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.