I went to a very interesting workshop last week: An Introduction to Transactional Anaysis. It made me think about how different parts of our emotional landscape are activated by our interactions with others and how useful it can be to have a simple, understandable language to explain what happens both within us and between us. Transactional Analysis provides this with its concepts of ego states: coherent systems of thought and feeling, manifested by a corresponding pattern of behaviour. The three ego states are Adult (that part that feels in touch with present reality, flexibly responsive in the moment to current unique experiences and draws constructively and creatively from past experience), Child (reliving thoughts, feelings and behaviour dervied from our own direct past experience) and Parent (ego states we have internalised as our own from parents/parental figures). So when a partner or friend tells us ‘Don’t do that! Do it this way!’ they are in their Parent ego state and will probably evoke our Child ego state of either feeling told off or rebellious and determined to do it our own way! That is, of course, a very simple example and I’m sure you can imagine how complicated and complex different kinds of interpersonal transactions can become.
What is really helpful in all this is the ability to recognise your own ego states – what evokes Child in you, what are your Parent messages – and to be able to work on accessing the Adult within, particularly when feeling overwhelmed by the feelings and thoughts associated with the other ego states. For it is in the Adult ego state that we can make choices: we can rationally observe and understand what is happening in all our ego states, and what is being evoked in us by others’ ego states, and make choices and decisions based on the reality of the present moment.