Regression and Growth

Sometimes we tend to experience a period of regression right before a period of big growth. I noticed this in my own life over the past several months. I was getting ready to get married, which was a huge deal for me. But as the wedding date neared, I found myself struggling with issues and insecurities that I hadn’t felt in a long time. I thought I had worked through these issues already, but here they were again.

It might sound strange, but this is a common experience. For example, sometimes babies, right before they start talking, go through a period of time where they cry and whine at an increased level. Likewise, sometimes toddlers, right before they start walking, go through a period of time where they want to be carried and held more than usual.

It’s almost as if the toddler knows he’s getting ready for a big change. His next area of growth is to start walking, and this is a good thing. Walking will open up a whole new world. It will literally change the toddler’s life. There’s a big part of the toddler that wants to step forward and engage this next step.

But walking is also really hard. There’s another part of the toddler that wants to hold back, and stay right where he is at. And so he wants to be carried and held. If the toddler follows a normal course of growth and development, he eventually works through this ambivalence and starts to walk. But the period of regression is pretty common.

It was the same way with me. I knew the next step for me was to enter into a committed marriage relationship. There was a big part of me that was excited about this next step.

But it was also really hard. It was difficult to work on the relationship and begin to merge two lives into one. I was scared. So there was a part of me that wanted to hold back. Like the toddler wanting to be carried, there was a part of me that was scared and holding back from the big growth step that I knew I needed to take.

What should you do if you find yourself in a similar situation?

  • First, normalize your experience. Don’t get mad at yourself because of the regression, but recognize it as a normal part of development. You don’t get mad at the toddler for wanting to be held, you recognize the behavior as normal and support the toddler where he is at.
  • Second, encourage yourself to move forward into the growth step anyways. The stage of regression is normal, but the toddler still needs to move forward and walk. Likewise, you still need to move forward into your next step of growth. It’s okay to be scared, and it’s okay to need support. But make sure you keep moving forward toward where you want to go.

By Joshua Hook

Joshua completed his initial Crucible weekend in 2010. He is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of North Texas. Through his writing and speaking, he helps men step forward into healing and growth. Follow Joshua’s blog and download his free e-book ‘A Journey of Healing and Growth’ at

Photo Credit: Lachlan Hardy via Creative Commons