Thursday, June 7, 2012

Parenting and the use of adverse emotions

One of the most primary tasks of any parent is to facilitate the development of the Adapted Child ego state in their son or daughter. 
When a child is born it is all Free Child ego state. The parents must do something to the child such that the Adapted Child ego state increases and is used by the son or daughter when necessary. The child learns how to conform when necessary such that it can exist in a society. It learns how to behave appropriately when necessary. So over time the FC must decrease and the AC must increase. How much the AC must develop is a matter of debate. However that is not the topic of discussion here. What is to be discussed is how parents can go about doing that with their son or daughter.

ego state development
In this diagram CC has been used instead of AC

There are many ways it can be done and most are well known. The parents can use techniques like time out, consequences of behaviour or simply talking with the child such that it understands why it needs to conform in a particular situation.
There is another way to get a child to conform that is particularly effective. It involves using emotions. These are quite powerful at getting a child to behave in a way the parents want and hence they are used because they do work. There are three emotions that can be used in this way and they are fear, guilt and shame.
These are obviously painful emotions that people do not like feeling. As a result people, including children will modify their behaviour in order not too feel them. 

Towel person
If things go wrong here she could end up feeling shame.

Parents can use the fear of abandonment to get a child to conform.
“Unless you go to bed now mummy will get a policeman to come and take you away.” 
A child at a playground is not following mother’s directive to leave now to go home. Mother just starts to walk away in the direction of home. Most children will begin to squeal loudly in protest (and fear) at mother walking away. Eventually however most will succumb, leave the playground and follow mother. It works.
“Mummy felt upset and really sad that you did not behave properly at nana's house.”
“You promised mummy you would clean up your room and you haven’t done it.”
The child feels guilt and it works so next time the child will behave in the way mother wants it to. 
“You should be ashamed of yourself for...”
The parent in some way derides or humiliates the child in front of its peers or siblings.
The child feels shame and it works so next time the child will behave in the way mother wants it to.

Kids & gituar
These two children are being compliant. How has that been achieved?

These are usually quite effective ways of getting a child to modify its behaviour to do what mother wants. They work. 
But there is a problem. They have unwanted long term side effects. The boy who has been threatened with abandonment by mother may grow up and have dysfunctional relationships with women because of it. 
He may constantly feel the threat of abandonment and become pathologically jealous. He may habitually pick women who do cheat on him and leave. 
He may forever remain single because he fears the abandonment that might one day happen.
If shaming is used as a way to get a son to conform then he will grow up and develop what is called a shame prone personality. In adulthood he will experience the feeling of shame more often than others do. Shame is a very unpleasant emotion and can have devastating consequences on the self esteem. Many a social phobia can have some kind of shame component as can happen with chronic shyness or a sense of just feeling worthless.


  1. Hi Tony this is a bit of a tangent.

    I'm wondering if the Free Child develops and if so how we distinguish the developed FC from the AC. Is it to do with the Adapted Child adapting to other people? Is it to do with the FC behaving in accord with the person's own desires and preferences? Both or something else again?

    This is one part of ego-states that I haven't wrapped my head around.

  2. Hi Evan,
    According to the theory we are born with a Free Child aspect of the personality. That means the infant will be aware of its needs (in a very rudimentary form of course) and will take a course of action to have those needs satisfied when they become apparent. That is the child cries. So basically that is what we all do for the rest of our days.

    If however one develops a strong AC then our needs are not listened to so much or we stop asking for the need to be satisifed because we put others needs before our own. The person adapts to the needs of others as you suggest. The two little girls in the photogrpah may want to be up running around (their FC) but mother wants them to sit quietly. So they are adpapting to the needs of mother and putting their own needs secondary (their AC).



  3. As the mother of three young boys, I want to throw in my favorite form of behavior modification--positive reinforcement! Never underestimate the power of a "hey, great job!" or a sticker chart. :-)

  4. Hi Tony. Thanks does this mean that the FC doesn't learn anything after being born? This would mean the free child can't speak - language is learned. This sounds wrong to me but I am just trying to clarify what the theory says - then I can decide whether I agree with it or not.

    1. That is a good question Evan - does the FC learn anything after being born. Yes it does as it gets more sophisticated in asking for what it wants or expresing its emotions as it gets older. So one could say that it uses some of the skills that the Adult ego state acquires as it gets older.

      Also on a side note you mention about learning language. The phrase pre-verbal is really a misnomer. As soon as the child is born it verbalizes its wants and needs. It does so by crying which is a verbalization. Mothers soon learn the bored cry, angry cry, the hungry cry, the 'i've got gas' cry and so forth. These of course are all verbalizations, as each mother and child develop their own unique language which only they understand. So the pre-verbal stage is not non verbal at all as the FC is speaking from day one but in only a langauage that it and mother understands.


  5. So if I understand correctly what you're saying; the FC expresses needs and seeks satisfactions for itself while the AC ignores these needs and satisfactions to please others. Am I close?

  6. Perhaps if it is put another way. The AC is that part of the personality that will express self defeating behaviour and the FC is involved in health promoting behaviour. If the person is ignoring their own needs to excess then that would be AC. If they are putting their own needs second but that will result in a healthy long term outcome (ie not a damaged relationship) then that would be FC.

    Hope that helps


  7. No, that leads to enormous difficulties. Judging with regard to outcome means that the behaviour is not different at the time and so the person or observer could not decide whether a particular piece of behaviour was from FC or AC.

    How about FC is unitary and AC is split?

  8. Yes that is true Evan and that is why sometimes one would change their diagnosis of the ego state as more information comes to light.

    I am not sure what you mean by unitary. The FC and AC are meant to show the battle in the personality between the desire to move to health and the desire to self destruct, which all people are assumed to have. Just like Freud had the libido vs mortido and eros vs thanatos or the life instinct vs the death instinct


  9. What I'm getting at is a child freely playing isn't in conflict with itself (has unity). But a child pleasing others may be suppressing their own needs (is split). Does this make sense?

    More information coming to light about something is different to judging that something it by its effect(s) or outcome(s). Does this make sense.

    I'm trying to get at what differentiates the ego-states. If it is just positive vs negative outcomes then there is no difference in the ego-states themselves. It is just which feelings, thoughts, behaviours are successful (or lucky?). Is this what the ego-states amount to?

  10. You maybe thinking too much Evan as to what ego states are.

    With regards to the functional ego states which are FC, AC, NP, CP and A I think it is quite simple. What he did (Berne) was identify these aspects of the personality and simply placed them in the three circles. This lead to a very useable model which has been used since with all kinds of clients.

    I am not sure if he ever said that is all the ways humans can function but my personal view is it is not. In particular there are things like spirituality and faith that I do not feel are capapble of being explained by the current ego states used. People have indeed wirtten a lot on this and endeavoured to explain them with other ego states or ways the ego states function.

    I think it was more he came up with a very useable model that worked and that is how it came about. Having said that however his very first ego state models only included the Child and Adult. It was some time later before he eventually added in the Parent ego state to his model


  11. Hi Tony, I can overthink things.

    In terms of the functional model I am asking what the different functions are. Do the FC and and AC function differently? Limit setting and support I think are easy to differentiate for the parent. The adult dealing with here and now reality makes sense too - except FC seems to mean dealing with the here and now also.

    As to archeopsyche, neopsyche and exteropsyche I find these awfully tricky because I am impressed by how much of our behaviour is learned. Though I suppose it would be possible to distinguish genuinely learned from introjected (just swallowed).

    I do own up to enjoying tight definitions (if useful).

  12. Bed time for this blogger. Hope you have a good week. Maybe we can continue this discussion later.