Regression Definition Psychology (A Comprehensive Guide)


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Page last updated: 12/10/2022

Regression Definition Psychology

Regression is a defense mechanism as proposed in the psychoanalytical theory by Sigmund Freud.

The role of regression comes into play to avoid the neurosis caused by the conflict between the id and ego.

This article will explain what defense mechanisms are and then it will explore in-depth regression definition psychology. 

Defense Mechanism:

According to Sigmund Freud, there are three structures of personality known as Id, Ego, and Superego.

Id works on pleasure principle demanding instant gratification. The id is comprised of biological instincts.

The ego works on the reality principle and fulfills the demands of id after considering the reality out there.

Lastly, the superego is constituted by the internalization of the moral principle of parents and society.

Thus superego makes a person follow moral code of conduct. Freud says that problem arsis when there is a conflict between the demands of the id and moral code of superego.

For example, if a person is hungry, he might steal to gratify his biological instinct but the superego does not allow him to steal as it is against moral ethics.

It creates a conflict between Id and super which can cause neurosis and anxiety.

To save a person from this anxiety resulting from the conflict between id and ego, the role of defense mechanism comes into play.

Defense mechanisms are unconscious processes which save the person from the neurotic anxiety by resolving the conflict between id and superego. 

Although Freud proposed about 200+ defense mechanism currently studied defense mechanism in Psychology are follow:


This is a defense mechanism in which an unwanted event that serves as a source of anxiety is taken out of consciousness.

That troubling event is repressed in unconsciousness and is completely forgotten.

In Freud’s own words “I forgot then I forgot that I forgot”.

For example, when a hysteric patient experiences some troubling he represses it and then completely forgets about it and the circumstances associated with it. 

Regression Definition Psychology (A Comprehensive Guide)

Reaction formation:

Reaction formation is the fixation of some particular idea, affect, or thought in the consciousness of human beings which is completely opposite to the thought, idea, or affect in the unconscious.

To overcome the anxiety caused by that unconscious thought and affect opposite thought and affect get stuck in consciousness.

For example, a mother who did not want a child will overcome the anxiety associated with this thought by becoming overprotective of her child. 


This is a defense mechanism in which a person projects his own thought, emotions, and behavior on to the other person and portray them as a risk towards them.

There own thoughts, emotions and behavior which can be a potential source of anxiety is projected on to the other person.

For example, a person who thinks he might be judged on having such an enormous feeling of depression might blame others for behaving aggressively.


It is a defense mechanism that channels the impulses of Id to the non-instinctual behavior.

This diversion is mainly of sexual impulses.

According to the psychoanalytical perspective, these Id impulses can be diverted to socially acceptable feelings such as art or music. 


Denial is simply a refusal to accept reality.

When a person refuses to accept what is out there he avoids all the negative affect associated with it.

For example, all homosexuals refuse to accept this reality they avoid stigmatization associated with it. 


It is a justification for a particular behavior.

Behavior that causes trouble because of consciousness of the superego is rationalized through justification for that behavior.

For example, if a persona lies and then feels guilty about lying.

He might rationalize it by giving justification that it was just necessary for the situation.


It is a defense mechanism in which an individual regresses back to the earlier stages of development and towards the abandoned form of gratification which belonged to them.

For example, a new wife might go back to her parents’ house for security reasons.

This article will further explore Regression definition psychology in depth. 

Understanding Regression definition psychology:

It is one of the defense mechanisms identified by Freud.

In an anxiety-provoking situation a person where a person cannot deal with the neurosis, he retreats back to the earlier stages of development to protect himself from anxiety. 

Regression can be understood as backsliding or the feeling of being stuck in childish behavior pattern which is thought to be immature.

When a person regresses he might feel like he is acting childish.

Despite knowing that person is behaving in a child-like manner he does not necessarily always know how to stop this behavioral pattern.

A person craves attention in such a situation he might be in a relationship which makes him revert back to his old habits.

Understanding regression definition psychology might help a person in moving past this behavioral pattern. 

According to developmental psychology, there are many stages of human development.

Every stage of human development is marked by specific behavior on each stage.

As the person matures he overcomes the juvenile behavior and adopts the behaviors which are more suitable for adults.

However, sometimes stressors or environmental situations make a person revert back to the earlier stages of life.

Regression definition psychology is discussed in depth as follows. 

What is Regression Definition psychology?

As mentioned above regression has been identified as an unconscious defense mechanism by Freud.

According to him, regression causes a person to revert back to earlier stages of life.

This regression can occur both in children and in adults. Here, we will discuss regression definition psychology.

