In Transactional Analysis, we often talk about ego states. In a nutshell, that means that at any moment you behave either from the place of the child, which represents the emotions and behaviours you use to have when you were a child, the parent, where you impersonate behaviours and responses your parents used to have with you, or the adult, where you’re in a position of responding appropriately to the current situation. Often the adult is misrepresented as the one without emotions, which is incorrect (that’s more denial!), it’s the position where your emotions are actually appropriate to the situation you are in.
We call those three positions ego states in transactional analysis jargon, and what is often observed is that issues, communication problems and conflicts come a lot of the time from being in an ego states that is not the best one to solve that challenge.
I’m sure you’ve been in that situation, where you disagree with someone and instead of both behaving calmly like adults, one of you starts to sulk, give the other one the silent treatment, or gets angry and calls them names. Sounds familiar?! Now would you say that those reactions are appropriate and useful in that context? Apart from some rare exceptions, most often they’re not. Which means we are not operating from the adult ego-states.
Parents are a very good example of that. Have you noticed how quickly we step back into behaving like children around them? Or how often they actually treat us as a child again? Even though we have been adults for a long time? Because it is our natural ego state around each other, so we’re bound to slip back into it.
It is actually quite difficult to not regress, as with people who have been around your life for a long time – such as our parents – a relationship dynamic has been strongly engrained. When you meet someone new, it only takes a few months for a dynamic to be installed, and what I mean by dynamic, is how you relate and behave with each other.
One of my friend always tends to humorously criticise me when she comes around, as if I was a helpless child who doesn’t know what she’s doing. Our dynamic is simply that she steps into the parent ego state and me into the child ego state. That’s how we relate and how we have related for many years now. And trust me, that’s very difficult to change!
When I went to the NLP conference back in November, I asked TA experts how to shift ego states. And they suggested to be extra vigilant and as soon as you spot it, to step back into the adult ego state by disassociating for example. And I’ve tried it over the holidays around my family, and it works, but it requires constant awareness and a lot of work!
And last weekend as I was training my Person Centred NLP/Hypnotherapy course, one of my student suggested a much more effective way to shift those states using Timelines. And I had been so caught up in dealing with it using TA that I didn’t even think of that tool I had taught them only a month ago!
Zoe suggested to float above your timeline, check at which age position you find yourself when you’re interacting with that person, and gently move yourself forward into the present again to handle that situation in a more resourceful way. I think this is one of the best way to permanently shift a well-established dynamic, especially if you make sure to future pace the new interaction in a detailed way.
People are anchors, especially if they’ve been in your life for long, meaning they will trigger in you old automatic responses, whether emotional or behavioural ones. If you recognise that this is no longer useful for you to respond in this way, you need to start changing it.
The first step is self-awareness, as in the capacity to know at any given moment how you feel, what’s going on for you, what ego state you’re in and what’s being triggered for you. And then you can either change your state using anchoring processes, or come back into the adult ego state using timelines.
What about you? How are you shifting your ego states? Any other ideas?