Age regression

Samir Kadri
Author: Samir Kadri Medical Reviewer: Morgan Blair Last updated:

Age regression occurs when someone begins to act in ways they used to at an earlier period in their life. Their behavior may regress only a few years from their actual age, or they may start behaving like an infant.

We often perform self-soothing behaviors as children, such as thumb-sucking, whining for attention, or hiding under the bed. These are acceptable behaviors for children, but as we age, we learn more effective and healthier ways of responding to stressful situations.

But a person can revert to a younger state of mind, replicating the infantile behaviors they had grown out of years ago.

Age regression

What is age regression?

Age regression is a psychological phenomenon in which an individual temporarily reverts to behaviors, emotions, thought patterns, or memories that are characteristic of a younger age.

It involves a shift in psychological functioning where a person’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviors become aligned with a previous developmental stage. Age regression can occur consciously or unconsciously, and it’s often linked to stress, trauma, or a desire for comfort and safety. [1]

The regression can happen at any age, though it is most common in children. [1] Essentially, people revert to a point in their lives where they felt safer and less stressed out. [1]

Sigmund Freud believed regression to be an unconscious defense mechanism, which people exhibited when overwhelmed by stress, frustration, or a traumatic event. [1]

Carl Jung had a positive outlook on regression, arguing that regression is not merely falling back into juvenile patterns, but an attempt to access something important but difficult to attain, such as the feeling of childhood innocence or a sense of reciprocated love or trust. [1]

Types of age regression

Age regressions can be split into two types: voluntary and involuntary.

Voluntary age regression

Voluntary age regression refers to a deliberate and intentional choice to adopt behaviors, emotions, or thought patterns of a younger age. It is typically initiated by a hypnotic therapist in a controlled setting but can also be carried out at home.

Hypnotically induced regression allows our minds to travel back in time, accessing different memories. Some may be beloved childhood memories and others may be repressed memories. This regression allows us to confront repressed memories and work through any trauma these experiences may have caused us. [2]

People may engage in voluntary age regression to experience comfort, stress relief, nostalgia, or for respite from grief.

Individuals who voluntarily engage in age regression have a level of control over the experience. They consciously choose to adopt certain behaviors or thought patterns associated with a younger age.

Involuntary age regression

Involuntary age regression, on the other hand, occurs without conscious intent or effort. It’s a response to stress, trauma, or psychological triggers that cause a person’s thoughts, emotions, or behaviors to align with a younger age.

Involuntary age regression can be triggered by any number of stress-inducing factors and the person experiencing it will typically experience a lack of control over the way they feel.

For example, a person who experienced a traumatic event as a child might involuntarily regress to a younger emotional state when confronted with a similar situation in adulthood.

Examples of age regression

Age regression looks different from person to person, but some common examples include: [1]

  • Crying
  • Dressing like a child
  • Using baby talk
  • Sucking your thumb
  • Temper tantrums
  • Being mute
  • Rocking
  • Bedwetting
  • Curling into the fetal position
  • Shunning adult responsibilities
  • Incontinence
  • Using a dummy
  • Cuddling a childhood toy
  • Using a childhood blanket
  • Using your childhood eating utensils and crockery

What causes age regression?

Age regression, whether voluntary or involuntary, can be triggered by various psychological and emotional factors. Below is a list of causes and reasons a person might experience age regression:

  • Stress and trauma: Severe stressors or traumatic events can lead to age regression as a coping mechanism. The individual might revert to a younger emotional or behavioral state to seek comfort and safety. People who experience trauma at a young age are more prone to regression. [1]
  • Desire for control: In situations where an individual feels out of control, they might unconsciously revert to juvenile behaviors they associate with a time when they felt more secure and in control.
  • Self-help: Individuals might detach themselves from their current reality, reverting to a time in their life where they felt more loved, cared for, and safe. They may also revert to a younger age to avoid tough issues and personal problems they face.
  • Comfort and Security: People may regress to a younger age to experience the comfort, security, and nurturing associated with childhood. This can be especially common during times of distress.

Symptoms of other mental health conditions

Unconscious age regression can be a symptom of another medical or psychiatric condition. [1] Correctly recognizing the etiology of the trauma that prompts the regressive behavior is fundamental to understanding how the behavior can be prevented. [1]

Diseases that could be related to unconscious age regression include: [1]

How to manage age regression

Managing age regression, whether voluntary or involuntary, requires different coping strategies depending on your personal situation and symptoms.

If you are a child, age regression is a normal response to stressful stimuli. As children age they will learn more effective, age-appropriate ways of handling conflict, especially if they are shown care, love, and understanding.

For adults, clinical experience indicates that the first step to managing age regression is to identify any underlying psychiatric or medical issue that could be the root cause. [1] Depending on the perceived cause of the regression, the intervention may be behavioral or pharmaceutical.

The need to empathize with the patient underpins any behavioral intervention. Treatment should be carried out by a therapist or other licensed healthcare provider. The therapist can inform a patient they recognize how hard their problem is – whether its anxiety, grief, or distress.

They may then try other approaches to prevent a patient from regressing, including mimicking parental authority, joining the patient in their “child place” for alignment building, or exploration of potential traumatic experiences. [1] [2]

Research indicates that the creation of a behavioral plan in conjunction with any doctors, nurses, social workers, and therapists involved in the situation can help prevent regression. [1]

Going down the pharmaceutical route, healthcare providers may diagnose a patient with an underlying health condition and prescribe medication accordingly. They would regard the age regression as a symptom of the underlying health condition. If they treat the underlying condition, the hope would be the age regression stops. For example, antidepressants for major depressive disorder or antipsychotics for patients with schizophrenia. Take any medication exactly as prescribed by your healthcare provider.

  1. Lokko, H. N., & Stern, T. A. (2015). Regression: diagnosis, evaluation, and management. The Primary Care Companion for CNS Disorders.
  2. United We Care. (2023). How to use age regression therapy as a coping mechanism. United We Care | a Super App for Mental Wellness.
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Samir Kadri
Author Samir Kadri Writer

Samir Kadri is a medical writer with a non-profit sector background, committed to raising awareness about mental health.

Published: Oct 25th 2023, Last edited: Oct 25th 2023

Morgan Blair
Medical Reviewer Morgan Blair MA, LPCC

Morgan Blair is a licensed therapist, writer and medical reviewer, holding a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling from Northwestern University.

Content reviewed by a medical professional. Last reviewed: Oct 25th 2023