I learned about pieces of Transactional Analysis in teachers college, it is one of the classes that really stuck with me. The theory suggests that our interactions with others are often defined by the ego state that we reside in. (For those who are total experts on this theory, please chime in with your knowledge). The adults in our lives who raised us, inform the critical and caring voice – or parent voice – we use in interactions with others. This voice is complex because it can be demanding of compliance, it can be judgemental and disapproving while also being comforting and compassionate. The child voice is also complex. When we are in our child ego state we are feeling and we are reacting. I’ve seen these states described as rebellious or adaptive and as free or positive adaptive. When we use this voice we are falling back on the feelings and experiences of our childhood. When we speak through our child ego it can be combative and childish or scared and compliant. It can also be carefree and creative and help us follow our heart. The adult voice sounds exactly how you imagine a mature, logical sensible adult should sound. This ego state taps into our logical brain. Here we listen without agenda, but rather curiosity. We use “I” statements, remain calm and make decisions based on reality. If you’ve been through therapy you may have had someone using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. CBT is training and strengthening that adult voice to stop and say, “What happened? What actually happened? How can I make a decision based on what is happening and not how my feelings are making me think happened?”
In a recent session with my own counselor I had an honest realization that I spent a lot of my time in my personal life living in my child ego. Even when I think I am using my training and my tools to speak in an adult voice, my reaction falls back to the child ego state, and mostly in the negative adaptive child ego state. I am beginning to understand I have a trauma response to conflict and in my brain almost everything is a conflict. Being questioned or challenged means that something much worse is about to happen, I am going to lose something. This of course is not reality. I am working to strengthen my adult voice, or as I have recently decided to name her my super self… not in the Freudian sense but rather the person I want to be.
It is amazing how easily we flow between these states of being. As a teacher in my classroom, I feel most like myself and the person I want to be, that adult voice comes naturally. In fact, I made it my mission to speak to my students in an adult voice (they are teenagers, sometimes my mom voice comes out… it happens). I recognize that power struggling does not fit in the classrooms I work to build, which are focused on equity and empowerment. In my personal life, this has proven to be more challenging and in a way I was never considered so deeply before. Mostly because I haven’t been doing much work on who I am and what my needs are.
By understanding where we are in our states of thinking and feeling we can better understand the why. The why for my thoughts and feelings about almost anything is fear. While there may have been things in my past that caused this fear, those things are not here now. Right now I am sitting on my couch, in my house, with my family. Since Covid started that has been the reality really, so when those reactions have happened it means my mind was not focused on reality in my adult state. Likely it means I was in my parent or child state and feeling. Feelings are important. But they can’t be in control.
Have you heard of Transactional Analysis before? Which ego state to find yourself in during the hard stuff?