Ego States

Have you experienced times in your life when you have felt bad and felt young and anxious? Are there other times when you can be very rational, aware of your own process and your impact on others? Are there times in your life when you realise that you are acting, thinking or feeling like one of your parents or parental figures?

Human beings are not always consistent – we have different ways of being at different times and in different situations. At times you may be able to deal very calmly and feel OK when another person is angry or upset with you, at other times you may feel really upset and might snap back at them or withdraw.

This is because you may be in a different Ego State. Ego States are a concept developed by Eric Berne the founder of Transactional Analysis.

Let me explain further:

Ego States are consistent patterns of feeling, thinking and behaviour that we all possess. Transactional Analysis identifies three Ego States, called Parent, Adult, and Child. This is not about actual parents, adults and children, but about different ways of experiencing.

Think about the significant people from your past. It may be your mother, father, aunts, uncles, older siblings and teachers – anyone who was significant to you. Those people who have positively and negatively influenced your life.

Your Parent Ego State contains all these people. At any given moment you can go into thinking, feeling and behaving like one of them. There may be particular times when you trigger into these people – it might be that your father was a very angry man and shouted at others. When you get angry you might find yourself shouting and saying some of the things your father said when he was angry.

Though our Parent Ego states contain many people from our past, there will be a few whom we are more likely to act like. An example might be if a colleague is rude – if you are in your Parent Ego State at that moment – you would react like one of your parents did when people were rude to them (e.g. getting angry).

In our Adult Ego State we are ourselves in the moment – rational and aware. Our feelings will be appropriate to the situation – for example when in danger the appropriate feeling is scared, which motivates us to take action to avoid that danger. In Adult we are aware of ourselves, our impact on others, and take account what is going on around us.

Using the example of the rude colleague, if in our Adult Ego State, we would think through – how come this person might be behaving like this at this time – maybe they are having a hard day or there is something that we have done to offend this person. We would then develop through a strategy to sort the issue out.

Finally, our Child Ego state contains all our memories and ways of being from the past. It is when we trigger back into previous times and experiences, and feel as we did then. It might be that your boss has reprimanded you about being late and you feel tearful and young and trigger back to being ‘told off’ at schools. We can trigger back to many times and ages, yet we will have some that are more ingrained then others, particularly any major negative events in our life. In the example of the rude colleague – in Child you may trigger back to a time when you felt alone and isolated and feel very sad.

As we potter through our daily lives we generally just slip from one way of being into another, we react to different things in different ways sometimes in ways we want and at others times in ways that we don’t want.There is good news. Through personal development, it is possible to become aware of our different ego states and to learn not to react using unhelpful ways of being. We can learn to take control of how we are, and to respond through awareness rather then react without choice.

If you would like to find out more, our two day TA101 Course is a great introduction to Transactional Analysis theory and how it can be applied to daily situations.

By Leilani Mitchell


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