Transactional Analysis (TA) is a set of tools for understanding people and their relationships. This is the first in our series on basic TA concepts.

The concept of the Inner Child is based on the Child Ego State, first described by Eric Berne in 1961. An Ego State, according to Berne, is a consistent, observable pattern of thoughts, feelings, attitudes and behaviors that tend to operate together as a unit. Berne also described two other equally important parts of the personality: the Parent Ego State and the Adult Ego State.

The Child is the part of us that contains the needs, feelings, wishes and emotions that we actually experienced as children. It also contains the decisions and beliefs we made about the world as a result of not getting our childhood needs met. Our Child is the part of us that is capable of joy, love, intimacy, spontaneity and creativity.

The Parent Ego State contains rules, values, controls, prohibitions and directions, much of which is learned in childhood. It is usually modeled after our parents and other powerful adults.

Our Parent Ego State can be nurturing, guiding, directing, and can provide safety and appropriate limits (Nurturing Parent), or it can be judging, criticizing, restricting, blaming and shaming (Critical Parent).

The Adult is the part of the personality that is capable of memory, information processing, and rational — as opposed to emotional — thought and decision-making. It can be characterized as a computer, capable of processing information that is given to it, but subject to control by Child wishes or Parent prejudices — or both.

Ideally, our Adult is used as a tool to figure out how our Child can get what s/he needs; however, it can also be used as a tool to figure out how to do what our Parent says “should” be done.

Everyone has all three Ego states. We differ from each other in how much we use any particular one, when we use it, what kind of information or experience it contains, and how easily we can get access to it.

Ordinarily, we move rapidly from one Ego State to another; a common example is the way we can switch from being deeply involved in an argument (Parent or Child) to answering the phone (Adult).

We can learn to recognize when we are “in” the different Ego States by the characteristic and identifiable pattern of thoughts, words, facial expressions, voice tones and gestures that go with each one. Recognizing which Ego State we are using at any given moment makes it possible for us to change from that Ego State to another which might produce better results.

Each Ego State is important, but each is only a part of the complete picture. When we have a decision to make, for example, it helps to use the Adult to gather and sort information about alternatives, consequences and resources. Questions that engage the Adult might be:

  • What is likely to happen if I…?
  • Is there another way to achieve the same goal?
  • What kind of help or support will I need if I make that choice?
  • How can I get it?

Our Parent can offer guidance and support, or it can criticize us for whatever we do. But, even in the criticism, there can be potentially useful information about safety and other people’s needs. You can get Parent input by asking: What is the right thing to do? What would Mom or Dad advise in this situation?

Any decision made without the Child’s acceptance is likely to be forgotten or undermined later. Our Child can contribute by answering questions like:

  • What would I really like to do if I could do anything?
  • What would feel the best, the most satisfying, the most enlivening, etc?
  • What would I do if I knew I wouldn’t get in trouble?
  • What do I need for me in this situation?

These three Ego States are the basis for the TA approach to understanding human interaction. In the next Newsletter, we will show how the patterns of transactions between the Ego States of two people can determine the success or failure of their communications.

[tags]Personal Growth,Emotional Problems,Self Help,Self-Improvement, CoDependency, Inner Child, Relationships, Transactional Analysis[/tags]


For further information about Transactional Analysis, visit the websites for the International Transactional Analysis Association (ITAA) and the USA Transactional Analysis Association (USATAA).

The basic ideas of Transactional Analysis can be found in Eric Berne’s best-selling book, “Games People Play.

There is a major TA Conference scheduled for San Francisco in August, 2007; details HERE.