Senior Consultant EEF
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Transactional Analysis Part 2 ~ Ego States

24th Jan 2015
Senior Consultant EEF
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The cornerstone concept of Transactional Analysis is Ego States. This is a term used to describe the core aspects of our personalities which develop and grow from the minute we are born. By understanding Ego Sates we can begin to comprehend the behaviours of others and our selves and how to influence and change those actions.

Parent Ego State

The first Ego State that the child develops is the Parent Ego State. The defenceless child unlike other animals is incapable of supporting or feeding its self. The best thing to do in such circumstances is to bond as quickly as possible with the parental figure. Like many other animals the young child bonds by copying and behaving like the parent figure. And what is the early relationship between parent and child? It is all about control, telling the child what to do, when to do it, how to do it. It’s perfectly appropriate and right to do this, the child craves this direction. All this control, telling and influence is soaked up by the child and this becomes part of who and what they are. Doubtless you will have been told ‘you were just like your mother/father then’ and in your own children you will see reflections of your self. That reflection is often the dominant and controlling behaviour the parent demonstrated when interacting with them.

Child Ego State

What is it to be a child? It is to play and what is play? It’s an extremely sophisticated form of learning and development. When we are children being uninhibited and free from social constraint allows us to explore and understand the world about us. As children our responsibility is to survive and we are essentially selfish and focussed on one thing; ourselves. The Child Ego state is predominantly focussed on the self. It is spontaneous and unrestrained. Some would propose that it is the seat of creativity. As we play we learn and this contributes to who and what we are in the form of the Child Ego.

Adult Ego State

In our development the Adult Ego State operates in the ‘here and now’. It is not influenced by what our parents told us to do or indeed what we learnt as children. It analyses and seeks to understand and relate to the world based upon data and evidence. The Adult Ego has an objectivity that neither of the two other ego states possess whilst at the same time it can have a cold and distant quality. I have frequently seen the view expressed that the Adult Ego State is the best. This is categorically untrue. Berne’s definition of psychological health is access to all three Egos and in different circumstances they all have a part to play and a contribution to make.

In the workplace actions and behaviours are rooted in the Ego States. A domineering line manager who finds it difficult to build relationships with staff might only have access to Parent Ego and absolutely no Child Ego and consequently be unable to enjoy a relaxed moment and laugh. An individual who fears responsibility might have issues about integrating and using their Parent Ego. An exercise that allows people reflect on their ego states can be both enlightening and constructive. This web site carries a useful questionnaire that helps individuals begin to review their Ego States:

On completing the questionnaire participants should review the profile and contrast the answers with their own self image. Where the two are closely aligned then the questionnaire has probably returned a true profile. Where however the responses are at variance with their own view the individual should look to identify examples and incidents of behaviour which support their own opinions. Where they can find plenty of supporting instances then the questionnaire is probably wrong. Where however the individual can only think of one supporting event which occurred back in 1989 then the questionnaire might well be correct but they just don’t like the answers.

Both Parent and Child Ego divide into two additional states which we will explore these in the next instalment and also how Ego states can be used to analyse organisational culture.


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