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Age regression occurs when an individual reverts to an earlier age mentally and behaviorally. Some people go back to an earlier age to blow off steam or have fun. For others, it isn’t a choice and may be a symptom of another health condition.
What Is Age Regression?
Regressive behaviors are typically viewed as defense mechanisms that surface in response to stress or trauma. The individual returns to an earlier developmental stage as a way of coping.
Adults may engage in several different childlike behaviors. Regression can impact their speech, social interactions, thought patterns, movement or interests. Age regression is common throughout childhood when a child faces stress. An older child may start using a pacifier or have tantrums again after a sibling is born.
Voluntary vs. Involuntary Age Regression
Voluntary age regression involves choosing to revert to younger behavior to cope or enjoy yourself. On the other hand, involuntary regression is characterized by an individual reverting without awareness.
It’s become more common for people to talk about voluntary age regression in recent years. You can find numerous videos on TikTok under #ageregression. Countless videos of users discussing or demonstrating regressive behaviors exist, such as using a pacifier, hugging a stuffed animal or dressing like a child. Age regression is generally considered safe unless the person’s behavior is out of control or they’re putting themselves or others at risk.
Examples of Age Regression
Regression presents differently for each person, but common behaviors include:
- Using baby talk
- Thumb sucking or using a pacifier
- Seeking comfort in a stuffed animal or blanket
- Temper tantrums
- Being mute
- Rocking or pacing
- Getting into the fetal position
- Avoiding adult concerns or responsibilities
- Dressing like a child
Is Age Regression a Mental Health Condition?
The DSM-5 doesn’t identify age regression as a specific mental health disorder. However, it can be a symptom of particular conditions and a trauma response.
For example, some potty-trained children may have toilet accidents again due to stress or a significant change. They may regress after a new sibling is born, the family moves or their parents divorce.
What Causes Age Regression?
A person may regress for several reasons, including physical and mental health conditions and neurological factors. It can also be a reaction to stress or trauma (e.g., job loss, end of a relationship, abuse or moving).
Involuntary age regression is associated with the following conditions:
- Major depressive disorder
- Dissociative disorders
- Borderline personality disorder
- Substance use disorders
- Psychotic disorders
Age Regression Therapy
The use of age regression as a therapy technique is controversial among clinicians. It’s used with hypnosis to help individuals process and reframe past trauma or significant experiences. The therapist uses hypnosis to help the patient return to the mental age they were at the time of the incident.
This approach is also used within forensic investigations to help witnesses remember what happened in specific experiences. Critics of the method are concerned about the potential for the person to form false memories.
When To Get Help for Age Regression Behavior
It’s not uncommon for children to temporarily regress at different points in childhood. This frequently happens as they move through different developmental stages or face stress. It generally only lasts a short time. If your child’s regressive behaviors last more than a couple of weeks or cause distress for them or your family, speak with their pediatrician.
Adults experiencing involuntary age regression should talk with their healthcare provider. They can assess underlying conditions or trauma and form a treatment plan. If voluntary regressive behaviors negatively impact your life, therapy can help.
Check out the Nobu app if you or a loved one are searching for support for age regression behavior. This app provides free stress management tools, guided lessons, videos and more. For an additional fee, you can also connect with a licensed therapist. Download the Nobu app at the App Store and Google Play store today.
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- American Psychological Association. “APA Dictionary of Psychology.” Accessed November 16, 2022.
- Lokko, H. N., & Stern, T. A. “Regression: Diagnosis, Evaluation, and Management.” The Primary Care Companion for CNS Disorders, 2015. Accessed November 16, 2022.