What is Regression? A Child-Like State of Mind

In my last blog post, I introduced a term called “regression”. I explained that I experience it a lot.

As a recap, regression is a “return to a former or less developed state.”[1]  In adults, regression involves “taking the position of a child in some problematic situation, rather than acting in a more adult way. This is usually in response to stressful situations…” It is a way for adults to escape the reality of situations by psychologically “going back to a time when the person felt safer and where the stresses in question were not known, or where an all-powerful parent would take them away.”[2]

According to neurologist and psychologist, Sigmund Freud, regression is one of the many types of defense mechanisms. We use defense mechanisms to protect ourselves from anxiety, guilt, sadness and other unwanted feelings.

“Memories banished to the unconscious, or unacceptable drives or urges do not disappear.  They continue to exert a powerful influence on behavior.  The forces, which try to keep painful or socially undesirable thoughts and memories out of the conscious mind, are termed defense mechanisms.”[3]

I used to think when I acted childlike, helpless, or even ignorant, I was just being immature or needy. After I snapped out of those episodes, I would think that “I went crazy” and feel embarrassed. I would often think “I’m 22 years old, why do I still act like a little child sometimes?” I had no known reason or excuse for why I was acting the way I did. But then I learned of regression. It taught me that when reality gets too much for me to handle, or I simply don’t want to deal with it, I fall into a regressive state. Below are a few situations where I use regressive behaviours:

  1. Just a couple months ago, when my dad and I were out, and he did something that upset me and make me anxious. We went in a store, and I grabbed a rainbow Minnie Mouse stuffed animal, held it tightly, and refused to let it go. It brought comfort to me for some reason. My dad ended up buying it for me.
  2. About 6-7 months ago, I was out for lunch with my best friend. We were talking about my graduation and she said she didn’t think she could make it. I really wanted her there, in fact, she was the only one I wanted there. I started crying inappropriately for like, a half hour, right there in the middle of the restaurant. We both were freaked out. I didn’t calm down until I was in her arms and said she would figure out a way to go.
  3. I used to bring a blankie everywhere I went up until about a year ago, and I still take it to certain places.

Many things can cause an adult to regress emotionally, socially or behaviourally such as insecurity, anxiety and anger.[4]

A journal on the National Center for Biotechnology Information website revealed the most common regressive behaviours in hospitalized patients are “engaging in quiet baby talk, “being incontinent (of feces or urine)”, “crying”, “sucking on objects or body parts”, “verbally abusing staff”, “whining”, “being mute”, “needing a comfort object like a stuffed animal, “playing possum or dumb”, “being physically aggressive (eg, hitting, scratching, biting, kicking)”, “assuming the fetal position”, “rocking”, “pacing”, “having temper tantrums” and “bedwetting”. Also stating that adults who throw “temper tantrums have them for the same reasons as children (ie, being distressed). Being hospitalized is stressful for some adults; this can fuel tantrums. Adults with temper tantrums exhibit some or all of the behaviors exhibited by children.”[5]

Regression behaviours can be problematic “when it is employed to avoid difficult adult situations or stressors.” Or in an inappropriate setting like a job interview or the middle of a restaurant.

Regression can also be “portrayed in a more positive light.” For example, some psychologists have “argued that an individual’s regressive tendency is not just a relapse into infantilism, but an attempt to achieve something important (eg, a universal feeling of childhood innocence, a sense of security, reciprocated love, and trust).”[6]

I feel better knowing that I’m not the only adult that has a tendency to act in such ways, and knowing the reasoning behind it.

I should also add that sometimes people can’t control falling into a regressive state, nor are they always aware. For me, there are times where I can’t control it, but there are also times where I choose to be in that state. I’m saying this because it’s so easy to judge me, or anyone, for acting like a child. It’s so easy to think we’re doing it on purpose to manipulate someone (we’re not). Try not to judge. Take the time to talk to the individual – respectfully, calmly, non-judgementally, and patiently. We appreciate it more than anyone will know. I know I do.


References

[1] Oxford University Press. (n.d.). Regression. English Oxford Living Dictionaries. Retrieved from https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/regression

[2] Changing works. (n.d.). Regression. Changing Minds. Retrieved from http://changingminds.org/explanations/behaviors/coping/regression.htm

[3] McLeod, S. (2009). Defense Mechanisms. Simply Psychology. Retrieved from http://www.simplypsychology.org/defense-mechanisms.html

[4]  Lokko, H., & Stern, T. (2015). Regression: Diagnosis, Evaluation, and Management. National Center for Biotechnology Information. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4578899/

[5] ibid.

[6] ibid.

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