What Is Regression In Psychology? Why It Happens And What You Can Do About It
Updated November 29, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: Aaron Horn
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. However, there are also coping mechanisms that involve complete reliance on a protector or exhibiting dangerous behavior during the abuse. 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 or secure.
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.
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 can be much more subtle. Chewing nails or pulling out hair can be a simple coping method that is also an example of regression.
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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