This week we talked about Transactional Analysis a bit more, and were asked to participate in an exercise our tutor has called Know Thyself.
Understanding ego-states is a powerful tool towards self-awareness. In this exercise we are to keep a note of which ego-state we are in at different points of the day and asking ourselves some questions.
My Parent ego-state.
What is going on here? I was trying to get my son, Jake, to come and have breakfast. He did not want to come and have breakfast. I used one of my favourite parenting techniques, “the three count”. I told him that I was going to start counting, and if I got to “three” then I would pick him up and carry him to the table and put him in his chair myself, rather than him walk there himself. He does not like being told what to do, but he likes being picked up and put down even less, so he usually complies before I get to “three”. Sometimes I only have to ask him if I have to start counting and he caves in.
Where is this behaviour from? I think I got this from my wife’s Mum, but I use it to much more devastating effect. When Jake or any of her other grandchildren are being unruly and she uses this technique, she simply says “one”, “two”, “three” out of nowhere. It rarely produces results. When I use this tool I start by saying “Breakfast time!” This then escalates to “Jake, it is breakfast time; you need to come and sit at the table now”. This is when he usually comes. If he doesn’t then I escalate to “Jake, it is breakfast time. Are you coming to the table? Or do I have to start counting? If I get to three then I will come and pick you up“. I find that explaining the consequences of his inaction helps immensely, whereas when my mother-in-law does it and doesn’t explain why she is counting or what the consequences will be, she regularly gets to “three” and there is no change in behaviour.
Why am I doing this? I am doing this to get my son to eat his breakfast. He needs to eat breakfast. I am also doing this to reinforce the fact that I am in charge, and it should be that way. I am fairly easy going when it comes to parenting, but when it comes to things like mealtimes, nappy changes and the bath/bed routine, I am very strict.
What are the consequences? The consequences for me are that Jake comes and eats breakfast, and he understands that I am an adult, his Dad, and he has to do as he is told. The consequences for Jake are that he has to stop playing, but he does get to eat breakfast, which sets him up for the day. It also means that Daddy is more likely to play with him if he is good and does as he is told.
Which ego-state am I engaging in? I am engaging in a mix of critical and nurturing Parent, in that I am teaching my son to be obedient, and also taking his need for food into consideration.
My Child ego-state.
What is going on here? I was having trouble remembering a time when I was acting in a Child ego-state. Maybe I see acting in the Child ego-state as some kind of weakness, or I believe that Adult and Parent ego-states are superior forms of behaviour somehow; but I did seem to be blocking my consciousness from accessing the experiences. It wasn’t until looking at the properties of the various sub-aspects (such as the Rebellious, Adapted and Free Child ego-states) that I understood some of the more prominent behaviours that have applied to me in the past; in particular compliance and passivity. They were definitely learned in my childhood and then acted out repeatedly in my adult-hood. I don’t do it as much now, and this is not based on any particular recent event, but I have in the past been very passive in various aspects of my life, such as my compliant and one-sided dealings with other people, and my very lazy attitude towards my career, and staying in a comfortable, easy yet dead-end job for so long.
Where is this behaviour from? I believe this behaviour came from me not wanting to rock the boat when I was younger. Before my Dad left I was always wary of his volatile moods – he was often angry about the state of his marriage. Then after my dad left I was always wary of my Mum’s moods – she was often upset that my Dad had left. I never wanted to cause a fuss, but looking back now, this used to cause more problems than it would have if I had just been more assertive. I never wanted my Mum to have to worry about me, so I was passive and compliant until it no longer served me and I did an about-turn and went from Adapted to Rebellious. I used to skip lessons at school, for reasons that were beyond me even at the time; I just didn’t want to be at school and I would rather sit in a freezing cold park, alone. Even after lengthy introspection I still cannot fathom the reasons why I skipped so many lessons.
Why am I doing this? I did it because I didn’t want to cause a fuss. I didn’t want to be a burden. I wanted to hide, be invisible. I wanted to blend into the crowd, but at the same time I believed I was special and I deserved special treatment. I cannot put my finger on exactly why I switched to being Rebellious. I was angry about my Dad leaving, and felt I deserved to be treated better than everyone else, but I was not willing to put in the work, or more accurately, I didn’t believe I needed to put in any of the work; I expected everything I wanted to be dropped at my feet.
What are the consequences? The consequences were damaging for me as I grew older. I was externally compliant and passive, but on the inside I was irresponsible, naïve and contrary. This deep incongruence eventually came to a head and it was only during a pivotal life event I realised it was untenable. That was when I vowed to turn my life around.
Which ego-state am I engaging in? I was engaging in the Child ego-state, for far too long and in very damaging ways.
My Adult ego-state.
What is going on here? I am at work and helping an elderly customer with a product. She had a play with the display model of a food mixer at another store and couldn’t remove the clear plastic mixing bowl from the base unit, which she would need to do to clean it. I suggested it may have been glued on, as it was a display unit, and people would be touching it a lot, and some children could possibly remove it for a laugh. She didn’t want to take my word for it and asked me to open one of the sealed ones we had so I could show her how it comes off. I opened one of our boxed food mixers, the same model as was on display in the other shop, and proceeded to remove the mixing bowl from the base unit. She was very happy for the demonstration and bought the food mixer.
Where is this behaviour from? Remaining calm and being respectful towards people I believe was ingrained in me by my Mother from a young age. I have been patient for as long as I remember. And I like helping people.
Why am I doing this? It is good customer service to be of assistance. It was well within reason for me to open up a food mixer and show the lady how it works. If I had not opened it and showed her, she would not have considered buying the food mixer. I was patient with the lady and believed her that she had problems with the display model in the other store. I wanted to help her.
What are the consequences? The consequences are that she was happy with my demonstration and attitude, and she then bought the food mixer.
Which ego-state am I engaging in? I was engaging in the Adult ego-state throughout the interaction. I showed the lady respect, patience and kindness.