Theories on age regression and trauma

Age regression is when a person returns to a younger state of mind. Regression is a normal and temporary condition for children, and it may be a mechanism for adults to cope with stress and untreated trauma.

This article reviews what depression is, its causes and stigma, and age regression as part of psychotherapy.

What is age regression?

Age regression is a temporary or long-term reversal of behavior toward an earlier developmental state. This is normal and expected in children, but can also occur in adulthood.

People sometimes revert to childish behavior in response to trauma, stress, serious illness or mental health disorder. Age regression can be an unconscious (involuntary) or conscious (voluntary) act.

A subtle example is when a person sucks their thumb as a child, chewing on a pen because of stress or trying to think. More severe degenerations include fetal position crying and bedwetting.

Age regression example

Other examples of regressive behavior include:

  • baby talk
  • unable to comfort oneself
  • woohoo
  • become silent (nonverbal)
  • Use a doll or plush for comfort
  • swing
  • pacing
  • physical attack
  • tantrums (outbursts, throwing things, kicking, holding your breath)
  • Inability to perform basic activities they could previously do
  • pretend not to understand

child age regression

Age regression is a normal part of development in infants and children of all ages, especially when they are overwhelmed or reaching new milestones. This is temporary and usually resolves within a few weeks. Young children have frequent tantrums, especially when they are scared, tired, or hungry. They usually grow up around preschool or around age 4.

theory of mind

Sigmund Freud’s Psychoanalytic Theory

Sigmund Freud was a famous neuroscientist of the 20th century. He is considered the founder of psychoanalysis, a theory and therapy used to treat mental illness.

Freud defined age regression as an unconscious defense mechanism that causes the ego to return to earlier stages of development rather than dealing with unacceptable impulses in a more mature manner. This defense mechanism can help a person protect themselves from trauma, stress and anger, he said.

Types of mental health treatment

Freud’s ego

Freud’s use of the word “self” implies a sense of self that helps a person make sense of the world and real things. This part of the personality includes judgment, tolerance, control, planning, and memory.

Anna Freud’s theory of motivational forgetting

Sigmund Freud’s daughter Anna elaborated on his research. Anna has developed specific tools for psychoanalysis or therapy for children. Not only does she focus on talk therapy, but she also engages children through games or drawing.

She suggests that people psychologically retreat to emotional times when they feel safer under stress.

Carl Jung

Carl Jung, the psychiatrist who founded Analytical Psychology, sees age regression more positively. Jung defined age regression as an attempt to achieve childhood innocence, security, love, and trust. His theory was that people would go back to a time when they felt safer.

What is psychology?

condition-related behavior

Degenerative behavior may stem from a neurological, medical or mental health condition and may be the following symptoms:

  • dissociative identity disorder
  • schizophrenia
  • schizoaffective disorder
  • catatonia
  • delirium
  • substance use disorder
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Dementia
  • borderline personality disorder
  • mood disorders
  • depression

Voluntary age return

For some, age regression is a deliberate choice used as a coping mechanism for past trauma, anxiety or depression. Others voluntarily engage in childish behavior because it is a way of coping with stress.

Voluntary age regression may include:

  • wear baby clothes
  • suck on a pacifier
  • being spoon fed
  • Use a sippy cup
  • play with children’s toys
  • Create a safe space with playful items to make you feel more at ease

The age of trauma returns

Those who experienced trauma earlier were more likely to degenerate, especially if the trauma occurred at a young age. Regression can be triggered by stressors or traumatic memories.

when it’s a coping mechanism

People learn ways to overcome, adapt, or cope with stress as they mature. Coping mechanisms may include talking, journaling, or exercising. Age regression can occur when adults are overwhelmed and have no other way to cope or communicate their distress.

Work with a therapist for regression therapy

In different forms of psychotherapy, patients may degenerate in certain ways. This can sometimes be a useful and necessary way to redesign maladaptive (inappropriate) defense mechanisms (both regression and action) in a session with a therapist. It can also lead to more mature function outside of the therapeutic process.

