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Regression | Understanding What Could Be the Fix for Your Mood and Anxiety Misery

What is regression

Is it better to treat symptoms or find and eliminate bottom-line cause? Hmmm. Seems like the latter would be the way to go, if cause can be pinpointed and efficiently removed. Does this apply to symptoms of mood and anxiety disorders? Sure it does. So let’s learn about the defense mechanism, regression…

…the patient’s regressive tendency…is not just a relapse into infantilism, but an attempt to get at something necessary…the universal feeling of childhood innocence, the sense of security, of protection, of reciprocated love, of trust. Carl Jung

The causes of mood and anxiety misery are many, varied, and often mysterious. How well we know, right? Often, it’s an issue of that grand convergence of nature and nurture.

However, it could well be one or the other.

If, indeed, the foundation of, say, a depressive disorder is 100% “psychological” – purely nurture – could we go so far as to say the disorder would be “cured” if the psychological underpinnings were discovered and resolved?

Sure makes sense to me.

Well, it’s my opinion one such “underpinning” is regression. And that means we need to learn about it…

What is Regression?

How can I make my depression go awayAccording to Sigmund Freud, regression is a defense mechanism that ushers-in a short or long-term reversion of the ego to an earlier stage of development. This, as opposed to handling unacceptable impulses in, shall we say, a more adult fashion. And, yes, this implies taking-on childish mannerisms while regressed.

(Hey, I really tried to find a smiling Sigmund pic. Well, at least I found one in color.)

If we’re going to review ego-related material (with id and superego), we need to make sure we’re all on the same page. There’s a very simple explanation in this Chipur article on ego strength.

Freud viewed regression as a top-drawer neurosis-generating phenomenon. Since the term “neurosis” isn’t used much anymore, let’s define it as an unpleasant emotional/mental set of circumstances in which hallucinations or delusions don’t present. Hence, the mood and anxiety disorders would be considered “neuroses.”

By the way, as someone who’s endured mood and anxiety yuck for decades, I’m okay with that terminology. You?

Freud believed neurosis is created when one escapes from an unsatisfactory immediate reality to an earlier stage of development. So regression, then, is time travel to days when satisfaction was infinite. Dang, wouldn’t that be nice.

And the thing is, not only does the individual go back in time, s/he actually employs original and primitive methods of emotional and mental expression – of coping. That gives regression a double-whammy effect.

How ’bout these gentle words from Carl Jung?

…the patient’s regressive tendency…is not just a relapse into infantilism, but an attempt to get at something necessary…the universal feeling of childhood innocence, the sense of security, of protection, of reciprocated love, of trust.

What Does Regression Look Like?

Why do I get so angryTo paint the most accurate picture of regressive thought, feeling, and behavior, we’d have to know the stage of development at which the individual is fixated (“stuck”).

Without regard to developmental stage, here are some common adult regressive expressions…

Excessive eating or smoking, verbal or physical aggression, excessive tidiness or messiness, temper tantrums, whining, crying in reaction to stress or for no apparent reason, inexplicable fear, rage, sucking or chewing on objects, feelings of powerlessness and hopelessness, playing ignorant, masturbating, cuddling with a comfort object, refusing to get out of bed, transformation of emotional/mental distress into physical symptoms

Of course, presenting with one of the above doesn’t equate to being in a troubling regressed state. However, if multiple thoughts, feelings, or behaviors are an issue – or if a distinct pattern of even one is detected – regression needs to addressed.

And please keep in mind, all of us regress in one form or another. It becomes problematic when it causes life-interruption.

How Could Regression Be the Fix?

We’ve learned that Freud believed regression is a powerful neurosis-generating defense mechanism. We also learned that, by definition, the mood and anxiety disorders are neuroses. That being the case, when mood or anxiety symptoms are present and troubling, there’s a pretty good chance a regressed state is at hand.

Manage the regression, manage the mood and anxiety symptoms.

Freud goes on to submit that the neurosis is created when one escapes from an unsatisfactory immediate reality and makes a beeline for an earlier stage of development in which satisfaction was plentiful.

Well, let’s say the stage at which the individual arrived was the Latency Stage, spanning from six-years-old to puberty. It would be reasonable, then, to suggest the individual is attempting to live an adult life with the emotional, even mental, maturity of a six to twelve-year-old.

Would that reality generate a variety of mood and anxiety symptoms? I don’t see how it couldn’t.

Let’s Close and Talk Next-Steps

How does all of this sit with you? Are we connecting the same dots?

I more than understand the need to treat symptoms of mood and anxiety disorders the best we can with, say, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). However, in all too many cases it’s a band-aid approach that peters-out over time.

That’s why I advocate exploring bottom-line cause, regression being a first-look candidate.

I mean, think about it. If regression is, indeed, cranking out the mood and anxiety symptoms, wouldn’t it make sense the symptoms would subside as the regression is treated?

And that’s why I believe understanding and managing regression could well be the fix for y/our mood and anxiety misery.

Hey, be sure to check-out Part 2: Regression | Growing Ourselves Back Up (and dumping buckets of mood and anxiety misery).

image thank you:

678 Chipur titles are but a tap away.

  • I totally agree but am having a hard time “growing up”…can’t believe we are talking Freud but I know regression is real.

    • Hi, Nancy. Appreciate your ongoing visits and participation.

      Yeah, go figure – chatting Freud. Of course, there are still many theorists, practitioners who back him. Yes, some with a tweak or two (or three).

      Speaking of regression and defense mechanisms, Dr. John M. Grohol over at PsychCentral provides a list of 15 Common Defense Mechanisms categorized as Primitive, Less Primitive/More Mature, Mature. Worth a look-see

      Stay tuned for Part Two, Nancy. We’ll get into the “growing-up” biz.

      Thank you stopping-by…

      • thought about this overnight and think it does need tweaking. i have at least attachment disorder so to just get over regression aint so easy. i think this is why mindfulness, yoga and authentic relationship are in vogue; they help us be in the present. and i dislike your use of the term defenses. i prefer coping mechanisms. so many of us were severely traumatized and these defenses helped us survive, this is a more compassionate spin on a difficult situation. i will look at the list but i am expecting to regress, to be authoritatively told how screwed up i am. i have done best with strength building models that help me appreciate myself. here is a very interesting regression i have. i am a very experienced yoga practitioner which is highly touted for trauma now. but when i do yoga though even my teacher says i am good, my low self esteem comes up. there are many poses i can’t do as i was beaten and my pelvis is twisted so my balance is off. so i begin to regress and hate myself. my teacher corrects me and reminds me that everyone has their edge and there is no perfect way. but i am flooded w self hatred and grief. i think this article oversimplifies regression. it is engrained in the body, and not so easy to overcome. forgive me for working my stuff a bit here. glad i will soon be somewhere where there are practitioners that agree w some of this and can hep me find joy, my natural state of being.

      • No need to ask forgiveness for “working my stuff a bit here.” Have at it, Nancy..

        Yes, the article “oversimplifies regression.” Article length is always a consideration. In addition, often an article here is a call to action for research/due diligence by the reader. I may submit a general theory/notion. The reader can then run with it, if they’d like.


  • ok, read em. i think i am working on the more mature forms but under stress it is damn hard…