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Regression, according to psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, is a defense mechanism leading to the temporary reversion of the ego to an earlier stage of development rather than handling unacceptable impulses in a more adult way. The defense mechanism of regression, in psychoanalytic theory, occurs when thoughts are temporarily pushed back out of our consciousness and into our unconscious.
Regressive behavior can be simple and harmless. A person may revert to an old, usually immature behavior to ventilate feelings of frustration. Regression only becomes a problem when it is used frequently to avoid adult situations and causes problems in the individual's life.
A clear example of regressive behavior can be seen in J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye. Holden constantly contradicts the progression of time and the aging process by reverting to childish ideas of escape, unrealistic expectations and frustration produced by his numerous shifts in behavior. His tendencies to reject responsibility and society as a whole because he 'doesn't fit in' also pushes him to prolonged use of reaction formation, unnecessary generalizations and compulsive lying.Anna Freud called this defense mechanism regression, suggesting that people act out behaviors from the stage of psychosexual development in which they are fixated. For example, an individual fixated at an earlier developmental stage might cry or sulk upon hearing unpleasant news.
Behaviors associated with regression can vary greatly depending upon which stage the person is fixated at:An individual fixated at the oral stage might begin eating or smoking excessively, or might become very verbally aggressive.A fixation at the anal stage might result in excessive tidiness or messiness.
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