What is the regression and its relationship with psychoanalysis?

What is the 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. The subject leaves behind the appropriate coping strategies for their age and shows earlier and more childish behavior patterns.

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


  • 1 What are defense mechanisms
  • 2 Why does regressive behavior occur?
  • 3 Examples of regressive behavior
  • 4 Psychoanalytic Regression Origin

What are defense mechanisms?

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

All of us face stressful situations from time to time, and each one tries to cope with it as well as possible, some may cry to cause catharsis, others prefer to talk with a friend to relieve themselves, 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 situation that causes anxiety, which means that they acquire certain behavioral patterns from earlier or even childhood 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 goes back or reverts to an earlier stage, it does so because that stage reminds you of the moment when stress inducing factors were absent. It is, for her, a safer and quieter stage, where her parents or an adult would probably make the stress disappear. Therefore, when he returns there, he recovers all those feelings of security and can better handle the situation.

However, when someone moves back, both the stage they are going 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. Often, people who do a regression are not aware of having done it, while viewers can consider this behavior as immature, selfish, childish, self-complacent and inappropriate.

Examples of regressive behavior

Here are some examples of regressive behavior:

  • After the divorce of his parents, a 10-year-old boy returns to wet the bed.
  • After the arrival of his little sister, an 8-year-old boy suddenly begins to suck his finger, a habit he had abandoned.
  • A university student who tries to adapt to his new life outside the home, returns to sleep with a stuffed animal for children.
  • After her 4-year-old boyfriend breaks the relationship, a girl curls up in a fetal position and swings from side to side, refusing to leave the bed.
  • Anger that a person shows when caught in traffic is one of the most common instances of regression.

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

Psychoanalytic Regression Origin

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 affirmed that our development and behavior as adults is determined by these stages of development that were adopted during growth.

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

So, an example of fixation in the oral phase It would be when a person who is under a lot of stress, smokes nonstop, overeats or verbally mistreats others. If someone is stuck in the anal fixation phase, it can become exceptionally or even ruthlessly clean and tidy, or it could go in the opposite direction and become terribly careless and messy. A person with a phallic fixation You can develop conversion hysteria and act on sexual impulses.


Although regression helps reduce stress levels, a habitual and prolonged use of this defense mechanism can bring problems of adjustment in everyday life, because it distances the person from the 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.