Age regression is something that has happened to everybody at some point in their lives, but what does it actually mean? Once I explain it, you should be able to identify numerous times throughout adulthood in which you experienced an age regression.
Not only do we need to know what it means, but we also need to learn emotional identification when we are experiencing an age regression. Learning both of these can truly be a game changer for you on your healing journey.
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Age Regression-What is it?
Age regression is when something triggers you as an adult that typically stems from your childhood. Your brain gets a signal to indicate you have experienced something similar before. Then all of a sudden, it’s like you are right back to the age when it happened.
Now, there can be times when the age regression is the result of a positive trigger. For example, any time I smell somebody smoking a pipe, I am taken back to fond memories of my grandfather from my early childhood. My Paw Paw was wonderful to me, and that smell takes me back to sitting in his lap while he was smoking his pipe.
I get all warm inside with feelings of unconditional love and at times, I even feel like I am a little girl all over again. I love this kind of age regression. However, these kinds of experiences are not what I’m writing about today. I just wanted you to be aware that there can be positive age regressions.
The kind of age regressions I am talking about are the ones where you are triggered due to a negative experience from your childhood. The majority of the time, age regressions are not conscious.
My goal in writing this post is for you to learn how to make your age regressions conscious so that you can begin healing. As I always say, “You can’t heal something if you don’t know it’s there.”
How I reverted to a child
The reason we regress is that there was an unmet need that has followed us into adulthood. Once you become aware that you are experiencing an age regression, you can learn how to get your needs met. Those needs are stemming from a time in your childhood when they weren’t met.
Throughout my adulthood, I have experienced many age regressions that were very difficult for me. The one that sticks out in my mind the most was my thirty-fifth birthday. As with a lot of my emotional pain that I continue working to heal, this memory was the result of an interaction with my mother.
Prior to this birthday, my mom had never come to visit me for my birthday. So, when she called to say she was coming to see me for my birthday, I was so excited. That excitement was short-lived.
I knew that she was acting odd, but I dismissed it. I thought she was trying to have a better relationship with me as it had been strained for quite some time. After I opened my gift, she told me that she had something to tell me. This was just a few weeks before Christmas as my birthday is December second.
She told me that she and her husband were going on a trip for Christmas by themselves. Every year of my life, I had spent Christmas with my mom. Basically, her reason was that she and her husband didn’t want to have to deal with family at Christmas and by family, she meant me.
At the time, I was not married and did not have children like both of my siblings. I had to work the day before and after Christmas. So, I couldn’t go visit my brother and his family in Texas for Christmas, which meant that I would be spending Christmas by myself. My mom knew that.
Losing Your Cool
If somebody had been sitting in my living room at the time and told me, “You’re losing your cool,” that would have been a HUGE understatement. I began screaming and shouting about how she didn’t care about my being alone for Christmas. I even remember her saying she knew I was the only sibling who would really be affected because I didn’t have a husband or children to spend Christmas with that year.
The hurt I was experiencing was immense. I remember telling her how awful I thought she was because she used my birthday to make me think she was trying to work on mending our relationship. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was experiencing an age regression from my teenage years.
When I was in high school, my mom met her now husband. He lived in another state. Every weekend, he would stay at our house, or she would go to his. My mom had not been emotionally present for the majority of my life, but when she met him, she was no longer physically present either.
Right in the middle of my living room, I regressed to ninth grade when I learned that I would no longer have weekends with my mom. Throughout my entire high school career, I only had one weekend with my mom.
My 4-Year Old Wounded Inner Child
Her news of their Christmas trip triggered my brain to go right back to that hurt teenager who lost my to mom to a man who did not like me and made it clear that he didn’t want me around them. At the time, my age regression was not conscious.
However, I became very conscious of another age regression moments after I told her to get out of my house because “it’s clear you don’t care about me and didn’t really come to spend my birthday with me.” The age regression hit as she was backing out of my driveway and shouting at me that I was selfish, immature, and the reason that she and her husband didn’t want to spend Christmas with me.
I flipped her off and made sure she saw it. This was a time when I had been working on myself in therapy. The moment I flipped her off, I was completely aware that I had regressed to about age four.
My flipping her off was the equivalent of sticking my tongue out at her when I was four years old, and she had hurt my feelings. As she drove off, I remember laughing to myself as I said, “Well, hello four-year-old. I see you showed up.”
This is the part I mentioned earlier about learning how to identify when you are experiencing an age regression. Keep in mind that I had been working on myself and knew about age regressions when this happened.
I knew that I had been triggered. Once you can recognize that, you can look at your behaviors to identify what age you regressed to. This can take a lot of time to do. Be patient with yourself.
For me, I knew that flipping my mom off would make her mad and it was my way of saying, “Nana nana boo boo. I got you back.” That is something that a four-year old would do when he or she is hurt and doesn’t know what to do with that pain.
