One of the models I like most in Transactional Analysis is the ego state model. I generally find that the concept is useful in helping people understand themselves and their relationships better. This is the first of three posts about the ego state model.
Structure of personality.
I will begin by explaining what an ego state is. Eric Berne, the founder of Transactional Analysis, described an ego state as “a consistent pattern of feeling and experience directly related to a corresponding consistent pattern of behaviour”. He identified that we each have three ego states, which he named Parent, Adult and Child. So, for me, what Berne was saying was that we organise our experience into three different types, and that each of these types has a recognisable pattern of thinking and feeling with corresponding behaviour. Another way of saying this is that when someone is observed behaving in a way that can be identified with one of the ego states then they will be experiencing the feeling and thoughts that go with that experience and this is consistent.
Parent Ego State
The Parent ego state is a collection of thoughts, feelings and behaviours that are “taken in” or copied from significant adults during childhood. Significant adults can mean our parents, it can also mean aunts, uncles, grandparents, brothers, sisters and teachers, for example. It is an external experience, so we have observed someone else’s responses to a situation – their thinking, feeling and behaviour and we have “taken that experience in” so it then becomes part of how we respond in a similar situation. Another way of explaining this is to say that we identify with or internalise another’s experience.
Here’s an example of how this might work. You are five years old going away on a family holiday. As you are driving down the motorway someone cuts in front of your Dad, who is driving. He swears and shouts, gesturing fiercely at the driver responsible. Thirty years later you are driving on the motorway and someone cuts in front of you. You swear, shout and gesture fiercely. In fact if we could run DVDs of both events, one of you and one of your Dad side by side we would proably see that your voice tone, language, gestures were virtually identical. Not only that, but your thoughts and feelings will probably also be the same as well.
Responding from the past
So, how does this help us? Well what this says to me is that when I am in my Parent ego state I am likely to be responding to a situation or stimulus using thoughts, feelings and behaviours from the past and that I have taken in from someone else. This response just may not be relevant or appropriate to the present. I may want to revisit some of the messages and experiences I have taken in and up date them with how I think, feel and want to behave.
I invite you reflect on a time when you think you might have responded to someone from your Parent ego state. Did that exchange get you what you wanted. How else might you have responded?