What Is Regression In Psychology? Why It Happens And What You Can Do About It
There will be moments in life when the pressure stacks up, when we can't see any immediate solutions, and we'll turn towards the coping mechanisms we have used in the past. These coping mechanisms can help us wade through the rough waters by giving us a framework to handle stress.
What Is Regression In Psychology?
Depending on the specific coping mechanism, these behaviors are usually considered healthy if they don't come at the expense of another person or involve self-harm. A coping mechanism is unhealthy if it comes at the expense of another person or if it causes harm to you.
Regression in psychology is a coping mechanism we exhibit during those stressful moments in our lives. These coping mechanisms come in the form of behavior during our childhood or earlier stages in our development. In the extremes, this could be sucking our thumbs, wetting the bed, clinging onto former toys, etc., as we did when we were children. Nearly everyone eventually exhibits some form of regression at some point in time, but to a milder degree.
Whether it's biting your nails like you did when you were younger or throwing temper tantrums, the behavior can be subtle during adulthood. When someone is showing signs of regression, they'll generally be unaware of its effects. They'll mostly see the signs as immature, but not in the form of regression to "safer" times during early development.
Sigmund Freud, also known as the "Father of Psychology," states that individuals who revert to earlier points in childhood do so to feel more nurtured.
Freud believed that these reverted moments are points in our developmental stage where we are stuck and fixated. When solving our problems during adulthood, Freud thinks that we have two options: to solve the problem as an adult or handle them through regression.
Regression isn't just limited to adults, though.
Coping mechanisms are typically considered healthy when they don't come at the expense and don't involve self-harm. Chewing your hair may be a reverted behavior, but if it helps you handle stress and the behavior is at least self-aware, then the habit is not especially harmful. However, it's not especially constructive, and other coping skills could positively serve you.
Regression in psychology has its roots in stress. Whenever we feel the negative effects of being unable to solve the problems in our lives, we tend to use a coping mechanism to soothe the feelings so that we can then problem solve. Although stress is not the only cause of regression, it's usually the most common one.
Thankfully, there are many effective ways of handling stress as an adult.
For example, meditation is a great practice that requires nothing more than your body itself. Building an awareness of the agitation you're currently dealing with and letting it go can be much more useful than chewing your nails. Controlling your breath, maintaining good posture, and being aware of the current moment is all you have to do. Try envisioning your thoughts as clouds that come and go across the sky that is your mind. There are also many guided meditation options available online and through apps.
Journaling is a wonderful means to solve problems better or heal past traumas. By putting pencil to paper, we are actualizing the thoughts that we may have. Having these thoughts down on paper can relieve much of the tension from keeping them inside your head. By releasing these thoughts, not only are you freeing up precious space in your brain, but you're forming a new coping mechanism.
Last but not least, yoga is another excellent way to manage stress and bring more peace into your life. Exercise, in general, can be a stress buster. A simple practice of 20 minutes or less can be all the time you need to experience the full benefits of yoga. This practice combines light exercise, meditation, stretching, and deep, controlled breathing, giving you more benefits of each of the separate components.
Using the techniques we've mentioned can be a great start to better handle the stress we find ourselves reacting to with regression. As we move through adulthood, several pressures of life build on top of each other, which can cause life to feel a bit daunting at times.
During these moments, it's not abnormal to regress. But as Freud said, we can choose to solve our problems as adults or handle them using regression. Let's build better habits and a healthier coping mechanism to handle any problem that may come our way. Remember, there is always help available, and ReGain is a wonderful place to start!
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is a regression in psychology example?
Regression in psychology refers to reverting to a previous stage of development, often when faced with stress or problems that seem daunting. Regression psychology tells us that a regressive tendency can be simple and harmless; for example, a person sucks or chews on pens. The regressive tendency may be more dysfunctional, however, as in the case of crying or throwing temper tantrums.
While regression can vary depending on the individual, here are some examples of behaviors associated with regression.
- Your spouse refuses to drive a car even though it causes dysfunction among the family because the other spouse has to take them everywhere.
