Everyone of us has been in a group situation where we have to interact with several people, sometimes several at once. One of the interesting things to me is that when we do this, interact with others, we actually shift into different states of mind. Different ego states. These states are complete with their own feelings that we carry while in them and specific patterns of behaviours.
Psychiatry has been able to identify three specific ego states and the categories that best describe them.
- ego states which resemble those of parental figures
- ego states which are autonomously directed towards objective appraisal of reality
- those which represent archaic relics, still-active ego states which were fixated in early childhood
Each individual seems to have available a limited repertoire of such ego states, which are not roles but psychological realities.Berne, E. (2010). Games people play. London: Puffin.
Growing up we all had a parental figure, even if we didn't consciously identify them as such. Someone (or even someones) that we took leadership from, were mentored by, and cared for their approval. We also noticed how they lived. How they reacted to certain things in life, what their opinions were on various topics, and this imprints on us.
That imprint is considered to be our Parental Ego State and certain circumstances can trigger, or activate, it. Once activated we fall into a pattern that can be identified by those looking for it and, more importantly, by ourselves if we strive for better self-awareness. While in this state we tend to parrot modified versions of what our parental figure would say in the situation that triggered the Parental Ego State activation.
The Parent has two main functions. First, it enables the individual to act effectively as the parent of actual children, thus promoting the survival of the human race. Its value in this respect is shown by the fact that in raising children, people orphaned in infancy seem to have a harder time than those from homes unbroken into adolescence. Secondly, it makes many responses automatic, which conserves a great deal of time and energy. Many things are done because ‘That’s the way it’s done.’ This frees the Adult from the necessity of making innumerable trivial decisions, so that it can devote itself to more important issues, leaving routine matters to the Parent.Berne, E. (2010). Games people play. London: Puffin.
Basically the Parent Ego State shows up by triggering us to act in a manner that we think would be consistent with our parents in a situation... or... it can be indirect in which case we act the way we think our parents would want us to in a situation.
We either become Mom or Dad, or we obediently act like they are there and telling us how to behave.
Parent ("exteropsyche"): a state in which people behave, feel, and think in response to an unconscious mimicking of how their parents (or other parental figures) acted, or how they interpreted their parent's actions. For example, a person may shout at someone out of frustration because they learned from an influential figure in childhood the lesson that this seemed to be a way of relating that worked.Berne, E. (2019, December 25). Transactional analysis. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transactional_analysis
We all were children, at one point or another, and let me tell you... That time period affected us forever. The easiest way to look at it is that we all have a younger version of us alive inside of us. A little boy or girl that becomes active in our feelings and behaviour in an infinite manner of ways.
Don't get confused... the Child Ego State is neither immature nor childish. The behaviours that we exhibit might be, but when the Child takes over a lot comes down to whether our inner child is a healthy one... or an unhealthy one. An unhealthy Child is one in need of therapy because when they take over as an active ego state they tend to create more chaos than anything else.
The healthy child, on the other hand, adds creativity, joy and excitement. It's like pure exuberance on tap. Which is why it's important to be aware and conscious of this inner child, to treat them with the utmost care and nurture them like you would your own children.
Child ("archaeopsyche"): a state in which people behave, feel, and think similarly to how they did in childhood. For example, a person who receives a poor evaluation at work may respond by looking at the floor and crying or pouting, as when scolded as a child. Conversely, a person who receives a good evaluation may respond with a broad smile and a joyful gesture of thanks. The Child is the source of emotions, creation, recreation, spontaneity, and intimacy.Berne, E. (2019, December 25). Transactional analysis. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transactional_analysis
We all know someone that just oozes with maturity, makes all the right choices, doesn't indulge themselves, and lives by a code... right? It can't be just me that these kinds of people just stand out in a crowd for. This person probably is able to keep their Adult Ego State in control throughout most of their day. The problem is... the Child will not 'stay' quiet.
Adult ("neopsyche"): a state of the ego which is most like an artificially intelligent system processing information and making predictions about major emotions that could affect its operation. Learning to strengthen the Adult is a goal of TA. While a person is in the Adult ego state, he/she is directed towards an objective appraisal of reality.Berne, E. (2019, December 25). Transactional analysis. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transactional_analysis
Eventually, each of these 3 Ego States will trigger and activate.
But while the Adult is active we thrive at our ability to make things happen. We get our bills paid, clean our homes, wash our clothes, and more. Our ability to interact correctly with the outside world is tied up in our Adult.
The Adult is necessary for survival. It processes data and computes the probabilities which are essential for dealing effectively with the outside world. It also experiences its own kinds of setbacks and gratifications. Crossing a busy highway, for example, requires the processing of a complex series of velocity data; action is suspended until the computations indicate a high degree of probability for reaching the other side safely. The gratifications offered by successful computations of this type afford some of the joys of skiing, flying, sailing, and other mobile sports. Another task of the Adult is to regulate the activities of the Parent and the Child, and to mediate objectively between them.Berne, E. (2010). Games people play. London: Puffin.
The Balance of Power
We rely on these three states to navigate through the world. To find the best interactions with others that we can find. To choose how we will fill the time we find at our disposal.
Each Ego State is important and worthy of repect and recognition, but most importantly... they are worthy of growth.
So strive to identify what your states look, feel and act like so you can work on building that balance inside yourself.
At least that's what I'm gonna do...