We’ve all had that moment of ‘I sound just like my mum/ dad’. It’s that moment when we sound like we’ve got an internal copy of them stored inside us. In a way we have. It’s like we have cut and pasted our own versions of our parents into us. Welcome to your Parent Ego State. ‘Ego’ means ‘I’ so Ego State is a state of ‘I’.
So Parent Ego State is you experiencing yourself in ways that you copied from parents or parent figures in your past. When you copied your parents or parent/ authority figures you were a little person and so the copies you made were child-like.
For example, if you’ve ever seen a child tell off toys at a play tea-party they may sound like much stricter versions of their own parents. So child copies of parents can have that child perspective feel to them.
Our Parent Ego State may be a survival tool, so that if a child is separated from a parent they have an internalised one to keep them from harm. A sort of ‘this is the way to be a big person in the world’. Your Parent Ego State contains all the values, ideas, sayings, and models of behaviour of your parents, care-givers and any adults who had a impact on you as a child.
Use of the word ‘should’ is a good clue. You know when you sound just like your mother, father, or other significant care-giver and you find yourself thinking or saying ‘I should… [insert positive or negative parent messages from your past]’ Opinions stated as fact are often swallowed uncritically by little people held in their Parent Ego State. This is how prejudice can be passed down, opinions uncritically held as fact, like a child holding a comfort blanket.
This is also a theory that explains how people can replay Parent and Child conflicts, bullying themselves on the inside, and /or outside in the world of relationships with other people. If someone is in conflict with the values and beliefs held in their Parent Ego State and their own Adult values and beliefs, they might experience themselves being in a stuck place. And that’s when someone might think about coming into counselling.
Reference Eric Berne, the founder of Transactional Analysis, talks of Ego States [Berne, 1964].. Berne said an Ego State was ‘a consistent pattern of feeling and experience directly related to a corresponding consistent pattern of behaviour’.