At the heart of TA is the notion that our personality is made up of three alter ego states. Berne (1961) called these ego states Parent, Adult and Child (PAC). These terms have specific definitions within this theory and care should be taken to avoid misinterpretation with the everyday terms of parent, adult and child. Each ego state is said to have different qualities and different patterns of behaviour and, to be a fully functioning person, we need to have access to all of our ego states.

The Parent ego state is said to develop in us as children via the messages (teaching) we receive. It contains a great deal of recorded material that plays back and directs our behaviour. It is everything that we were taught.

The Adult ego state can be described as the thinking part of the self. It stores facts and processes information generated from within ourselves and from the external environment. It is everything that is thought.

The Child ego state holds all of the feelings that we have experienced in our lives, from anxiety to anger, depression to despair, happiness and joy. It holds all our fun and laughter. It is everything that is felt.

This simple model of a personality can provide us with an incredibly powerful tool to analyse our own and others’ behaviour. You can spot which ego state someone is operating from, simply by the words that they use, their tone of voice and their gestures and behaviour. Analysing ego states is referred to as Structural Analysis and analysing transactions, i.e. those interactions that take place between people, is referred to as Transactional Analysis which we shall explore later. Let’s move on and give you an opportunity to see if you can spot ego state characteristics and determine which is which. The details that follow are by no means comprehensive but they do give you an idea of how to spot which ego state you are accessing either in your own head or observing in others.

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