These states can exist in relation to both other people and to ourselves.
Child ego state
When we are in our Free Child ego state this usually means that we are behaving independently of real or internal Parental pressures, usually when we are doing something that is for ourselves. We might be in our Free Child ego state when we are being creative, intimate, spontaneous, or reckless, selfish etc. As you can see some of these have more positive connotations and some negative. The best way to identify if one is positive or negative is to look at how appropriate/helpful it is to you and those around you. For example, if I drive recklessly for fun, but at the expense of others’ safety then I might be in negative Free Child, whereas if I paint a new picture for enjoyment or relaxation then I may be in positive Free Child.
When we are growing up we learn to adapt to the demands and pressures of others - in particular our parent figures. This may mean - for example - conforming to rules, being polite in social situations etc. These may be the more positive aspects of the Adaptive Child - aspects that we carry with us into adulthood.
We also learn to adapt to the more unconscious pressures of our parents. For example, it may be that our parents were happier when we put others’ needs before our own, or when we hid certain feelings - for example sadness or anger. As we grow into adults we may find that constantly pleasing others and adapting to others' needs mean that we get walked over or we feel angry. And if we learnt to hide certain feelings from others as a child this may mean that as adults we feel 'shut off' or depressed or lack assertiveness. Again, to see if an aspect is positive or negative ask yourself how helpful it is to yourself and your overall mental well being.
Parent Ego State
Aspects of the Nurturing Parent may be nurturing, caring, soothing etc. The positive elements of this may be more obvious but this can also be a negative, for example when we are smothering someone or rescuing them and therefore discounting their abilities.
When we are in Controlling Parent we may be doing things such as laying down rules, setting boundaries, enforcing guidelines etc. Positive aspects of these may be that we are keeping people safe or preventing chaos, or keeping ourselves on task. Negative aspects of the Controlling Parent may be when we are being critical, shouting, putting someone down or shaming them etc. For these reasons the negative Controlling Parent is sometimes called the Critical Parent. Many of you may recognise your own internal Critical Parent and have a critical dialogue in your head whereby you continually chastise yourself or beat yourself up for not being good enough - your Child in response may feel sad, angry, scared or depressed. Obviously the voice in this instance is not helpful - but this realisation alone and recognising its origins can sometimes be enough to help you to start diminishing this unhelpful voice.
It can be useful to draw your own ‘Egogram’ - a concept developed by Jack Dusay - to see where you may want to rebalance or redistribute your own psychic energy.
An Egogram is simply a way of illustrating how much of each ego state you identify with and recognise within yourself. The height of each bar above each part of the ego state reflects the amount of time we might spend in that state. The egogram below depicts a person who has a high level of Critical Parent and not too much Free Child. Therefore to rebalance, this person might want to develop their Nurturing Parent (for example by being kinder to themselves) and learn how to have more fun. The idea is that investing a certain amount of energy into one area takes it away from the corresponding opposite, so that the amount of energy remains constant. Try drawing your own egogram and work out if you would like to rebalance some of your own ego states.
Stewart, I. & Joines, V. (2012). TA Today. Lifespace Publishing