The following articles are an explanation and then illustrations of ego states at different stages of development, from the Empowerment Systems newsletters by Jonathan and Laurie Weiss.
Contact information and sources for additional materials are listed at the end of the articles.
TOOLS FOR RECOVERY AND GROWTH
An Explanation of TA Ego States
Transactional Analysis (TA) is a set of tools for understanding people and their relationships. In this and other articles, we share some key TA concepts for your use.
The concept of the Inner Child is based on the Child Ego State, first described by Eric Berne in 1961. An Ego State, according to Berne, is a consistent, observable pattern of thoughts, feelings, attitudes and behaviors that tend to operate together as a unit. Berne also described two other equally important parts of the personality: the Parent Ego State and the Adult Ego State.
The Child is the part of us that contains the needs, feelings, wishes and emotions that we actually experienced as children. It also contains the decisions and beliefs we made about the world as a result of not getting our childhood needs met. Our Child is the part of us that is capable of joy, love, intimacy, spontaneity and creativity.
The Parent Ego State contains rules, values, controls, prohibitions and directions, much of which is learned in childhood. It is usually modeled after our parents and other powerful adults. Our Parent Ego State can be nurturing, guiding, directing, and can provide safety and appropriate limits (Nurturing Parent), or it can be judging, criticizing, restricting, blaming and shaming (Critical Parent).
The Adult is the part of the personality that is capable of memory, information processing, and rational—as opposed to emotional — thought and decision-making. It can be characterized as a computer, capable of processing information that is given to it, but subject to control by Child wishes or Parent prejudices—or both. Ideally, our Adult is used as a tool to figure out how our Child can get what s/he needs; however, it can also be used as a tool to figure out how to do what our Parent says “should” be done.
Everyone has all three Ego states. We differ from each other in how much we use any particular one, when we use it, what kind of information or experience it contains, and how easily we can get access to it.
Ordinarily, we move rapidly from one Ego State to another; a common example is the way we can switch from being deeply involved in an argument (Parent or Child) to answering the phone (Adult).
We can learn to recognize when we are “in” the different Ego States by the characteristic and identifiable pattern of thoughts, words, facial expressions, voice tones and gestures that go with each one. Recognizing which Ego State we are using at any given moment makes it possible for us to change from that Ego State to another which might produce better results.
Each Ego State is important, but each is only a part of the complete picture. When we have a decision to make, for example, it helps to use the Adult to gather and sort information about alternatives, consequences and resources. Questions that engage the Adult might be: What is likely to happen if I…? Is there another way to achieve the same goal? What kind of help or support will/need if / make that choice? How can I get it?
Our Parent can offer guidance and support, or it can criticize us for whatever we do. But, even in the criticism, there can be potentially useful information about safety and other people’s needs. You can get Parent input by asking: What is the right thing to do? What would Mom or Dad advise in this situation?
Any decision made without the Child’s acceptance is likely to be forgotten or undermined later. Our Child can contribute by answering questions like: What would / really like to do if / could do anything? What would feel the best, the most satisfying, the most enlivening, etc.? What would I do if I knew I wouldn’t get in trouble? What do / need for me in this situation?
These three Ego States are the basis for the TA approach to understanding human interaction. In the next Newsletter, we will show how the patterns of transactions between the Ego States of two people can determine the success or failure of their communications.
CHILD EGO STATES: TODDLER, 2 YEAR OLD, 4 YEAR OLD
I AM JOE’S TODDLER
by Jon Weiss
I don’t have many words; I can get by pretty well with just a few: Yes, No, Wow, and Ugh handle most of what’s important to me. Maybe Look and I want and Ow and Yum, too. I know that other people want to hear all the big words that Joe uses, but I know that most of the big ones just mean the same things mine do. I don’t understand why they have to make it so complicated.
Mostly what I want to do is to see what’s out there: what’s just around the corner, or behind the chair, or what can I see from the top of the next hill. I want to see what’s behind that door and in that closet and in the next room.
I especially like to touch things, to find out what they feel like. When I go into a store, or into somebody’s home, I want to pick up everything I see and hold it and stroke it and see how heavy it is and what the outside feels like and does it make a sound and what does the back of it look like?
Sometimes I want just the opposite; I don’t want to do anything new at all. I want my own bed and my own plate and my own chair and I only want the food I already know and the people I already know. I don’t want to cope with anything new at all, because I don’t feel safe and I think I might come apart if I don’t keep everything just the way I know it’s supposed to be.
