According to Eric Berne’s and his Transactional Analysis (TA) Theory we have 3 parts of us: Parent, Adult and Child Ego State and all have thoughts, feelings and behaviours to help identify which is at the forefront and in charge. We switch between ego states but often can find we are in a certain one most of the time. We may find it changes depending on who we are with.
Our Adult ego state is at the forefront if we are in the here and now, we still have thoughts, feelings and behaviours but they are in connection with the present. We can still think, feel and act about the past or future but it’s with what it brings up in the present.
Our Parent is split into two parts: Critical Parent and Nurturing Parent. They both have positive and negative sides to them. Constant unhelpful criticism would be negative, whereas constructive criticism or feedback could be beneficial to our self development. Nurturing ourselves is important to our well-being but this can become unhealthy if this ego state overly worries about keeping us safe and we are afraid to do things like leave the house because of it.
In my experience of using TA as a counselling model to help clients, it feels that the overly worried ‘nurturing’ parent seems to have a strong link to those who suffer with anxiety, and the constantly critical parent seems to have a strong link with those who suffer with low moods and depression.
How do you know if you are in your Parent? The thought/voice in your head sounds parental, we may use the same language we recognise as things our own parents would say. In truth it is not just our parents language or ideas about the world, it is from any influential adult that was around us at the time we were growing up, we may not even remember who now. Behaviourally we act out gestures that feel parental, such as standing with your hands on your hips having a go at yourself. I have found it common for people not to even be aware how badly they speak to themselves, until they reach a crisis point and are forced to look at their inner world.
The inner world and the inner child work are fundamental to keeping us emotionally and mentally healthy and resilient to changes. It is common for people to have taken through to adulthood every negative thing that was ever said about them when they were a child. We all have four innate emotions: Anger, Sadness, Fear and Joy. These are emotions that are in us from birth and they are not taught. The part of the brain that is connected to our emotions is the amygdala in our lower brain. The prefrontal cortex (part of the higher brain) which is responsible for our logic and thinking does not develop until we are in teenage years (at least). In an emergency or survival situation (or what we deem as one) our amygdala overrides the higher brain because it is quicker at responding.
There are two parts to our inner Child; the Free Child and the Adapted Child. Our Free Child can express all these emotions freely. Our primary goal in life is survival, so as helpless human babies it is essential to attach to our parents or primary care givers in order to do so. Therefore we adapt ourselves to what is acceptable to our parents, other influential adults in our lives and later society as we grow up. Our Adapted Child naturally reflects our experience and our innate emotions are adapted in their expression, as some like anger or tears may not have been welcome. We learnt to suppress them or mask them with another emotion that was acceptable.
Masking emotions in adulthood could look like someone crying when they are actually angry, in which case as a child their anger was not acceptable behaviour, but sadness was. It could also look like someone being angry when they are actually sad, in which case as a child their sadness was not acceptable, perhaps seen as a form of weakness, but anger was acceptable.
Suppression can lead to a collecting of a particular emotion, at some stage there is usually a cashing in of that collection. Suppression can also lead to dis-ease in the body, our emotional and mental bodies surround our physical body so keeping one healthy effects the health of the others. How our body feels can often reflect our real feelings from our inner Child. What is yours saying?
Our inner Child can be so shut down, fearful, tearful and/or angry because of the powerful Parent part in us which can not accept them as they are. Imagine if you saw your Child, outside of yourself, and you saw a parent criticising, abusing, ignoring, neglecting and shaming them. What would you do? Hopefully you would look at safeguarding that child, and that is the answer for your Child. Stop your negative Parent and start accepting your inner Child and all their innate emotions, loving them for who they are and what they bring. Let them start expressing how they feel and how they have felt. Give them allocated time, say 10 mins in your day to do this, examples people have tried include ‘rant’ journals, drawings, doodles, talking to the Child in the mirror, sounding out /making sounds to express how you feel (where it is safe and respectful to do so), expressive movement/dance and so on.
Inner work is hard work, and it can often look messy before things look better, but as our trapped emotions are finally expressed and released our Child becomes free. Free Children are creative, imaginative, reflective, quizzical, problem solving, spontaneous, loving, intuitive, feeling, caring and giving; all very powerful attributes. Your Inner Child is your key to stepping into your real power.
Image: Angie McCormick