For instance if the person is involved in some kind of conflict, the person is being approached sexually, or the person is required to look after a child or become responsible for some reason. If these situations result in the person feeling anxious they can deal with their anxiety by ‘running away’ and becoming child like. Once done they don’t have to deal with the here and now situation and the anxiety is avoided.
Usually the stage to which the person regresses is determined by a fixation point. As we grow through our developmental stages we usually have trouble at some of them and thus don’t completely resolve them. These are then seen as fixation points so when the person regresses they will regress to the stage at which they are fixated. That maybe 3 years old for some or 8 years old for another.
Every person is capable of regression, but some are more liable than others. There are many ways to regress. Those with significant fixations can regress spontaneously as in the situations described above. The more pressure and stress applied to a person the more likely they are to regress.
As I have written before
The mechanism of regression is supported by research in neuro-psychology as cited by Johnston (2009). When people are placed under stress they are less able to access the pre-frontal cortex of the brain which is associated with the more developed functions like problem solving, decision making and stress management (Adult ego state). Instead people tend to access the more primitive part of the brain in the amygdala (Child ego state).
In psychotherapy sometimes regressive techniques such as two chair are used. Indeed the therapeutic relationship in itself will pressure the client to regress and become more child like in the relationship with the therapist.
However one of the more efficient ways to regress is to consume alcohol and drugs. When done this situation evolves.
Firstly the alcohol will diminish the Parent ego state and the person becomes disinhibited. The Parent ego state makes us behave in socially appropriate ways and thus people can become aggressive when drinking because their prohibitions against physically hitting out are diminished.
This is also the reason why some men like their female ‘dates’ to drink alcohol because they know it will lower the woman’s own internal prohibitions about sexual behaviour.
With more consumption of the drug the Adult ego state is then decathected such that one is only left with the Child ego state and the regression is complete. Thus we have the link between drug use and the mechanism of regression. It seems reasonable to conclude that some drug users may have this motivation in their substance use. They are unconsciously motivated to regress.
If this is the case then there are treatment implications. As mentioned before the person will regress to that stage of development where they are fixated. Their normal psychological development for some reason got stuck at a particular stage and thus the Free Child seeks to return to that stage in the hope that somehow it will be resolved this time around.
The chronic alcohol user is often fixated at the oral stage of development which would require some kind of therapeutic resolution of the fixation there. That is to work through the developmental issues relevant to that stage with the therapist. If the person is using drugs for the need to regress then one would not expect the usual behavioural techniques to be all that effective.
The thing about regression is that it is a running away or an escape from the here and now. Like the scared young child who simply closes her eyes and puts her hands over their ears as a way to deal with stress. In this sense regression as a defence mechanism is a very child like solution. Compared with intellectualisation which is sort of a more grown up reaction or other defence mechanisms where the Adult and Parent ego states do not disappear.
Of course a person who is regressed will attract others who will take on the parental role in a relationship with them. Thus we end up with people who are called enablers, co dependants and so forth. Of course they will say they want to husband to stop drinking, being child like and irresponsible but the other side of the wife does not.
With regression and drug counselling
Adult and Parent ego state development
Working through the fixation in the therapeutic relationship with the therapist
Altering relationships which encourage the regressive behaviour