Most of the time I like being with people, and most of the time it’s okay for me to go do the things I want to do, but sometimes I get scared. Sometimes I get scared to get close, because I think that the other person will grab me and hold on to me and not let go and not let me do what I want; and sometimes I get scared that, if I let the other person see how close I really want to get that they will go away and leave me alone. Sometimes I get scared that those same things will happen if I go after the things that interest me. Joe’s job is to take care of me, and my job is to remind him how interesting life is.
I AM JOE’S TWO-YEAR-OLD
By Jon Weiss
I am Joe’s two-year-old Inner Child, and I want what I want when I want it! I also want the world to revolve around me, what I want and feel. My favorite word is “No!”
I want to be a separate, autonomous person, with my own boundaries. Since I don’t really understand that I already am separate, I act as if other people are trying to control me. Sometimes I give in to what I think they want — since I think I have no choice. Other times I put energy into refusing to do what I think they want — even if it’s also what I want! A lot of the time I don’t really know what other people want, because I don’t ask them, I just make up my own idea of what it is and react to that.
The hardest (and most important) thing for me to do is to decide to think for myself. I am really scared that, if I actually do think for myself, I won’t be taken care of and that others will not like me. Sometimes I’m scared that, if I try to think for myself, other people will discount me and force me to go along with what they think and want.
I really want everything my way and get mad because the world doesn’t work that way. I can throw a temper tantrum or sulk like you wouldn’t believe! Sometimes, when Joe doesn’t listen to me, I crawl under his desk and pull out the plug to his computer, so he can’t think at all! I’ll teach him to ignore me! The other thing I can do really well is to procrastinate; if there is something that I don’t want to do, and Joe isn’t listening to me about it, I can get him to put it off indefinitely.
I sound like a pain in the neck to have around, but I’m only like that when Joe ignores me and doesn’t listen to what I want. Mostly I just want to be heard and noticed and accepted (not shamed and controlled!); and I really like to be given choices, instead of just forced to do what I’m supposed to do. Is it really that hard to give me a vote?
I am one of the most important of Joe’s Inner Children. I am the one who gives Joe the energy to say what he likes and doesn’t like; I am the one who is responsible for setting boundaries. I am the one who decides whether or not Joe gets to think clearly, and whether he puts his energy into solving problems or just resisting them.
I AM JOE’S 4-YEAR-OLD
by Jon Weiss
Hi! I’m 4 and 1 can do lots of things myself and I have something to say about everything and I have a lot of questions and I have lots of answers already and I don’t know which ones are right but I believe all of them.
I know that if something bad happened I can make it not have happened if I don’t think about it and if something bad is about to happen I can keep it from happening if think the right thoughts and I know I’ll get lots of money if I do my affirmations right and I’ll always get a parking space because I have been good.
I don’t always feel so good because I know I’ve been bad because I had mean thoughts and I know that person fell down because I didn’t like him and there are lots of bad people I don’t like and how come they don’t fall down? I know I have to be careful and not think bad things but sometimes I can’t help it and I’m scared because they will know I was bad and then I’ll be in trouble.
Lots of times I don’t understand what’s going on and I have lots of questions but Joe won’t let me ask them because he thinks they might sound stupid but then he doesn’t get the answers either so I have to make up the answers for both of us.
When other people don’t do nice things I know I made that happen and I should make it better and if it’s not better it’s because I’m not doing it right and if things don’t work it’s my fault but the door is too heavy and the lock won’t work and the car doesn’t go right and the stupid computer keeps not doing what I tell it to and I’m so frustrated I just want to sit down and cry and have someone bring me some milk and cookies –that will fix it!
I know there are scary things out there but it is Joe’s job to protect me from them and take care of me and make sure I’m safe and if he doesn’t do it I can hold very still and be very quiet and invisible and not let the monsters know I’m there –and then I can make a lot of trouble for Joe by doing mean things so he’ll take better care of me next time.
I know that Joe does lots of things because I think they are the right things to do because that’s what I figured out myself — or someone told me, I forget which — and I feel very powerful when I make Joe do things like that but I’m scared that I can’t handle all the grownup things that Joe had to do, but if he doesn’t take care of them then I have to. Sometimes I wish he would take care of the grownup things as a grownup, so he can take care of me, too, instead of the other way around.
Jonathan B. Weiss, Ph.D. and Laurie Weiss, Ph.D. are both Teaching and Supervising Transactional Analysts and long time members of USATAA. They are learning internet marketing in order to make personal and professional growth information based on Transactional Analysis available to more people.
Professional websites for additional articles:
http://www.empowermentsystems.com and http://www.RelationshipHQ.com
Their commercial internet marketing sites for TA related material are