Senior Consultant EEF
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Transactional Analysis Part 3 ~ Ego States II

29th Jan 2015
Senior Consultant EEF
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In my last blog we looked at the major Ego States; Parent, Adult and Child. I also mentioned that the Parent and Child breakdown into two sub ego states. Let’s now look at these Ego states in greater depth.

The Parent Ego splits into two states the first of which has already been alluded to, the Controlling Parent. This side of the human psyche seeks to keep in check or contain others with whom it comes into contact. It can become excessive and when overdone is oppressive and restricting. Not infrequently you will encounter managers in the workplace who spend far too much time in Controlling Parent and the result is a directive style of management which can be unhelpful and destructive to both relationships and productivity. When used appropriately however it can be a useful and strongly influential approach.

The other side of this ego is the Nurturing Parent. This is about looking after and preventing harm from coming to those it interacts with. It can be a warm and engaging aspect of an individual’s persona, but as always, if overdone it becomes smothering and repressive. I hope by now you are beginning to understand that none of the ego states are actually ‘better’ than any other, it is entirely about place and context, relevance and flexibility.

The Child Ego also has two sides; the first is called Free Child. The Free Child is not influenced by social constraint or in any way inhibited. The Free Child is self centred and not particularly concerned about others. In certain circumstances this is entirely appropriate and a rewarding place to be. In the wrong context or situation it becomes destructive. Watch virtually any scene featuring the character David Brent from ‘The Office’ played by Ricky Gervais to see and understand this for your self.

The other side of Free Child is Adapted Child. This is a fascinating aspect of our personality. When we were children we adapted and changed our behaviour freely. Children are wonderful at discovering and pressing the right buttons to get them exactly what they want. Politeness can be seen as an adaptation, temper tantrums or obsequious behaviour can all be examples of adaptations. Look at this YouTube video as a prime example of a very young child practising an adapted behaviour.

Those then are the ego states and collectively they make up who at what we are in terms of our personality. One of Berne’s definitions of health was free and natural access to all the Ego States and often we will encounter or create negative situations because we are unable to engage an appropriate Ego or linger too long in one particular state. Flexibility and appropriateness to context is a rule to positive outcomes here.

The Ego State model can be used as a fascinating analytical tool of Organisational Culture. Let’s explore; small entrepreneurial organisations often succeed because they have a product of service which is special or different. This position is often predicated upon a very creative approach to a situation and this level of creativity is often only present in the Child Ego. Young organisations frequently have low levels of internal constriction or control and flexibility is primary. Over time and with the growth of the organisation the lack of control begins to impact on productivity and a change of management direction takes place. Now the Parent Ego comes to the fore and much greater control is introduced. People often leave during this phase as it’s ‘not the organisation I joined’. Over a period of time the control of Parent now begins to create its own problems, preventing resourceful thinking and constraining flexibility. In these circumstances a cultural change can begin again and this time the Adult Ego state emerges with a much more rational approach to decision making and increased reliance on people to make their own decisions. People can be unhappy with this change as they are conditioned to being told what to do and now being asked to make their decisions can be frightening. The ‘perfect’ organisational culture is of course one where all the ego states are present according to circumstances and none of them are predominant or missing.


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