Regressive behavior and BPD / PTSD

In psychology regression is a term to describe behavior and ways of thinking or feeling that suggest or tie in with an earlier developmental level. Regressive behavior can be open or covert, and it can happen in very mild up to very severe forms.

Functionally, regressive behavior is a coping mechanism. It also has communicative value, making a statement about where the person is at emotionally and what she needs. Personally, I think it is also a way for unresolved issues from earlier developmental stages to show and allows for those issues to get addressed, treated and (hopefully eventually) resolved.

I have no idea if regressive behavior is more of a Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) or a Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) thing, or if it even matters to know. For me it’s all just one big messy tangle anyway where everything ties in with everything else somehow.

For me regressive behavior is very, very common. I think I operate on some kind of regressive level most of the time, in fact. Sometimes I wonder if when I’m writing blog posts is the only time of the day when I’m not. Sure feels like it. Anyway, I’ll describe a little how my regressive behavior looks, so you get an idea of what I’m talking about.

Some of the many colorful shades of my regressive behavior:

  • being clingy and in distress when I’m left alone
  • using a pacifier
  • having temper tantrums
  • picking fights
  • demanding ongoing and undivided attention
  • using baby-talk
  • crying as the main response to stress
  • whining to get my way
  • resorting to physical passivity and muteness
  • needing a comfort object
  • hitting, biting, scratching, kicking
  • acting silly and playing dumb
  • claiming not to be able / not to know how to do something
  • wanting to sit on my mom’s lap or hold her hand or be physically close otherwise
  • not sleeping alone
  • not staying with other people or anywhere, really, unless mom is with me / separation anxiety
  • monitoring and trying to control what other people do
  • assuming a fetal position and / or rocking myself back and forth
  • putting my hands over my ears and turning away, pretending to not hear or see anything
  • replying with “No!” instead of listening to reason

I swing back and forth between a varying number of those (and probably more) at pretty much any given time. I show more of those behaviors when I’m stressed, less when I’m feeling good, but at no time (that I’m aware of) none. Yesterday evening I showed a lot of them. In general, when I feel compelled to behave that way, I find it hard to suppress it, even when I know that those behaviors are no appropriate way to react by mentally healthy people standards, and often feel embarrassed about it. I can suppress it when I absolutely need to, but not forever because it makes the stress worse, so if I have to keep it up, it usually results in something that’s worse than age-inappropriate behavior.

What is really, really hard on me is when I get criticized, punished or even ridiculed for showing these behaviors, or when someone alleges I do it on purpose out of malice to manipulate everyone around me, or to just seek the easy way out, and advises my mom not to indulge my behavior.

I really wish people would understand! From the outside it probably looks like that is what mom does – indulge me, spoil me, allow for me to manipulate her, making me worse – but that’s not what happens at all. I wish people would see that it is her who is in charge. That the part of me that acts that way really IS that little and that mom pushing me away and demanding I act my age would be like telling a little child to get her act together already. It would harm more than help. She does what she does because she chooses to, not because I make her. And she knows what she’s doing. That’s what makes her a safe person to form a healthy attachment to.

Sometimes it sucks to have a big body but a little kid’s heart. Because yes, I am capable of intelligent and mature thought, and yes, I am technically capable of mature behavior, but not always and often I feel very little inside. My mom just reacts to how old I am inside at that moment, not to how old my body is. That’s not overindulgence, it’s not succumbing to BPD scheming, it’s parenting. It really is that easy.

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18 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. prideinmadness
    Nov 10, 2012 @ 16:57:08

    Probably how I behave emotionally could be labelled as regression but I’m a massive avoider. The more I go through life the more I realize I dissociate a lot.

    • Lola
      Dec 08, 2012 @ 11:08:39

      Yeah, I also dissociate a lot. Like at the moment. I’m probably trying to dissociate my upcoming birthday and Christmas away or something. :/

  2. Rather not say
    Dec 08, 2012 @ 09:16:45

    I just went to the store and bought a baby bottle and pacifier. I had the urge for some reason…and I’ve been sleeping with it and a stuffed animal at night. It seems to sooth me (either drinking from the bottle or sucking on the pacifier til I fall asleep). I thought I was the only one…It’s really embarrassing as I am grown. But I do have borderline personality disorder, so I sometimes have regression, too…

    • Lola
      Dec 08, 2012 @ 11:12:53

      Thank you for stopping by and for leaving a reply! :) I must say I’m relieved to hear I’m not the only one who’s grown (well, at least physically) and longs for a pacifier. I have a baby bottle, too, and I only ever go to sleep with the pacifier. I find it embarrassing as well, but I suppose emotional needs don’t care whether it’s embarrasing or not. My mom always says everyone has many different parts that all make up what we are together, and that not all the parts are of the same age. So I guess it’s okay to have those regressive needs. At least while we’re at home. ;)

  3. Rather not say
    Dec 08, 2012 @ 19:04:32

    Thanks for replying.
    Yeah, my child part has been showing up a lot lately. My therapist says that I’m regressing because I’m ready to finish unfinished business of my childhood. I’ve been doing some really hard work in therapy lately and I actually do think that it’s paying off. What’s really more embarrassing though, is that this regression episode started a while back ago with bedwetting. I used to wet the bed as a child a lot, in response to a whole lotta stuff that was going on…I’ve told my therapist about this, as it makes me feel like a total freak to be in my 20s and wetting the bed again. I haven’t told him about my pacifier and bottle yet. Maybe next week? I literally just bought them about a week ago. It’s so embarrassing, but I’m glad to hear that you also have both, too. I guess you are right – our emotional needs don’t care about embarrassment. I feel like a baby for all of this stuff, but maybe that’s just what my body needs to do for the next little while in order to heal some developmental wounds.

