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Parenting from the child's point of view

By Stephen C. Schultz

Transactional Analysis- Ego States

Understanding this model will be a valuable piece of information for you as you work with colleagues, parent your children, communicate with your husband or wife and interact with others in your community. These principles will assist you in gaining insight into your own style of behavior and communication. Remember that awareness is the first key to opening the doors of maturation, refinement and growth.

In the 1960s a psychological theory became available known as Transactional Analysis. The chief proponent of this new theory was Eric Berne, M.D., an Austrian psychiatrist. Transactional Analysis developed significantly beyond Berne's early theories through the work of others and has continued in its development and practice even to today. Berne recognized that the human personality is made up of three ego states. Each ego state is an entire system of thoughts, feelings and behaviors from which we interact with one another. Transactions refer to the communication exchanges between people. Clinicians who study and practice this theory in therapy sessions are called Transactional Analysts. They are trained to recognize which ego states people are transacting from and to follow the transactional sequences so they can intervene and improve the quality and effectiveness of communication.

The three ego states Berne’s referred to are the Parent, Adult and Child. The interactions between these three ego states form the foundation of transactional analysis. Although transactional analysis involves other concepts and ideas, this document will focus solely on understanding what the ego states are and how they operate in our lives and in the lives of others around us.

The original Parent-Child-Adult components were eventually sub-divided to form a new seven-element model. The following page describes each of the sub-set ego states as they are referred to now for our purposes.

Parent Ego States

Critical Parent- demanding, belittling, judgmental, controlling, sarcastic
Ex. “Are you kidding me? You did what with Megan last night? Can you be anymore irresponsible?”

Nurturing Parent- protective, caring, helpful, placates, enables
Ex. “Why don’t you let me carry your pack for you today, those books look heavy. I noticed yesterday you were having a hard time keeping up.”

Adult Ego State 

Adult- operates in the here and now, respectful communication, defines personal code of ethics and values (honesty/integrity), considers well-being of others, anticipates consequences of choices, defines appropriateness of own behavior, insightful, introspective, exercises executive direction of other ego states
Ex. “I’ve spent too long putting off getting the help I need. Being here is an opportunity for me to finally take responsibility for my life and prove to myself and my family that my life is worth something to me.”

Child Ego States

Natural Child- fun-loving, emotional, curious, self-centered, volatile, dominant them is to “feel good”, pleasure-seeking, adventurous, creative, impatient, demanding, “center of the universe”
Ex. “I have to get out of this school now. I can’t stand to be here another day. I’ll do whatever it takes to get out of here.”

Adaptive Child- Wants to please others, follows the rules without questioning, accepts authority, complies, and obeys. Externally is the perfect student.
Ex. “Sure I’d love to mow the lawn today.” (While inside having no desire to do so but not wanting to come across as being non-compliant).

Rebellious Child- non-compliant resents and rejects control by others, non-conformist, unwilling to cooperate or compromise
Ex. “No way they’re getting me to get up and feed the calves today. I’m not getting out of my bed. If they tried to get me out they better watch out because I’m coming out swinging.”

Little Professor- manipulate people/circumstances to own advantage, clever, deceitful, dishonest, close ally of the natural child, no regard for rules that impede own interests, exaggerates, distorts, embellishes, plays psychological games with others
Ex. “My stomach hurts so bad I don’t think I can participate today. I was throwing up and had diarrhea all last night. I really need to see a doctor. I promise that once I see a doctor I’ll be alright and will be ok.”

Developmental Milestones

Finally, to better understand the model, keep in mind these basic tenants:

A.                Ego states continue as part of the personality throughout life, but may change in relative strength.
B.                 The Adult ego state doesn’t start to become evident until about nine to twelve years of age, for others, later.
C.                 Strength of the Adult does not necessarily correlate with chronological age.
D.                Executive control by ego-states is not something given up easily. For the Adult to become the primary executive and manage the personality it must develop considerable strength and insight. With it comes insight management. Insight management is the act of managing one’s own ability to understand the motives and reasons behind one’s actions.
E.                 The most difficult ego state to discern is the Little Professor; as the Adult becomes more insightful, and stronger, it becomes more capable of governing the Little Professor.
F.                  Without a strong Adult, inter-personal relationships degenerate into a web of unproductive and manipulative games, with no real winners, nor intimacy.

The main task for personality development is to help the Adult Ego state become the primary executive in the personality and to be able to appropriately govern the other ego states. Success in interpersonal relationships is dependent on the strength of the Adult. A key element for establishing healthy relationships is learning to strengthen the Adult ego as the main executive functioning system.

For example, in the mild to moderate, each of the Parent Ego States is pretty common and would be considered “Normal”. However, each of these can also be damaging to relationships when over used. Each can be demonstrated in a manipulative way or used insincerely.

The next thing to think about is the fact that each of the Child Ego States are also used by us as adults! We simply have an adult version, but the ego state is the same. Do you ever find yourself in the “Rebellious Child” ego state? What about a time at work when you were the “Adaptive Child”?  These are aspects of personality and communications that are certainly important for us to understand and recognize as we deal with others. Remember, the Adult Ego State is the goal. This is where we want to spend most of our emotional time when communicating with others.


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