"He that studies only men, will get the body of knowledge without the soul; and he that studies only books, the soul without the body. He that to what he sees, adds calm observation, and to what he reads, reflection, is on the right road to knowledge, provided that in scrutinizing the hearts of others, he first concentrates on his own." Charles Colton "The pursuit of the Inner Child has taken over at a time when most people need to be figuring out how to use their Inner Adult." Robert Hughes 5. TOOLS FOR SORTING IT OUT When sailing, up-to-date equipment can make our voyage easier and more likely to succeed. Similarly, we can use concepts from contemporary psychology as tools to assist us in living better. In 1951 Dr. Wilder Penfield, a neurosurgeon, made an amazing discovery while using local anesthesia on a patient who was awake (Penfield, 1952). When he touched certain areas of the patient's brain with a probe, he elicited in the patient mental replays of childhood experiences. These replays of supposedly forgotten experiences from long ago even included the feelings that accompanied the experiences. The replays of sad experiences made the patient feel like crying and replays of happy ones made him feel like smiling or laughing. This discovery of childhood experiences and feelings that are stored deep within people, available for replay when stimulated, later led the pioneering psychiatrist Dr. Eric Berne (1964) to develop the concept of the ego states. He knew that in each person there is an extensive storage of mental experiences and data, along with the associated feelings and a collection of mental and physical response patterns. Berne then determined that these aspects formed to produce three distinct states of being in a person, which he called the ego states of the Child, Adult, and Parent. In addition, he realized that what makes up these ego states is stored like huge libraries of tape recordings, ready to be played back not only when the brain is touched by a surgeon's probe, but also when stimulated by our current environment. When something in our environment causes one of these tapes to play, Berne called this "pushing our buttons." Unlike tape recordings, though, these mental tapes are permanent and unerasable, and are stored in our ego states. Because the last tapes to be recorded are of our Adult, from the beginning our Child and Parent tapes overshadow them. Therefore the Child and Parent tapes often prevail over Adult tapes, even when an Adult tape might be more appropriate. Often we may know how we should live, but despite this knowledge, we keep living the same old way--because the desire to change by itself is not enough to overcome the playing of our old, inappropriate tapes. Our Child and Parent tapes are always present and are played involuntarily, so more is required in order to make real changes from our old routines. Although these mental recordings aren't erasable, there is an important positive aspect to how they work: we can create new, more appropriate and beneficial tapes to add to our supply, and these new tapes can then be substituted for undesirable tapes. When we use such new tapes in place of
unhelpful old ones, we take greater control of our
lives by responding in more productive ways. Also,
doing this will in turn create more desirable
feelings within ourselves, because when we improve
the thoughts and actions we respond with, we will
also improve our feelings.
The three ego states exist inside us
simultaneously, but only one is dominant at a time.
While it's easy to view one of the ego states as
being superior to the others (and in different
situations one of them usually is more appropriate),
we need to use all three in a healthy balance that
promotes a well-rounded wholeness. The excessive
repression of any one ego state will create an
imbalance, as if some aspect of oneself is missing,
that can lead to disharmony. It is necessary for us
to learn to use all three ego states to our
advantage, because each has a valuable part in making
us happy and whole.