Childhood Regression:

It should be noted children experience more regression than adults. According to regression definition psychology, this regression can be triggered by any stressor, traumatic event, or frustration.

Children usually have their specific way of telling adults that they have regressed.

By depicting this regression they usually propagate what is happening to them. 

If their regression is handled in a proper way and quickly, that regressed behavior can diminish soon. 

Adult regression:

Adults can experience regression at any stage of their life.

According to regression definition psychology when adults experience regression they move to the earlier stages of their lives.

Although it happens rarely adults might revert back to the stage of a toddler even rarely to early infancy stage.

Regression results from any situation which can provoke fear, anger, anxiety, insecurity, or any other negative emotions which can be hard to deal with.

It should be noted here that individuals revert to the stage of their lives where they felt safe and secure. 

Manifestations of Regression:

Different types of behaviors are manifested by different individuals when they are regressing.

According to regression definition psychology, behaviors usually manifested when a person is regressing are usually positively correlated with the stages they have been fixated on.

For example, a person fixated at the oral stage might show the behavior associated with an oral activity such as sucking on a pen or fiddling with their mouth and if a person is fixated on the phallic stage he would exhibit the physical symptoms which were apparent when he first encountered phallic stage.

The person fixated at the second stage might become messy or disorganized.

In extreme cases of regression, an individual might even stop talking as if they are in a preverbal stage.

All these manifestations of behavior during regression can be treated by mental health professionals. 

Common Regressive Behavior:

Apart from behavioral manifestations, there are many common regressive behaviors which can be identified by people around individual showing regressive behavior. 

According to regression definition psychology, common regressive behavior among children is that they start throwing a temper tantrum, screaming, shouting, and behaving in an abusive way their parents or their caretaker.

This might also include pounding their head on walls and floor, kicking, and throwing things. 

Regressive behavior shown by patients suffering from the psychological disorder is termed as ‘agitation’.

Regressive behavior and agitation share common features but regressive behavior displayed in a hospital setting can become much problematic as it can harm the individual and others around them too.

There is also restricted space and rigid staff in the hospital which might make aggressive behavior more problematic. 

Because of the similarities in behavior regression can be confused with other psychological disorders such as catatonia, substance abuse, and personality disorder.

Although it is not much of a concern it should be noted in each of these mental conditions. 

Evaluating regressive behavior:

Evidence-based studies have established the diagnosis of regressive behavior.

Although mental health practitioners must take make their diagnosis based on the evaluation of the history of the patient including medical history, substance abuse, psychological history and family history to have a better insight of personal well-being. 

The mental health practitioner who suspects regressive behavior should make the diagnosis immediately as it can escalate with the exponential rate and can become problematic.

This increase is usually high when regressive behavior is ignored and in the individual who uses regressive behavior as a way to communicate their issues. 

Managing regression:

After evaluation regression should be managed based on the underlying problem such as neurological, medical, or psychiatric conditions.

The intervention employed for the management of regressive behavior is dependent on the underlying source of regressive behavior.

Mental health practitioners can provide a clear diagnosis and then intervention based on diagnosis for a clear path on the road to recovery.

Behavioral therapies might include talk therapy or active listening and empathize with individuals who are regressing.

Medications such as antidepressants can also be used to manage regressive behavior.


Regression is a defense mechanism identified by Sigmund Freud.

According to regression definition psychology, it childish or immature behavior exhibited by an individual when he faces some stressful circumstances.

In potentially stress-causing conditions a person reverts back to his early stages of development.

Regressive behavior is more common in children than in adults and regressive behavior is correlated with the stage in which the individual has been fixated. 

FAQs about regression definition psychology 

What is the regression in psychology example?

Regression is when a person reverts back to his earlier stages of development or to the stage where he abandoned the gratification which belonged to them.

It is the stage where a person felt safe and secure.

After a fight, a young wife goes back to her parents’ home because she felt safe and secure there.

What is regressive behavior?

Regressive behavior is correlated to the stage where the person has been fixated.

For example, if the person has been fixated at the oral stage then he would be showing regressive behavior of sucking or fiddling with the mouth.

More common aggressive behavior according to regression definition psychology can be different in children and in adults.

Children might start throwing temper tantrums, shouting, screaming, and being abusive with adults or caretakers while adults’ aggressive behavior is more like agitation. 

What is the sign of regression?

Signs of regression can be identified by observing the behavior which they already have grown out such as wanting a bottle, thumb sucking, or whining.


Joy Youell (2020) Understanding regression psychology. Retrieved from: 

Kristina Speciale (2020) What Is Regression? Psychology, Definition, And Applications For Your Relationship. Retrieved from: Defense mechanism 

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