What kind of things do you say to yourself? In those moments when you ‘do something wrong’ what do you say? Do you sometimes feel that you’re not good enough, perhaps to the extreme that everyone would be better off without you? Would you be friends with anyone who spoke to you like you speak to you?
I invite you to look inward and observe what ‘ego state’ you are in right now: parent, adult or child? One of the ways you can do this is note the type of things that you say to yourself when you are alone? What is your internal dialogue? If you live alone or at least have some time alone, you may notice that you say things to yourself out loud. Notice how your ego state may change when you do different activities or are with other people. This is the basis of a counselling theory called Transactional Analysis. For me, this theory turned my life around.
If I think, talk or act in a way that one of my parents or influential adults in my life did, then I am probably in my parent ego state.
It is helpful to look at which influential people you were around the majority of the time when you were growing up. Did you like them? Were they always telling you off? Was it a good relationship? Were they strict? Soft? Have high expectations of you? Were they quiet? Loud?
The Parent ego state is divided into Critical (CP) and Nurturing (NP) which both have positive and negative aspects to them.
CP: in short, the negative criticism experienced in childhood comes with us into adulthood and is on constant repeat, a radio station set to Negative FM. This ego state can lead to one of the most common mental health issues – depression. The positive side to the CP, in short would be survival (e.g. ‘don’t statements’ are the reason some of us are alive now), and self-development (e.g. ‘I’m not good at maths, but as I need it for my job I’m going to do a course to help improve this‘).
NP: the negative side is an overly worried or smothering parent who impeded your growth towards independence and resilience to life – resilience that keeps your mental body in good health. This ego state can lead to one of the other most common mental health issues – anxiety. The positive side to the NP, is enough nururing for growth, resilience and independent self-care.
The inner work for this ego state, is about reducing or eliminating the negative sides by promoting the positive ones, and stepping up to reparent your child ego state, turn up for 10 mins every day and actively listen to your inner child. Write the negative stuff down, rewrite them as positives. If this is too difficult, try burning the words in a fire pit ceremony, or write them on loo paper and flush them away.
If I am thinking, behaving or feeling in response to what is going on around me in the present day, I am probably in my adult ego state.
This ego state is not about being ‘grown up’, its responding to the here and now (without the baggage of the past). I could be angry or sad in this moment, but without a stored up aggression or grief exploding from the past into the present.
If you have stored up emotions, then perhaps it’s time to allocate some time each day to releasing them (see child). Which just means, turning inward to acknowledge them. It sometimes helps to note where you feel them in the body and go from there. Sometimes its helpful to have a counsellor so they can witness your release. A bit like its useful to have driving lessons from a professional instructor, then once you are driving independently this is now your real work. You have responsibility to make judgements and decisions to keep yourself safe.
This ego state is useful to be in for mindfulness and meditations. It can help stop the Negative FM or the Overworrier as you begin the skills of not chasing thoughts to begin thinking. Being in nature can help us to be present. It can help stop the negative self-beliefs and allow the child to feel like the body is a safe place to be.
By being adult, you can chose to respond from any ego state but it’s you that has a choice. If we are reactive, there is more work to do in both parent and child. In this ego state, you can begin to listen to all the sub-personalities that are present within us. You are more like a conductor in front of an orchestra who creates a sympony rather than allowing the noise of every instrument sounding at once.
A top tip, is always stay curious, rather than judgemental about thoughts, feelings and behaviours. If you are curious, you will generally be in adult, or conductor of your own orchestra.
If I return to ways I used to act, talk or think in my childhood, then I am probably in my child ego state.
What were you like when you where a child? Did you prefer your own company? Or like to be with others? Creative? Enjoy school? Get into trouble at school? How many friends did you have?
The Child ego state is divided into Adapted (AC) and Free (FC) which both have positive and negative aspects to them.
AC: in short, the positive is that we learnt the rules of survival. How to be in your family, in school, in society and so on. Its an innate reponse for a baby to make a parental attachment or it would not survive. The negative is a strong bond to a negative parent. This inner child can have some very limiting self-beliefs and as a result be shut down, traumatised, dissociated and suicidal.
FC: the negative, as you may appreciate is that a child wihout adaptations may not have survived. The postive to the FC, is unconditional love, creativity, imagination, spontaneity, intuition and a natural connection to all that is.
The inner work for this ego state, is about rewriting or rewiring your limiting self-beliefs. Breaking the bond to your negative parent, and healing your wounding. To do this, you need to feel your feelings, which are linked to your emotions. You have 4 innate emotions: anger, sadness, fear and joy. You will have adapted some of these emotions (e.g. don’t make noises like that, don’t cry, settle down, don’t be noisy).
Now you are an adult it is now about acknowledging how you really feel, releasing any stored up emotions, in a little and often way – journelling, art, sounding, body movement. This work needs to be done on a daily basis so your child begins to trust your parent is going to be there.
Transactional Analysis (TA) is a counselling model developed by Eric Berne in the 1950s. Social ‘transactions’ (or communication with self and with others) is used to analyse or determine which ego state you are in on a day to day basis. It may change depending on who you interact with and what you are doing at any given time. Knowing which ego state you are in is the basis for understanding your behaviour, thoughts and feelings. Knowing is the basis of changing the ego state you are in.
“The cry we hear from deep in our hearts comes from the wounded child. Healing this wounding is the key to transforming anger, sadness and fear”Thich Nhat Hanh