Thursday, May 27, 2010

Adult ego state strengthening **

This post is on the Adult ego state for my Serbian friend Mirko.

This will be a work in progress. I will write some now and then add to it as the days go by and I think of things to say.

The Adult ego state is suggested in many psychological theories as the state of psychological health. In the Adult ego state the person sees the world as it is in the here and now and the person is not reacting to the world as they did when they were a child. (i.e. not in the here and now but reacting in an archaic fashion).

Living in the here and now

As a result many psychotherapies are designed to give the person more access to their Adult ego state. They aim to assist the person to get into their Adult ego state and to stay there. In these approaches awareness is seen as facilitating cure. The assumption is awareness is cure, and thus some fall down a bit on this assumption.

The first and most obvious example is Freud and psychoanalysis. One of the main goals in psychoanalysis is to make unconscious material conscious. For instance through dream interpretation one can access the client’s unconscious. Once done the client can become aware of it (i.e. make it conscious ) and then they will be cured because they will understand the unconscious and can act in a conscious way (the Adult ego state).

CBT is the same. You seek the irrational thoughts or thinking errors and once discovered the person then can think about them and then use certain strategies to nullify them so as to remain in a rational state of mind. With feelings in CBT one thinks about them. What lead up to me feeling this? What irrational thought is underlying the feeling? And so forth. Once discovered one can be in the Adult ego state and fix things and avoid such situations in the future.

Classical TA is all about Adult awareness as well. One analyses games and scripts. Once understood one is more aware of them and thus can choose to stay out of games and so forth.

Whilst there are some significant difficulties with the idea that Adult equals health or cure without a doubt the more one has access to their Adult ego state and can stay in their Adult ego state when under stress the more they are going to deal with difficult situations in a productive way.

People can move out of their Adult ego state in two ways because there are only two other ego states. The Parent and the Child. If the person stops thinking in Adult and moves into the Child ego state that is called regression. The person regresses to an earlier state of being. They start to think and feel like they did when they were 7 years old. They will adopt their old problem solving styles from those early years which most often are not effective and lack logical problem solving.


The person may also move out of their Adult ego state by moving into their Parent ego state. This is sometimes known as crystallisation, because the persons thinking and problem solving becomes crystalline and thus lacks any flexibility which the Adult ego state think has.

For example, the person may say we drive this way to work because we always drive this way to work on a Monday. This is a Parent ego state solution to the problem of which way to drive to work. It has no flexibility. The Adult ego state solution is, “We drive this way to work today because the man on the radio said the other way has a traffic jam.” It is flexible depending on the current environmental conditions.

In older age when one starts to loose the Adult ego state functions with a bit of dementia people will go either into regression or crystallisation. With crystallisation they can be quite infuriating to debate with because they will not be willing to see any new information or other ways of thinking.

Which ego state?

Of course some people will move out of Adult thinking much earlier in life and start problem solving with regressive or crystalline thinking. This can occur for many reasons and what is required is Adult ego state strengthening exercises. That is ways and means of strengthening the Adult ego state such that the person can maintain it better under stress.

I will outline various ways of doing these over the next few days as I add to this post. But for starters one would usually begin with awareness of the ego states and that can be done with the “Parts Party” exercise.

One gets three pieces of paper and writes Child, Adult, Parent on one of them each. They are placed on the floor. The therapist gets the client to stand on the piece of paper with Adult written on it. They are given something to talk about such as a person, a relationship, a difficulty they are currently having at work. Usually it is related to the reason why they came to therapy in the first place.

I think they are fairly sure to get their wish

When standing on the Adult ego state paper they can only say things from their Adult. If they start talking from their Parent or Child ego states the therapist brings this to their attention and they move to that bit of paper and speak from that ego state that they moved into. They move to the various bits of paper as the exercise goes on and are allowed to only speak from that ego state.

This lets the client get some idea of what the various ego states are like and is allowed to begin to differentiate the three. They start to experience what it is like being in Adult, then Child and then Parent. They get a first hand experience of each ego state.

In addition they may have thought they were being in Adult when in fact they were in Child or Parent. So this can be an ego state decontaminating exercise as well. It will also show the client and the therapist what ego states they are most comfortable with and know the best. If they move onto the Parent piece of paper and find it very difficult to say anything one knows they spend little of their time in that ego state. If they move to the Child ego state and speak freely they are comfortable in that ego state.

