Regression During An Emotional Trauma

By: Michael Appleman, M.S.


Recovery from an emotional traumatic experience relies on the life healing emotional attitude. Regressing can slow down the recovery process. Regression entails an intentional retreat to some more primitive state of mind. Examples of this type of behavior are: a lost child weeping for its mother; a mature man or woman crying over the death of a close friend.

The survivor's husband, wife, family, friends and other caregivers need to understand this type of behavior. If not they may interpret the behavior of crying and other forms of emotional deterioration as proof of inherent weakness. Nothing could be further from the truth.

It has been seen that nature sees to it that the strong as well as the weak retreat when they are traumatized. Why do certain burn survivors react to their injuries like teenagers while others behave like little children or even infants? Opposite to what one might anticipate, the extent of regression has little to do with the seriousness of the burn or its conditions. Instead, it depends on the long-lasting damage from some previous trauma. Adults whose teen-age years had been spoiled in one way or another will react to their burns by regressing to their teenage years. If severe damage occurred during early childhood, it is that time in their childhood that will be revisited.

For most individuals, there are certain life events of which they can truly say: "I have never recovered." That insight keeps those moments on file in the individuals long-term memory bank. When a new disaster occurs along those lines, that individual reverts to that very stage and reacts similarly as if they have reverted back in time. They feel as if their life has fallen apart.

This should help you the reader begin to understand how the burn trauma sometimes leaves survivors emotionally worse than they were before it happened. With the love, friendship, and support of the caregivers-family, friends, doctors, nurses, etc. a burn survivor can work through the suffering and see that his/her life can be rebuilt.