What is regression and its relationship with psychoanalysis

Simon Doyle
What is regression and its relationship with psychoanalysis

Regression is a psychological defense mechanism in which a person adopts certain behaviors from an earlier stage of development. Subject leaves age-appropriate coping strategies behind and displays earlier and more childish patterns of behavior.

Regression is a form of regression, bringing back a time when the person felt safe and cared for.


  • What are defense mechanisms
  • Why does regressive behavior occur?
  • Examples of regressive behavior
  • Psychoanalytic origin of regression
    • Conclusions

What are defense mechanisms

Defense mechanisms are the coping techniques that we use to try to reduce the intensity of any negative, unpleasant and / or threatening feelings. We all use them at some point or another, and they are essential to maintaining positive mental health..

All of us are faced with stressful situations from time to time, and each one tries to cope as well as possible, some may cry to provoke a catharsis, others prefer to talk to a friend for relief, some meditate to calm the mind, etc. These are all mature or "adult" ways of dealing with stress and anxiety. However, some people adopt the regression tool when faced with a stressful and anxiety-causing situation, which means that they acquire certain patterns of behavior from earlier or even childish stages of development..

Why does regressive behavior occur?

Like any other defense mechanism, regression is used to avoid having to face a negative emotion in all its intensity. A situation when it is very unpleasant or threatening, can lead to a destructive effect on the mental health of the person. When it regresses or reverts to an earlier stage, it does so because that stage reminds you of the time when stressors were absent. It is, for her, a safer and calmer stage, where probably her parents or an adult would make the stress disappear. So when you go back there, you regain all those feelings of security and you can better handle the situation..

However, when someone regresses, both the stage they go to and the type of behavior they adopt differs from person to person. Sometimes this behavior could be very subtle, while at other times it could be very explicit. Regressionists are often unaware of having done so, while viewers may view such behavior as immature, selfish, childish, self-indulgent, and inappropriate..

Examples of regressive behavior

Here are some examples of regressive behavior:

  • After his parents' divorce, a 10-year-old boy wets the bed again.
  • After the arrival of his little sister, an 8-year-old boy suddenly starts sucking his thumb, a habit he had given up..
  • A college student trying to adjust to his new life outside the home falls asleep again with a stuffed animal.
  • After her boyfriend of 4 years breaks the relationship, a girl curls up in a fetal position and rocks from side to side, refusing to leave the bed..
  • The anger that a person shows when stuck in traffic is one of the most common instances of regression..

Most mild regressive behaviors are considered harmless and do not require therapy. However, people with complex or traumatic childhoods may not have matured properly at all stages of growth and may act destructively..

Psychoanalytic origin of regression

Regression is closely related to Freud's stages of psychosexual development. Sigmund Freud popularized the concept of defense mechanisms and proposed the theory of human development through psychosexual stages, naming them the oral, anal, and phallic stages of development. He stated that our development and behavior as adults is determined by these developmental stages that were adopted during growth.

It was his daughter, Anna Freud, who classified regression as the most basic and important defense mechanism and ensured that the type of behavioral traits to which a person reverts could explain his fixation with the exact stage of development..

Thus, an example of fixation on the oral phase would be when a person who is under a lot of stress, smokes non-stop, overeats or verbally abuses others. If someone is stuck in the anal fixation phase, they can become exceptionally or even ruthlessly clean and tidy, or they could go the opposite direction and become terribly sloppy and messy. A person with a phallic fixation may develop conversion hysteria and act on sexual urges..


Despite the fact that regression helps reduce stress levels, a regular and prolonged use of this defense mechanism can cause adjustment problems in daily life, as it distances the person from true reality. That is why it is important for everyone to be aware of their behavior and find better and healthier options to deal with stress and anxiety..

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