“He needs to grow up!” “She is nagging me!” “She is acting like my mother!” “He is treating me like a child!”
Are some of these phases familiar in your relationship? If so, Transactional Analysis in relationships could shed a light on why they appear in adult relationships. Transactional analysis is a concept created by Eric Berne.
Transactional analysis describes the three different Ego states we can slip into while communicating with our partners. The ego states are Parent, Adult and Child.
No. 1 Parent Ego State – this is when you display behaviours, thoughts, or feelings that you copied from your parents or parent figures.
No. 2 Adult Ego State – thoughts, behaviours and feelings which are a direct response to the here and now.
No. 3 Child Ego State – behaviours, thoughts and feelings replayed from childhood.
Eric Berne says, “at any given moment each individual in a social aggregation will exhibit parental, adult or child ego state… individual can shift with varying degree of readiness from one ego state to another” (Berne, 1964, 23.)
For a couple arriving into a counselling session it can be beneficial to recognise what ego state you are in by asking yourself “am I acting out of the child, parent or the adult?” Ideally you would want two adults in the session as this is two people communicating about the here and now, however, this is not always easy, and I know this from my own experience.
I remember when a guy I was seeing was telling me something about what he felt in the relationship, and I had such an emotional reaction to it I knew I was acting from my 7-year-old child self. I could recognise it from my tone of voice, my behaviours and the thoughts that were running around in my head. I was now acting from a 7-year-old state. It can be so easy to slip into the ego within the family dynamic. Also, the ego states can be really apparent between adult children and their parents. For example, when I cross the threshold of my childhood home I move into the child state, ironically my dad meets me at the adult state, so I need to be extra aware to be in the adult sate with him.
I also know from experience in the counselling room men can feel like their partner has become their parent, telling them what to do etc. And that in turn then leads to them automatically slipping into the child state, this can lead to conflict in the relationship and phrases like “she is acting like my mother.” It needs to be said, however, it is the individual responsibility of each person to know what ego state they are in, and so, it might be worth becoming aware of when you are slipping into the child, parent, or adult state. Questions like “What age am I now?” or “Am I being a parent to him instead of his partner?” might be able to stimulate your self-awareness.
So, look back to the statements at the above. Can you say what ego state the person saying them is coming from?
The article is written by Emma, newly qualified and pre-accredited Counsellor at The DMC Clinic. If you would like to discuss how any of the topics mentioned above are impacting your mental health please contact The DMC Clinic to arrange an appointment.