After time as the client gets used to this exercise they can begin to correct self. If they are talking in Adult and feel self slip into Child then they can self correct which is the whole idea of Adult ego state strengthening. They begin to get an understanding of what it feels like to move out of Adult into the Parent or the Child and thus they can then self correct. Thus if they are in discussion with someone they can do the same and thus avoid communication difficulties.

One can do this exercise with other ego states like, NP, CP, FC, RC, CC & A.



  1. Oh Tony!

    I'm really excited about this and the next corresponding posts on this subject. The Ego game sound like a fun idea and an enjoyable party game with friends and family too!

    Happy Friday (tomorrow) to you...

  2. seems to be a nice idea for a play improving relations and understanding e.g. with the spouse, yet it requires some experienced juror, I guess.

    as usual a good read :)

  3. Hello Roses,

    Maybe I presented it in an unusual light. The Parts party is a specific therapeutic technique not sort of a game. It is called parts party becuase the personality is split up into parts (ego states) and they party (relate to each other). It is not a party in the sense of sex, drugs and rock and roll.

    And as Zbig points out it requires a therapist who is a good diagnostician. Which is not all that difficult but it does require some training in Transactional Analysis and an understanding of ego states.



  4. Ok, the last attempt to comment didn't show it's self so i'm posting it again because i think it's a very important message...:

    "Well, that sucks!"

    This thought i've just added now... "the condescension in your reply is infuriating!"


  5. Hi Roses,

    I looked up the thesaurus for condescending and got

    patronizing, supercilious, superior, snobbish, snobby, disdainful, lofty, haughty; informal snooty, stuck-up

    I will accept haughty, snooty and lofty but not the others. Infact snooty sounds quite good really.

    Go well my good friend. Sorry if any offence was imbued


  6. No, I'm sorry.

    I slapped you back for the slap you gave me (i'm now willing to ASSUME) unwittingly.

    By the way... I don't discredit the words; 'superior' and 'stuck-up', in your little pocket full of adjectives.

    I hope that your Friday is being so much more pleasant than mine is.

    Watch out... Saturday is coming - a whole new day! Yay - what a relief!

  7. Which is not all that difficult but it does require some training in Transactional Analysis and an understanding of ego states.

    I am pretty fresh in the TA (and all that psychology stuff as well) so it sure takes me a while to achieve some level of competency.

    Anyway, isn't the ego state a function of context? Like, imagine in the 1930's a Nazi party takes power in Germany. Let's listen to people what they talk in 1935:

    A: I'm afraid they will try and exterminate us.
    B: We live in the 20th century in a civilized country that gave the greatest thinkers to the world, so I don't think there's anything to worry about.

    Without knowing what happened later I would say that person A was in Child mode and the person B in Adult mode.

    Fast forward to 1945 and assess these sentences again, but now the juror has the knowledge of all horrible things that happened in the previous 10 years.
    For me, person A was more in Adult mode (OK, he said 'afraid' could've said 'think' to make my point clearer, so this is a grey area between). And the person B was more in NP state in this new light, what do you think?

  8. Yes saturday tomorrow Roses and you get there two hours before I do. Not fair


  9. I agree with you Zbig that context is one of the factors taken into account when diagnosing and ego state. the example I sue is this one.

    If a man says, “On July 5th, 2007 the alignment of the planets will create a magnetic field so large that there will be the biggest tides in half a century”, what ego state would be diagnosed?

    If the man was of a dishevelled appearance, had not shaven for 2 days and was sitting on a park bench drinking out of a bottle in a brown paper bag what ego state would be diagnosed?. Probably some kind of regressed Child ego state. If that man was in an observatory wearing a white coat and carrying a clip board what ego state would be diagnosed? Probably Adult ego state. The different contexts for the same statement would tend to result in a different diagnosis. The context in which the statement is made is central to the diagnosis of ego states.

    With regards to your comment Adult is relevant to the here and now. So the facts avaiable at the time are used in Adult ego state thinking. If the person’s thinking or logic is based on opinion or feelings then it is not pure Adult thinking.

    So person A would tend to be seen as a statement form the Child ego state. It is based on emotion and makes a catastrohic prediction.

    To me person B’s comment is not really Adult. It is based on the assumption that becuase a country has been civilized then it will remain so. Clearly history has shown that not to be the case many times. The historical facts would tend to be seen as forming the basis of Adult thinking.

    Most times the diagnosis of ego states is clear and quite simple however there are times and situations when that is not so, and closer examination is required.



  10. Yeah well, it took you to hours more to reach winter. Lucky thing!

    Ohh... its not quite winter yet *blush* - but it will be!

  11. yes it will be Roses, but it is sunny here today