Difference Wiki

Regression vs. Repression: What's the Difference?

Edited by Janet White || By Harlon Moss || Updated on November 7, 2023
Regression refers to a return to an earlier state, while repression is the exclusion of distressing thoughts from consciousness.

Key Differences

Regression and repression are distinct concepts originating from psychological terminology, both reflecting different types of defense mechanisms. Regression is a psychological term that describes a return to an earlier or less advanced state of mental or emotional development. For instance, an adult may regress to childlike behaviors under stress. Repression, however, involves the unconscious blocking of unacceptable thoughts, feelings, or impulses. It's a kind of defense mechanism that prevents disturbing or threatening thoughts from entering consciousness.
While regression involves a backward step in behavior or thought, repression deals with the protective exclusion of uncomfortable thoughts. An individual regresses when they exhibit behaviors from a previous developmental stage, often as a response to stressful situations. On the other hand, repression operates on a more subconscious level where the mind actively pushes away harmful or unwanted thoughts without the individual's awareness.
Regression can be temporary and is often visibly observed, like an older child sucking their thumb during a period of stress, reflecting a retreat to an earlier developmental stage. Repression is less overt and involves a mental process of burying thoughts that are too difficult to handle, like forgetting the details of a traumatic event. Neither regression nor repression is typically a conscious choice, and both serve as coping mechanisms, albeit in different ways.
Both regression and repression are mechanisms that can affect behavior, but they do so in unique ways. Regression is often associated with physical actions or behaviors reverting to a previous developmental stage. Repression is concerned with the psychological aspect of burying thoughts or memories, without a necessary change in observable behavior.
Regression is a defense mechanism causing a fallback to earlier behavior patterns, whereas repression is the psychological process of pushing disturbing thoughts out of conscious awareness. Both terms, although used in psychology, have also found their way into everyday language to describe various situations where past behaviors or forgotten thoughts resurface or are deliberately hidden, respectively.

Comparison Chart


A return to a former or less developed state.
Exclusion of unpleasant experiences from conscious thought.

Psychological Use

Often evident in behaviors during stress.
Unconscious blocking of unacceptable thoughts.

Observable Effects

Visible actions that are age-inappropriate.
Hidden process with effects on personality and behaviors.

Consciousness Level

May be conscious or unconscious.
Always an unconscious process.


Serves as a psychological fallback.
Serves to protect the ego from conflict.

Regression and Repression Definitions


A statistical method for predicting values.
The regression analysis revealed a strong correlation between study time and test scores.


In genetics, the suppression of gene expression.
The repression of that particular gene can lead to the disease.


Reversion to an earlier evolutionary stage.
The species showed regression to a state resembling its ancient ancestors.


The act of subduing someone or something by force.
The government faced international criticism for the repression of the protests.


A decline to a lower condition or quality.
The company's profits showed a regression after the change in management.


The state of being controlled by a repressive regime or system.
The artist's work is a commentary on the repression under authoritarian regimes.


In psychoanalysis, the reversion to a childlike development stage.
During the therapy session, the patient displayed regression by curling up into a fetal position.


The restraint, prevention, or inhibition of a feeling, quality, etc.
His anger was a result of years of repression of his emotions.


A return to a previous, less advanced state.
Under stress, he experienced a regression to childhood habits.


A psychological defense mechanism where unwanted desires are kept out of conscious awareness.
The trauma of the accident was buried deep in her psyche, a clear case of repression.


The process or an instance of regressing, as to a less perfect or less developed state.


The act of repressing or the state of being repressed.


(Psychology) In psychoanalytic theory, reversion to an earlier or less mature stage of psychological development.


(Psychology) The unconscious exclusion of painful impulses, desires, or fears from the conscious mind.


The act of repressing; state of being repressed.
History shows that when governments fear the truth and increase repression, their days are limited.


The involuntary rejection from consciousness of painful or disagreeable ideas, memories, feelings, or impulses.


The act of repressing, or state of being repressed; as, the repression of evil and evil doers.


That which represses; check; restraint.


A state of forcible subjugation;
The long repression of Christian sects


(psychiatry) the classical defense mechanism that protects you from impulses or ideas that would cause anxiety by preventing them from becoming conscious


The act of repressing; control by holding down;
His goal was the repression of insolence


How does repression manifest in behavior?

Repression can lead to anxiety or dysfunctional behavior patterns.

Can repression be done consciously?

No, repression is an unconscious process.

Is regression always a negative reaction?

Not necessarily, it can be a natural defense mechanism but may be negative if it affects functioning.

Does repression affect memory?

Yes, repression can result in forgetting or distorting memories.

Is regression a choice?

Regression is usually an unconscious response to stress.

Can repression be treated?

Yes, through therapy techniques like psychoanalysis.

Can regression happen in dreams?

Yes, dreams can reflect regressive states.

What is an example of regression?

An adult throwing a temper tantrum when they don't get their way is an example of regression.

Can regression be used in a positive way?

Yes, sometimes regression allows a temporary retreat to recharge emotionally.

Does repression require professional intervention?

It might, especially if it leads to significant distress or dysfunction.

Do children experience regression?

Yes, children can regress to earlier behaviors, often in response to stress.

What causes regression?

Stress, trauma, or anxiety can trigger regression.

Can regression be observed in group behavior?

Yes, groups can regress to less mature behaviors under stress.

Is repression related to suppression?

Yes, but suppression is conscious, while repression is not.

Is regression a form of mental illness?

Not in itself, but it can be a feature of various mental health issues.

Are regression and repression only used in psychology?

While they originate from psychology, they're used in other contexts too.

Can repression be a form of self-defense?

Psychologically, yes, it can serve as a defense mechanism against mental conflict.

Is repression always harmful?

Not always, it can protect the individual from psychological distress.

Can repression lead to physical symptoms?

Yes, repressed emotions can manifest as physical symptoms.

Is regression the same as reverting to childhood?

It can be, but regression can also refer to other previous states.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.

Trending Comparisons

Popular Comparisons

New Comparisons