What is Emotional Regression?

emotional regression

When we cannot psychologically face what is happening in the present moment, we may emotionally abandon the present moment. We may begin obsessing over fictitious future predictions or lingering on the cavernous hills and valleys of our pasts. When we remove ourselves from the present, we become emotionally unavailable to those that love us – our parents, partners, children and friends. Living in the present moment is one of the greatest gifts you can bestow upon your family and yourself, though doing so is much easier said than done. Experiencing life as it occurs is certainly an acquired skill, but it is one that can be readily learned with a bit of hard work, practice, and therapeutic guidance.

Emotional Regression and Living in The Present

When we regress, we emotionally transform from rational adults to reactive children, talking, acting, and sometimes even visually representing tantrum-throwing children that are not getting their way. We slip back into old behavioral patterns and old ways of thinking and perceiving situations, and we begin to feel utterly out of control. We feel powerless over the situation at hand, and become unable to see all of the potential solutions available to us. When we regress, it is usually because we feel unsafe and afraid. Many of us felt extremely unsafe during childhood, and regress back to a time in early adolescence during which we felt unprotected and in danger. Regression might also be triggered by feelings of abandonment – we may feel that someone important to us is abandoning us, when in reality, we are merely abandoning our mature adult selves.

The Freudian Take On Regression

Regression was first studied in depth by psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, who concluded that this psychological defense mechanism lead to temporary or long-term ego reversion, during which the subject would revert back to an earlier stage of development (typically childhood). This specific defense mechanism allows the subject to avoid dealing with an emotionally troubling circumstance in a healthy, adult way. Freud believed that development, fixation, and regression were all closely interlinked, and saw each as an essential element in the formation of a neurosis. In the eyes of Freud, a neurosis was the product of a subconscious escape from an unsatisfactory reality. At one point in time, he noted, satisfaction was not withheld – and when a patient underwent regression, he or she was merely returning (emotionally and psychologically) to this point in time. Neurosis was an escape from present reality ‘along the path of involution, of regression, of a return to earlier phases of sexual life, phases from which, at one time, satisfaction was not withheld. This regression appears to be a twofold one: a temporal one, in so far as the libido, the erotic needs, hark back to stages of development that are earlier in time, and a formal one, in that the original and primitive methods of psychic expression are employed in manifesting those needs’.

The Art of ‘Growing Up’

The symptoms of regression will vary greatly dependent upon which stage of development the patient is fixated at. For example, an individual who is fixated at the oral stage of development may begin smoking excessively or compulsively over-eating, while an individual who is fixated at the anal stage may become obsessively tidy. Partially inspired by these Freudian theories, bestselling author John Lee began to study the causes and cures of ego regression in depth. His book, ‘Growing Yourself Back Up: Understanding Emotional Regression’ touches on both the causes of regression and numerous ways in which to recover from childlike feelings of powerlessness and abandonment. Lee concludes that emotional regression is a return to the feelings of helplessness we felt throughout childhood. As adults, we always have options. No matter how overwhelmed we may feel in the present moment, we can choose to handle the circumstances maturely, utilizing skills such as assertive confrontation, healthy communication, and boundary setting. Our blog article ‘Overcoming Emotional Aggression’ focuses exclusively on recovery from this detrimental, psychological coping mechanism.

Next Chapter and Emotional Regression

We at Next Chapter focus on the reversal of numerous primitive coping mechanisms, including emotional regression. We understand that many of our emotional experiences as adults are directly linked to trauma we underwent in early adolescence. We help our patients to identify symptoms of unresolved trauma, and work to instill healthy and effective coping mechanisms – replacing those that no longer serve them. For more information on emotional regression or on our specific program of recovery, please contact us today.