• Stephen Murphy

The Three Ego States

So what is Transactional Analysis. Part Two - The Ego States

This blog is a continuation relating to the three ego states in Transactional Analysis. Looking in more detail at what is the Parent, the Adult and the Child. I hope it goes a little way to distinguish one from the other and how they relate to aspects of what the therapist is referring to when they mention these during your session with them.

The Three Ego States


It is believed that when a person is in their Child ego state they are behaving, feeling and thinking in the way they did from birth up to seven years of age.

Childish behaviour is often looked down on in Western society but can be observed and displayed quiet freely at events such as sports. Here people openly use childlike expressions of love, anger, rage and delight in respect of their team and the opposition as they express themselves freely, without restraint.

When someone is in his or her Child ego state words become short and often delivered in a high-pitched voice. When seated they fidget, droop, slouch, they can laugh excessively or cry. These are all characteristics of the Child ego state.

There are negatives when the behaviour, thinking and feelings are out-dated and inappropriate to the situation you find yourself in as an adult. As a result you can encounter real problems that can lead to confusion and upset.

On the positive side the Child ego state is a part of the self that can be spontaneous, creative and joyous, this can be a real asset.


This ego state has been referred to as a data collecting aspect of the self that processes information and through analysis makes predictions and takes appropriate actions.

If I am behaving, thinking and feeling in response to what is happening around me, and in the here and now, processing that information and taking actions that are in direct response to these as an adult, I am said to be in Adult.

The Adult ego state is rational and without emotion.


Put simply when I am in my Parent ego state I am said to be copying or imitating thoughts, feeling and behaviours that relate directly to my parents, parent figures or significant others.

These responses are not modified but taken whole and you often hear people say, “O my god I sound just like” or “you sound just like mum, dad Mr or Mrs so and so.”

The Parent response can often reflect traditions and values and in this respect it can be connected to ideas that relate to survival, the function of a society or civilisation.

The Parent responses can change throughout time as we grow and our situations change such as becoming a parent, when there is greater demand for parental behaviour. It mostly relates to nurture and protection but of course that all depends upon the actions, the thoughts and behaviour of those it reflexes.

So OK how does it all apply to what happens during therapy?

During the therapeutic process I will often ask you to consider what you have said and reflect on what that means to you. Take for example the phrase “dammed if I do and dammed if I don’t”. This is clearly a Parent type message you have carried over and the thought that you can do nothing right is the message that underpins it.

By examining this and its origins we can begin to explore the stuck place it puts you in and the belief behind the message.

Then we can work on how we can go about changing this attitude and ways of thinking, feeling, and the behaviour that accompanies it.

Don’t forget that Parent messages are often extremely helpful and have kept us safe and will continue to do so.

My next blog will be looking at what is meant by the term Script in Transactional Analysis.