Here’s the second of my posts on ego states. A piece of Transactional Analysis theory that I think is a useful way of understanding ourselves and something that many of my clients have found helpful. First, a quick recap on ego states:
Eric Berne, 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.
In this post I’m going to write a little about the Child ego state, described as archaic thoughts, feelings and behaviours replayed from childhood. This is description is one of an internal experience based on early emotional experiences. So, what do I mean by this? Here’s a simple example.
You are at school maybe 4 or 5 years old. The teacher asks a question, you think you know the answer so you put up your hand. The teacher asks for your response, which, when you give your answer, is wrong. As you get it wrong someone at the back of the class sniggers, and you feel really embarrassed at not knowing the correct answer. And think “it’s not a good idea to answer questions in case you get it wrong.”
Thirty years later you are attending a one day training course as part of your job. The trainer asks a question, you answer and get it wrong and in that moment you revisit the experience you had when you were 4 and answered incorrectly in class, you feel the same embarrassment and shame and again think, “it’s not good idea to answer questions. ”
Being a Child
So, as with Parent Ego State when I am in my Child Ego state I am responding to a situation or stimulus using thoughts, feelings and behaviours from the past. Now some of our experiences that we use from Child can allow us to revisit and enjoy the free and uncensored joy that was part of being a child. For example, when I am out walking with my dogs and it’s wet, muddy and raining there are times when I find myself enjoying splashing through the puddles. I was walking on Birchen Edge last weekend and thoroughly enjoyed the feel of the sticky mud sucking on my boots in just the same way I have since I was 8 years old.
How is it useful to know this about our personalities? When I am in my Child ego state I am likely to be responding to a situation or stimulus using thoughts, feelings and behaviours from the past and this response just may not be relevant or appropriate to the present. I may also be using the strategies I developed as a child in response to the past, to a present situation an adult. It is likely therefore, that those strategies will not be an effective way of problem solving.
I invite you reflect on a time when you think you might have responded to someone from Child ego state and to consider how else might you have responded.