At times, especially in the face of certain types of trauma and personality disorders, regression can be overwhelming. These times may require active intervention by a therapist to help people manage these regressions in a healthier way.

The Benefits and Controversies of Hypnotic Regression

The goal of regression hypnotherapy is a form of hypnotherapy (also called hypnosis) used to actively help people revisit earlier memories and emotions. Some therapists believe this can help patients access repressed memories and help them deal with painful past experiences. However, there is ample evidence that memories acquired through hypnosis are unreliable.

The benefits of hypnosis

General types of hypnosis may help:

  • fear and anxiety
  • sleep disorder
  • frustrated
  • pressure
  • post-traumatic anxiety
  • sad
  • quit smoking (quit smoking)
  • overeating

Regression-focused hypnosis remains controversial for several reasons, including:

  • False Memory Syndrome: Memories obtained during hypnosis are not trustworthy and may inadvertently produce false memories.
  • Preconceived ideas: Preconceived ideas or opinions that the therapist may have formed about the client in advance that would lead to wrong or leading advice.
  • Lack of training: Opponents argue that not all hypnotists are trained therapists. Without proper training, they may not have the tools to help if severe emotional distress occurs.

If hypnosis sounds like something you’d like to try, it’s important to find a qualified mental health professional with the proper training.

When hypnotherapy may not be the best option

Hypnotherapy may not be suitable for people who have hallucinations, delusions, or use drugs and alcohol.

Age returns to shame

Age regression, whether consensual or involuntary, is not considered sexual. This is a term used in psychology or medicine. The term refers to those who voluntarily or involuntarily fall back to a younger state of mind,

Confuse age regression with sex

Age regression is sometimes confused with a sexual fetish or some kind of kink.

Kink is a sexual activity that goes beyond what society considers normal. Age play is a kink in which someone pretends to be young or plays a role during sexual activity.

Freud’s definition of psychosexual stages

Part of this confusion may be due to how Freud defined stages of child development as focusing on pleasure-seeking energies. He developed his theory of psychosexual development, where he said that personality development throughout childhood occurs in five psychosexual stages. In this theory, each stage focuses on one erogenous zone. The erogenous zone is the body part that is particularly sensitive to sexual stimulation.


Age regression, or when someone is younger than their age, can be voluntary or involuntary. For children, involuntary regression is a typical, temporary behavior that is part of their normal growth and development.

Some scientists, neurologists, psychiatrists, and psychologists have different psychological theories about the regression to adult age. They suggested a variety of possible causes, including mechanisms for coping with stress, behaviors associated with certain medical or mental health conditions, and states sometimes promoted in certain psychotherapies.

VigorTip words

This can be worrying when a child experiences age regression as part of their normal growth and development. However, this is normal and usually temporary. If they go away for more than a few weeks, it’s best to see a pediatrician.

If you or your adult loved ones show signs of involuntary age regression, talk to your healthcare provider or mental health professional so they can help you identify and treat the underlying cause.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Do age regression behaviors come and go?

    It depends on the reason for the regression in age. Age regression due to personality disorders or trauma is often accompanied by stress, traumatic memories or triggers. Degenerative behaviors may be more persistent when associated with neurological disorders such as head trauma or dementia.

  • What does “agere” mean on social media?

    “Agere” is short for age regression or age regressor.

  • Is it normal for toddlers to regress?

    Yes. When a toddler leaves their comfort zone, they often go backwards. This means they stop doing what they have learned. This can happen when they go to nursery or when a new sibling is born. Age regression is temporary. Grumpy persists until around preschool. If other forms of degeneration persist for more than a few weeks, consult your young child’s pediatrician.

  • Is age regression considered a mental health condition?

    No, age regression is not a mental health condition. Involuntary age regression can be a symptom of mental health disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), dissociative identity disorder, schizophrenia, or mood disorders. Voluntary age regression is sometimes used for coping or relaxation.

    understand more:

    What is a mood disorder?