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The child, the adult and the parent

Madhuri Banerjee MadhuriBanerjee

Updated: March 5, 2016, 1:05 AM IST
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Have you ever felt that you’ve gone into a meeting and not known what to say or floundered too much? Have you ever scolded your child and felt bad about it? Have you felt that sometimes you’re not able to stand up for yourself in relationships?

Erik Berne, a psychiatrist in the 1950s created the theory of Transactional Analysis to explain human behaviour for situations that happen in our daily life. He said that we all have 3 ego states of Parent, Adult and Child that we constantly use.

A Parent state is: A response in which people think, feel and act like their parents used to with them. A sheer mimicking rather than an understanding. For example, a person may shout at someone out of frustration because they learned from an influential figure in childhood the lesson that this seemed to be a way of relating that worked. (Ref Wikipedia)

Adult: “A state of the ego which is most like an artificially intelligent system processing information and making predictions about major emotions that could affect its operation.” Used for relationships, work places and managerial duties.

Child: A state in which people behave, feel, and think similarly to how they did in childhood. For example, if they are praised, they will laugh and dance and if they are criticised they will feel upset and may cry.

This is Berne’s theory of Transactional Analysis for which he has written Games People Play and several other books.

So most of us would say, isn’t this obvious? Don’t people behave like this in any case?

So I had a slightly different take on the Child, Adult, Parent Theory.

Suppose the Child state in us is just a free, natural person who wants to be loved and gives love freely. Our inner child is someone who requires nurturing, pampering, adulation and is hesitant about the outside world, of all those people in a groups and is trusting of just a few who he really loves. The true 5 year old. Imagine if this person enters a work place and has to deal with powerful bosses and cranky co-workers. They’ll most likely throw fits at work, want special attention and may get terribly upset if criticised.

An Adult manages that.

The Adult state is the one where the person has power or control over their relationships, they’re able to balance their duties and responsibilities at work and stand up for themselves because they understand what it’s taken for them to be there. An Adult state of being is a person who doesn’t let fear rule their decisions. An Adult ego is someone who is more calculating, manipulative and figures out strategies that work best for him. An over active Adult state without the Child or Parent state could lead to someone who is selfish, narcissist, dominating and may not have balanced relationships.

A Parent state for me, is very different than what Erik Berne defined.

The Parent state is one of the ego or soul longing for more in life than wealth, fame and success. It’s the desire to just be searching, questioning, grasping for a higher light, a deeper meaning, inner truth, living in the moment, and extreme mindfulness. Most people who are just in this state will have given up most of the worldly pleasures to focus on doing something for humanity, or finding something deeper about themselves or the world in general. The Parent person is also a very giving person. If you’re in this state you’ll feel like giving advice, generally helping people, nurturing someone, or just being alone to meditate, seek answers from within, etc.

So how do we apply this in our daily lives?

First of all, we need an awareness that these 3 states exist within us and they can switch in a moment or take an extended period of time. Most people can behave in just a Child state in a work environment or in their relationships their whole lives, unable to understand why they are failing at both.

If at work you are aware of these states you’ll acknowledge if you’re behaving like the Child, Adult or spending too much time as the Parent that is affecting your work.

Are your reactions immature (Child)? Are you just wanting to give up everything and go to the hills (Parent)? Or are you taking in the information and forming a strategy in your head before responding (Adult)?

In relationships, are you over nurturing, allowing your partner to make many faults while you cover up for them? (Parent) Are you looking for attention, feeling insecure and fearful of what could happen? (Child) Are you dominating and emotionally unavailable sometimes because it’s a strategy to not be vulnerable? (Adult)

As a householder are you too aloof, into your own thoughts, not caring about the world and what is needed to survive? (Parent)

Transactional Analysis is then a way to alter your ego state to the situation to solve your emotional problem.

This comes through an inner dialogue of the different psyches.

Berne believed that these states are largely formed through childhood. I believe that childhood has a part to play in the formation but each moment that we have to choose the state plays in the development of which state becomes stronger.

You will find many successful people who are just in the Adult state. They have the Parent lacking in them.

Many people who have a very developed Child aspect in them but not the Adult state will not be able to fathom why they’re not taken seriously.

An over active Adult who doesn’t have a balanced Child ego will feel jaded and bitter with life. A Child ego brings wonder, happiness, hope and dreams and is the state that can tap into the subconscious level as well.

So the next time you’re going for a meeting, know that you need to be an Adult there. And when you’re in a relationship, maybe in that moment you can be a child. And find moments in your life to truly be the Parent and seek out a deeper truth and meaning of life.

And always be consciously aware of what you’re choosing and why!

(Inputs from Anuraadha Tewari, Writer & Director)
First Published: March 4, 2016, 6:54 PM IST

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