The Child exists as a permanent recording of our
inner experiences which were responses to external
circumstances in childhood. This is a mixture of
perceptions, thoughts, feelings, and urges we
experienced as children, which can return at any time
just as they were when we were children. The Child
ego state is valuable because in it are such positive
and constructive qualities as curiosity, creativity,
and feelings of joy and happiness. But also rooted in
the Child are negative feelings such as anger, fear,
and sadness, along with such manipulative or
self-centered behaviors as excessive compliance,
useless complaining, and pointless rebellion.
Another Child trait that causes many problems is
impulsiveness; in limited amounts it can add
considerably to our lives, but when not controlled
sufficiently it can quickly cause much difficulty.
Our Child is a valuable part of us that needs to
be directed and managed so we can function
effectively. Though we may often know how we should
live, we can suddenly have our Child pop up and take
control with its old tapes of recurring thoughts and
feelings which cause us to act in conflict with what
we know and really desire. Having this happen is like
being possessed by something inside us that we don't
understand and can't control. We can easily remain at
the mercy of this ego state unless we learn to
substitute more appropriate tapes to take the place
of its outdated tapes.
For Child tapes to suddenly replay doesn't
require that we remember or be aware of them--the
Child just needs to have its "buttons pushed" by some
external situation. If we want to change how we
respond to these situations, then we need to be aware
of our inappropriate Child tapes and what "pushes our
buttons" for them to play. Once we recognize these
old tapes and what triggers them to replay, we need
to create new tapes to use in place of the old ones.
A new tape is a new mental and physical response
we consciously create (in the Adult ego state) from
updated and more sound information. In this response
are the new thoughts and ways of thinking, as well as
ways of behaving, that we prefer and have decided to
use. When we recognize either something that "pushes
our buttons" or the playing of an old undesirable
tape, we need to use the new tape, consisting of our
new response, to override the old one.
Being aware of when our Child tapes are playing,
as well as what causes them to play, is essential to
this process of substitution. One way to determine if
we are in the Child ego state is to ask ourselves
what feelings occur repeatedly in our lives. If we
can trace such feelings to as far back as we can
remember, then when we are having them is probably
when we are in our Child state. These old, recurring
feelings are part of our Child tapes, and we can
learn more about these tapes by identifying what
thoughts usually accompany the old feelings (these
thoughts are another part of our Child tapes). This
method of introspection can help us recognize our
Child state and its tapes, which then gives us more
power to evaluate and choose what is appropriate.
We can also enhance our lives by promoting
the Child's creativity and joyfulness. To do this we
need to become more aware of these qualities when
they begin to appear in us, as well as how they have
been hindered by family and cultural influences.
During childhood most of us are told not to act
with such abandon and joy, and unconventional
thinking is often discouraged. Such prohibitions
become Parent tapes that stifle our spontaneity and
joy, and steer us away from creative thinking; these
inclinations are then carried with us into adulthood.
As a result our creative, spontaneous, and joyful
aspects are inhibited. When we recognize outdated
prohibitions interfering with our Child's beneficial
aspects, we need to leave these prohibitions behind
by putting in their place new tapes that encourage
the positive aspects of our Child.

This ego state contains the unedited recordings
of our parent figures' behaviors, judgements, and
rules; when these tapes play, we are imitating our
parent figures. These recordings include all the do
and don't messages, must and should messages, and
methods of dealing with problems that we picked up in
childhood from parent and authority figures. It's
very significant that our Parent tapes also contain
the inconsistencies and flaws of such authority
figures. Like the Child's recordings, the Parent's
recordings are permanent and always available for
The Parent, as with the other ego states,
has positive and negative aspects. In the Parent is
the basis for the fundamental morals and nurturing
qualities that form the backbone of healthy families
and societies. However, the Parent can also be overly
critical and controlling, hampering our ability to
grow and experience happiness, as well as causing us
to be too critical and dominating towards others.
As with our Child tapes, being aware of when our
Parent tapes are playing is essential. A way to
determine when we are acting from our Parent ego
state and its tapes is to list all the things we
liked and disliked about our childhood parent
figures. Especially important to list is how they
treated themselves and others, and how they dealt
with problems. The things on the list that we can
also see in ourselves--the positive and the
negative--are traits of our Parent tapes. When we
express such traits, we are probably in the Parent
ego state.
Once we learn to recognize when we are in the
Parent state and exhibiting any of its old tapes, we
can evaluate if these tapes are the best response for
a situation. We may need to substitute a new, updated
tape that alters the amount of criticism, nurturing,
or controlling we exhibit towards ourselves and
When the Parent ego state is too dominant and
prevents the Adult and Child from playing their
appropriate functions, people experience the feeling
of being locked in rigid and narrow roles. These
people actually are locked within such roles, but to
get out of them they must realize that the roles are
based on their own preconceptions that originated in
childhood. Once they recognize these self-limiting
preconceptions (from old tapes), they can break away
from them and create new tapes that support their
real capabilities and options.

