Regression is a common defense mechanism by which the patient with extreme anxiety attempts unconsciously to return to earlier, more desirable stages of development. During these periods, the individual enjoyed full gratification and freedom from anxiety. Regressed patients become dependent on others and free themselves from the complex problems that have created their anxiety.

For example, consider a middle-aged married man who has recently been told that he has inoperable lung cancer that has already spread to his bones. He is stricken with grief and intense anxiety. There are so many unanswered questions. How long will he live? Will his last months be plagued with unremitting pain? How will his wife be able to raise their young child by herself? How will she manage financially without his income? By regression, the patient can flee this anxiety by becoming childlike and dependent. The patient becomes withdrawn, shy, and often rebellious;he now requires more affection.

A teenager learns that the cause of his 6-month history of weakness and bleeding gums has been diagnosed as acute leukemia. He learns that he will spend what little time he has left in the hospital undergoing chemotherapy. His reaction to his anxiety may be regression. He now needs his parents at his bedside around the clock. He becomes more desirous of his parents' love and kisses. His redevelopment of enuresis (bed-wetting) is part of his psychological reaction to his illness.

A 25-year-old woman with inflammatory bowel disease has had many admissions to hospitals for exacerbations of her disease. She fears the future and the possibility that a cancer may have already started to develop. She is engulfed by a feeling of terror and apprehension. She fears that some day she may require a colostomy and that she will be deprived of one of her most important functions: bowel control. She acts inappropriately, has temper tantrums, and is indecisive. Her dependency on her parents is a manifestation of regression.

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