original defensive response to the threat of the abandonment. This suggests that the repetition compulsion is equivalent to an addiction because the brain functions to provide relief from pain as a biological adaptation.


In summary, people stay in painful relationships not because they seek pain, beyond the pleasure principle, but because they cannot tolerate the pain of separation from an attachment object, even though this causes pain, because a painful attachment is easier to bear than no attachment. Security is the primary goal of behavior.

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