    • Lola
      Dec 08, 2012 @ 21:32:51

      You’re welcome and thank you for sharing a little of your story. :) Funny you mention bedwetting. When I started to remember shit from my childhood, I went through a period of bedwetting and it was the most embarrassing thing ever. But totally beyond control and it happens for a reason, so I learned not to feel too bad about it, even when it sure took a long time to learn. So don’t feel like a freak. Or at least remember that you’re not the only one. Yeah, and sure, if you feel comfortable enough, do tell your therapist about the bottle and paci. Catching up on developmental needs and healing developmental wounds is a good topic for therapy, after all. My therapist goes crazy with happiness when I bring stuff like that up by myself! ;) Good luck to you! :)

  4. Rather not say
    Dec 09, 2012 @ 00:51:21

    Thank you SO MUCH for sharing that about yourself! I thought I was the only one who started bedwetting from therapy. I thought my mind was just too weak to handle things :(. But thank you! It feels really good to not be alone. I’m hoping the problem subsides soon!

    • Lola
      Dec 09, 2012 @ 09:30:15

      Actually, I like what my mom said about the bedwetting. She said it shows her that the part of my mind that strives to keep me safe is feeling confident enough to let go of some control and to reveal another issues instead of keeping it bottled up. The awareness that my mind appears to trust me to be strong enough (and have a supportive enough environment) to be able to handle the issue now was what helped me cope with the bedwetting. Not that that made the fact itself any less unpleasant. ;-) I hope you will be able to successfully work through the stuff that makes you wet the bed really soon!

  5. Trackback: Psychological Regression – the perils and the power « Who needs normal?!
  6. Can't say
    Apr 01, 2013 @ 17:34:45

    With your “regression” do you ever feel like you are two different people sharing one body and you are aware of what the other person is doing most of the time? My regressed self has totally different needs, wants, behaviors, hobbies, opinions, etc then my present day self but I “hear” her “talking” in my head. Obviously I realize it is just myself but I feel like 2 different people. Do you have this?

    • Lola
      Apr 04, 2013 @ 16:45:15

      Thanks for your comment! I do feel like I’m two people with very different needs at times. I don’t experience myself as actually BEING two different people, but my regressed self sure has way different needs than my more mature self and sometimes my more mature self wants to kick my regressed self for being such a baby. lol. But when the regressed self takes over, I suddenly don’t care about how it makes me seem anymore. And afterwards I don’t know what drove me to behave that way, like that wouldn’t be something I would do. Complicated!

      • Can't say
        Apr 04, 2013 @ 18:39:29

        It is all very complicated. I enjoyed reading your post about your experiences.
        For me, I am an almost 40 year old woman in the present day and then my “regressed” self is age 5 years old. Intellectually I realize they are both me when I stop and think about it but it is not how I experience it. To me, my 5 year old self has very different hobbies, likes, dislikes, opinions and moods then does my present day self. I feel like two TOTALLY separate individuals in one body. 75% of the time it is like a voice whispering in my ear telling me what they are thinking about and I have all memory of it. 25% of the time my regressed self totally takes over control of what I say, what I do and what I am thinking and leaves the present day me totally in the dark with what happened (disassociation) during that time. I call this switching but my doctor says that is an incorrect term and that the correct term is “regressing”. I can be my adult self one minute and then **BAM** I can change into the 5 year old and I interact with others, my husband included, totally differently. I can “switch” or change back and forth several times in a minute depending on the situation. I have not found anyone else that experiences these symptoms as two totally different people in one body with awareness of each other the way I do and still call it “regression” so that is why I began reading your posts. I guess my “regression” must be pretty severe.

        • Lola
          Apr 18, 2013 @ 09:59:43

          Sometimes I change how old I feel and behave rather quickly, too, but usually I will not dissociate so much that I don’t remember what was going on (unless I properly dissociated for some other reason at the same time). Have you looked into DID? Maybe it’s a mild version of being multiple people inside of one person? That’s just guessing, of course.

          • Can't say
            Apr 19, 2013 @ 16:12:05

            I have often wondered that myself. However, my doctor feels it is regression. IDK. I just know I have never read about anyone else experiencing it the way I do.

            • Lola
              Apr 19, 2013 @ 16:59:52

              Sometimes doc’s don’t know everything. That’s not saying your doc is wrong, obviously, but it pays off to keep on looking around and learning and seeing who can relate. It helps to hear of others and how they deal with it. My mom sometimes says she wishes I had a tag on my forehead that kept telling her how old emotionally I am in any given situation. lol That woud sure be useful!

    • I get it.
      May 22, 2013 @ 02:22:41

      Absolutely. How can a three-year-old live in a 50-year-old body? It’s real.

  7. Hannah
    Jul 25, 2013 @ 19:13:17

    Lola, I can’t tell you how much the words of this blog have helped me, I’ve discovered it at just the right time in my life, as I begin a therapy journey into trying to understand how my BPD mind works… I understand and can empathise with so much of what you say, and at this point am having really push-pull problems with the person in my life who I consider to be a ‘mum’ to me. I will be reading much more, but just wanted to drop you a note to say thank you for sharing so much of your life and thoughts, you are making the world of difference to people who may otherwise think that they are all alone. Good Luck to you on your journey xx

    • Lola
      Jul 31, 2013 @ 06:17:52

      Hello Hannah, I’m glad what I wrote on my blog helped you. Thank you for your kind words and take care. :) xx

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