What Is Regression In Psychology? Why It Happens And What You Can Do About It

By: Mary Elizabeth Dean

Updated March 16, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Aaron Horn

There will be moments in life when the pressure stacks up. There won't be any immediate solutions, and we'll turn towards the coping mechanisms that we have used in the past. These coping mechanisms help us wade through the tough waters by giving us a framework to deal with stress.

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What Is Regression In Psychology?

Depending on our coping mechanism, if it doesn't come at the expense of another person, it's considered healthy. There are coping mechanisms that involve the complete reliance on a protector or exhibiting behavior during a time of the abuse. A coping mechanism is unhealthy if it comes at the expense of another person.

Regression in psychology is a coping mechanism we exhibit during those stressful moments during 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 to former toys, etc. as we did when we were children. 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 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 or secure.

Freud believed that these reverted moments are points in our developmental stage where we are stuck and fixated. Freud thinks that when solving our problems during adulthood, we have one of two options: solve the problem as an adult or handle them through regression.

Regression isn't just limited to adults.

Regression is the most prevalent during childhood and is caused by the same stress and traumas. Children can grow up sucking their thumb, stop eventually, and then pick the habit up once again during a later stage of childhood. This type of regression is more common.

During childhood, we've yet to develop effective ways to solve the problems we face. We deal with these stressors using prior experience to soothe the situation. Regression isn't indicative of mental illness and is generally viewed as healthy behavior.

Like any coping mechanism, we exhibit behavior that will ease the stress we immediately face so that we can better understand it. After the initial wave of anxiety has passed, we problem solve. Without such a cycle, we would be thinking through emotions and solving with inflamed thinking. This could pave the way to rash thinking or destructive behavior.

What You Can Do About Regression In Psychology

Regression is an effective means to deal with stress until it's time to use some form of problem-solving.

Regressing in childhood is normal as there will rarely be moments when a child learns to act on intent.

In adulthood, there will be chances to use behavior we've learned intentionally. Instead of relying on the childlike qualities to soothe the pains of agitation, we can develop objective ways of handling stress.


Meditation has been a practice to better handle stress and anxiety for thousands of years. Having the benefit of time, meditations have become varied and more specific. There is meditation to handle trauma. There are meditations to manage the effects of insomnia. Whatever stressors you may be facing, there will most likely be a particular meditation that combats it.

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During meditation, you'll control your posture and your breathing. Using these anchors inside your body, you'll slowly build a more profound awareness with consciousness and yourself.

Meditation is particularly useful as a means to set time aside for ourselves.

Life, work, friends, and family can all be demanding a portion of our time. It can be tough to carve simple moments out of our days to soothe our problems. Meditation sets the practice of bringing more awareness towards ourselves and the stressors affecting us.

There are multiple resources to start your practice of meditation. Headspace is a great beginner's introduction to meditation without the substantial commitment of classes or time.


Writing, in general, is how we keep our minds sharp. Writing is also a practice in history. The first writing was to document information several years ago. Now writing has become a profession in itself.

Writing can be a way to solve almost any task. Project management, problem-solving, planning, etc., but writing is also an effective way to discover more about ourselves.

Human attention usually spans for ten to twenty minutes. Thinking about any said problem will quickly be distracted by another with the technology of the modern world.

Writing as it was intended during earlier times is a great way to document a process of thinking for later reflection. Writing down our traumas is considered a healthy and effective means of coping. Merely writing the details of such events can reduce body tension and restore the focus on solving problems.

The wonderful nature of writing is that there is no one way to do any form of writings. This includes journaling your own unique life. Whatever route you choose, having the words on paper gives you a resource to reflect later in life, but also a means to solve problems now.

We can better understand our stress to hopefully find solutions but also to understand the insignificance of them.

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It's said that if the positive effects of exercise were consolidated into a pill, you'd have a miracle pill in your hands. By combining brief exercise, meditation practices, and stretching, you could have one of the best means of managing stress or anxiety.

Yoga is another age-old practice which has found its way into more western culture. This practice falls under the same vein of paying attention to you. With meditation, there is acute attention to your posture and your mind. With yoga, there is attention towards each element inside your body.

Fortunately, there are yoga practices that can fit almost any lifestyle you want. There are yoga practices for those looking for vigorous workouts, and there are practices for those who only have brief amounts of time. Whichever you choose, yoga can be a great way to build a more effective means of handling the stress that could cause you to regress.


Regression in psychology can be a tricky subject to discuss as the behavior we all exhibit during childhood won't be a comical thumb sucking or wetting the bed. The effects of regression will be much more subtle. Chewing nails or pulling our hair can be a simple means of coping.

Coping mechanisms are healthy when they don't come at the expense of another. Chewing your hair maybe reverted behavior, but if it helps you handle stress and the behavior is at least self-aware, then the habit is healthy. When the behavior negatively affects your image, then it might be time to move onto different forms of coping.

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 use a coping mechanism to soothe the feelings to then problem solve. There is no identifiable reason for regression besides seeking stress relief.

Thankfully there are modern ways to handle stress as an adult better.

Meditation is a great practice that comes with nothing more than your body itself. Building an awareness of the agitation that you're currently dealing with and letting it go can be much more useful than chewing your nails. Controlling your breath and having a strong posture is all you'll need.

Journaling is a wonderful means to better problem solve or heal traumas. By putting pencil to paper, we are actualizing the thoughts that we may have. Having these thoughts down on paper relieves much of the tension of 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 form of coping.

Last, but not least, yoga. Exercise 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. Yoga combines light exercise, meditation, and stretching, giving you those benefits and more.

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Using the techniques we've mentioned can be a great start to better handle the stress we find ourselves regressing to. Regression can be a tricky slope, as some regressive behavior can damage our image in adulthood. As we get into 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 natural to regress, but as Freud said, we can solve the problems as adults or handle them using regression. Let's build better habits and a healthier coping mechanism so that we can handle any problem that may come our way. Remember, there is always help!

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