As a teenager, when upset, under stress or in conflict with my parents/step – parent (and at any given time, it seems, retrospectively, I was in at least one of these states) my behaviour could become regressive (i.e. I would act in a manner far more typical of a much younger child).
This regressive behaviour, in my case, included raging tantrums, uncontrollable sobbing and, once, even, as I’ve mentioned in a previous post, shutting myself in a wardrobe, when I was about fifteen years old, after an argument with my father and stepmother.
I could go on, but you get the general picture, I imagine.
If we suffer significant trauma at an early age, it can result in part of us remaining child-like. This childhood part is cut off and separate from the main part of our personality (psychologists call it a dissociated part) and represents a phase of our childhood that was severely disrupted due to psychological and emotional turmoil.
Depending on the phase of our childhood was disrupted, this part of us may be infant-like, toddler-like, child-like or adolescent-like.
As the part of us in question as a dissociated part (as explained above) it can often remain hidden, both from ourselves and others.
However, at times of stress, this part of us may rise to the surface and express itself in an overt manner. When this happens, we both feel and act like an infant / toddler / child / adolescent.
In accordance with this temporary transition we may, for example :
– suck our thumb
– cling to a soft toy
– hide under a table (or, in my case, shut ourselves in a wardrobe – see above)
– feel an intense sense of vulnerability
– feel exceptionally dependent on others and emotionally ‘needy’ with an overwhelming desire to be protected, loved and cared for
– display tantrum-like behaviour
Whilst we should aim not to indulge such aspects of ourselves in ways that are ultimately self – destructive, it is important that we acknowledge they exist and accept them in a spirit of self-compassion.
We need, too, to grant ourselves permission to grieve for our unmet childhood needs, and look for ways to satisfy these needs in the here and now that are not self – destructive and which do not compromise our adult lives (e.g. holding a soft toy at home OK, but probably not a good idea to take it to the board of directors’ meeting at work, sit it next to you at the table and provide it with a name tag embossed with the moniker Ted E. Bear).
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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).