When you identify that you are triggered and having an age regression, ask yourself what age you think your behavior feels like. Once you can identify the age, you can begin emotional identification, which is key to healing when you experience an age regression.
Emotional identification is not an easy process and something that most of us struggle with as adults because we weren’t taught how to do identify our feelings as children. If you relate to this, read my post about naming your feelings. The good news for emotional identification related to age regression is that it can be easier to think about a child’s feelings than it is for us to identify our own feelings as an adult.
For example, if a child was being bullied, you can easily identify that child would feel sad and lonely. Now, let’s grow that child up to a thirty-year old to see how emotional identification is harder. I’ll give you another example from my life.
My family and I were eating Thanksgiving at my mom’s house. I got up from the table to get seconds and my mom’s husband made a comment that I didn’t need to eat anymore because I’d gain weight like I did in college. Everybody laughed at his comment as I sat down to eat my second plate of food.
Anger Taking Over
At the time, anger was the feeling that flooded me. Days later, I was able to identify the true emotion of sadness. My weight gain in college was due to depression. There was nothing funny about that.
I jumped to anger because that’s the feeling I was the best at for many years. Like I discuss in Anger is Often Repressed Feelings of Sadness, sadness was something I was used to pushing down for the majority of my life.
Back to emotional identification. You can see from my child bullying example that it is usually much easier to identify the feeling of a child than it is for us as adults. My experience at Thanksgiving that year was actually the equivalent of a child being bullied. I felt sad and lonely but couldn’t identify that.
What happens for us when we have an age regression? Self-abandonment is what happens. We abandon ourselves when we get triggered. It’s like we jump out of our adult bodies and brains and jump right back into the body and brain of a child who was hurt.
You already know that self-abandonment is never good. That in and of itself goes back to childhood as well because it triggers times when the people who were supposed to be there for us actually abandoned us.
If the people who are never supposed to abandon us do, we learn to also abandon ourselves in many different ways. Learning emotional identification and being able to identify when you’re experiencing an age regression prevents self-abandonment.
Those two things allow you to stay present in order to get your needs met in a healthy way. That is always the goal, but age regressions often prevent that.
Identifying When You Regress
One of the most helpful ways to identify when you are experiencing an age regression is if you see that you are losing your cool. That’s an indication that self-abandonment has hit you and it’s probably due to an age regression.
When you are losing your cool and your behaviors reflect that, pause yourself. This is when you want to try to figure out what age your behaviors are mimicking. This is not an easy thing to do. Healing never is, but it’s always worth it.
There will be times when you are not able to pause or identify the age of your behaviors. Just remember that you are learning how to do it and try not to be yourself up for losing your cool. It still happens to me!
You can still go back and do this process later. As you work to identify when you are experiencing an age regression and identifying your emotions, you will be able to do it more quickly. Eventually, there will be times that you immediately identify the age and feeling of the behavior like I did when I flipped my mom off.
What To Do When You Regress
So, what do you do when you are able to identify all of that? First, you can read my post Connecting with Yourself (4 Easy Steps). That will give you some extra guidance for emotional identification. Second, know that this is not an easy process either. Have patience with yourself.
Third, figure out what works for you to get your needs met based on what you’re feeling. I can’t give you a lot of guidance on this because we are all different AND what might work for you with one thing, might not work for the next. Just keep trying until you have several things that you know work for you.
What I did with my sadness from spending Christmas alone that year, was showing myself that I matter. I turned on my music as loud as it would go and made myself all of the foods that I loved eating at Christmas. For my solo Christmas dinner, I stayed in my pajamas, at half of a peach pie, mashed potatoes, ham, and cookies. My four-year old inner child was happy!
When you are trying to determine how to meet your needs from an age regression, think about what your inner child would’ve wanted and needed at that age. Find a way to give yourself that as an adult.
This is hard work, but I promise that you can do it if you choose to follow my process. If you want to practice before your next age regression hits you, think about times when you regressed. Identify the age and the feelings. Ask yourself what your inner child needed. Remember, it’s never too late to go back and give that to your inner child.
What are your thoughts about this post? Do you have an age regression you want to share? Do you have questions for me about this post? If so, comment below and I will respond back to you.
This site is only intended for people who are truly willing to look at themselves with an open mind and have the ability to truly be vulnerable with themselves and others. Please understand that this site is in NO WAY THERAPEUTIC ADVICE. However, this site can be very beneficial in learning the causes of your Not Good Enough Stuff. This site is not intended to provide or replace medical or psychiatric treatment. Mary Beth HIGHLY RECOMMENDS finding a licensed therapist to help you process the information from this site and all that you learn about yourself. Visit Psychology Today to find a licensed therapist in your area.