- A person assumes the fetal position and rocks and cries whenever a stressful life event occurs.
- A child starts wetting the bed after years of not having an accident.
- A college student cuddles their teddy bear every night.
As you can see from these examples, a regression can vary, as can the behaviors associated with regression. Regression appears in some instances as negative (i.e., the spouse refusing to drive the car). In contrast, regression as a positive psychological behavior is evident (i.e., the college student cuddling their teddy bear as a form of comfort). Regression appears when stressful life events occur, and while regression can be negative, there are instances where people can see regression as a positive psychological behavior.
What is a regression in mental health?
Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory first introduced the idea of regression. The psychoanalytic theory states that regression is a defense mechanism in which the brain reverts to earlier behavior that makes a person feel safe. Freud developed the five stages of psychosexual development, which are now taught in introductory lectures on psychoanalysis. Freud believed that when a person regressed, they were stuck or fixated on one of the five stages of psychosexual development. The five stages taught in introductory lectures on psychoanalysis are oral, anal, phallic, latent, and genital.
A person fixated on the oral stage might have an increased desire to smoke, eat, or have increased vocal actions, including verbal abuse.
Anal fixation can lead to anal-retentive behaviors such as constantly cleaning and organizing.
Phallic fixation can lead to sexual impulses.
Latent fixation can result in immaturity and an inability to form fulfilling relationships as an adult.
The genital stage is the last of the five stages of psychosexual development, and if a person reaches here, they will be able to balance their most basic urges against the need to conform to social norms. A person who has completed the four prior stages will have their values and actions aligned. However, suppose the other stages have not been completed before the individual reaches the genital stage. In that case, the individual will likely regress or have their values and actions in misalignment, referred to as psychology reaction formation.
Psychology reaction formation is when a person’s self-reported values do not align with their behaviors. Psychology reaction formation is another defense mechanism and goes beyond denial – the person behaves in a way opposite to which he thinks or feels.
What is regression behavior?
Regression behavior refers to the feeling of going backward with your development. Whether your thoughts or behaviors, you may feel like you are acting childish or younger than your actual age without knowing why. Sometimes regression will appear when we experience a stressful life event or relationship that triggers us to revert to a previous developmental stage.
Regression behaviors are most common during childhood. Childhood regression is seen as a psychological reaction triggered by traumatic events, stress, or frustration. Examples include an older child throwing a tantrum when things do not go their way instead of properly communicating their frustration. A child is wetting the bed despite not having accidents for years after a new child is welcomed into the home.
While regression is most common in childhood, it does happen to adults as well. Regression is a defense mechanism that can happen at any age, and when it happens, adults will revert to an earlier stage of development. Situations that cause fear, anxiety, anger, insecurity, or other negative emotions can cause regression. When an adult regresses, they typically revert to a time in their life when they felt safe and act out behaviors from that period.
What are the signs of regression?
Signs of regression can vary depending on the individual and the stage of life the person is in. Regarding children, signs of regression include potty accidents, disrupted sleep, decreased independence, disrupted learning, language regression, and behavior disruption. Regression in adults might be more difficult to pinpoint. Still, signs of regression often include reverting to behaviors that appear to be childish or misaligned with the age or stage of the adult. Some examples of adult regression include throwing tantrums, refusing to perform certain tasks when the tasks were easily completed in the past, sleeping with a teddy bear, or in some extreme cases, reverting to childish behaviors such as assuming the fetal position and crying and sucking their thumb when stressful life events occur. Regression is a defense mechanism, and people often regress because they want to go back to a period when they feel safe.
What is another word for regression?
Other words for regression include revert, backslide, or retreat. Regression and retreat are often used interchangeably as a person will either regress or revert to behaviors when they feel safe and comfortable. Typically, a person will backslide or retreat to a time when things were more stable when stressful life events occur.
Why is regression important in psychology?
What is regressive behavior in adults?
What causes a person to regress?
What is a regressive personality?
Is age regression a mental illness?
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