This ego state is the most objective, and
consequently the least emotional and moralistic part
of us. Its function is information gathering and
processing, and in this capacity it makes rational
decisions based on factual information from the
world. An important and frequently under-used role of
the Adult is in evaluating our Child and Parent
tapes, and deciding if these are still appropriate or
if they should be replaced by new tapes. Although the
Adult is without passionate convictions and doesn't
have the creativity or empathy that is needed in some
aspects of life, it's essential for reasoning and
decision making.
The Adult is also the part of us that examines
old decisions and beliefs about ourselves and the
world, and then forms new ones when the old ones are
outdated. These new decisions and beliefs become part
of the new tapes that we use to substitute for the
old tapes we no longer desire.
Like the other ego states, the adult needs
to be used in a healthy balance. If our Adult is too
dominant it can excessively suppress the Child and
Parent ego states, causing problems in relating to
people on an emotional and nurturing level (making us
appear cold and without empathy, like Mr. Spock in
Star Trek). In addition, if our Adult is too strong
it can create a disabling indecisiveness caused by
the continual evaluation of information without ever
reaching a conclusion.
If the Adult is not used adequately, old
thoughts, feelings, and behaviors will recur with
little restraint, and we are likely to feel
controlled by them. When this happens there is also a
danger of becoming stuck in outdated beliefs and ways
of thinking and acting that inhibit our development.

Usually the Child and Parent ego states are
formed mainly in the first five years of life, and
the Adult gradually begins to develop after the first
year. Because of the early formation of these ego
states, they become blended together and the
resulting composite makes it difficult to distinguish
the ego states that frequently underlie our actions.
Most people have had the experience of feeling as
though they are a combination of different
personalities, and that sometimes one of these
personalities will suddenly seem to take over. This
experience is actually a manifestation of the ability
of a different ego state to suddenly become dominant
when its "buttons are pushed."
In Britain, psychotherapy is sometimes
called "sorting it out," referring to the process in
which people become aware of their different aspects
and learn to use them more effectively. This process
is comparable to becoming aware of our Child, Parent,
and Adult ego states, and then regulating and using
them more appropriately. However, the concept and
terminology of these ego states establishes clear,
distinguishing features that we can use as powerful
"tools" in identifying and working with our different
aspects. These "tools" will also enable us to better
understand and deal productively with other people.

Three widespread conditions to being human that
interfere with being happy and developing our
potential are self-doubt, self-condemnation, and
guilt. In terms of the ego states these conditions
are considered to be when a person's Parent ego state
is bullying the person with the critical, restrictive
put-downs and limitations of "can not," "should not,"
and "should of" statements. Because such statements
are learned during childhood, they become so ingrained
in our thinking that they seem like a natural part of us
which involuntarily plays as tapes from our Parent.
Sometimes these statements can prevent us from
doing things that would be detrimental. Examples are
found in the teaching of morals and the ways of
protecting oneself from harm. But many times the
statements in our Parent tapes are inaccurate and
unnecessarily limiting, and when such tapes
spontaneously play they incapacitate our Adult while
our Child suffers from needless remorse, anxiety, and
sometimes depression. A broad example is when we are
told in childhood that we couldn't or shouldn't do
something, but this is based on flawed information or

Yet we can counter our self-critical Parent
statements and their negative effects. First we need
to be aware of when such tapes play and how they
effect us. Then we can create new Adult tapes to put
in place of the unwanted Parent tapes. These new
tapes are made from more realistic, up-to-date
beliefs and thoughts that affirm our ability to be
rational along with our right to be free of unhelpful
self-criticism and useless negative feelings. Then
when we notice a critical, self-defeating Parent tape
playing, we can substitute the new Adult tape. By
doing so we reduce the unhelpful interference from
our Parent, while freeing our Child and Adult to
contribute their positive aspects.

Which ego state we are in has a significant
bearing on the effectiveness of our communication.
Sometimes when two people are talking to each other,
it may seem as if there's some invisible barrier
preventing them from achieving a productive
understanding. This problem often occurs because one
or both of them is not in the Adult ego state, which
is important for effective two-way communication of
rational thoughts. If a person is trying to
communicate factual information, the communication
will probably fall short if either he or she, or the
recipient is too contaminated by rigid Parent
dictates or unhelpful Child feelings.
Efforts to get across rational information in a
mutually agreeable manner are more difficult, and
often futile, if one party's ability to handle
information rationally is being contaminated by the
Child or Parent ego state. Trying to continue the
communication frequently just makes the situation
worse; moving another person into the Adult state is
difficult and stressful, and attempts at coercion
usually produce more resistance.
If we are in the rational, dispassionate Adult
ego state and discover that who we are talking to is
not, it's usually better to wait for a better time to
talk. If we have little alternative but to continue
the conversation, then it becomes imperative that we
talk to the person in such a way that promotes the
emergence of his or her Adult state. This is best
done by maintaining ourselves in the Adult state and
remaining uncontaminated by the emotions and flawed
judgements of our own Child and Parent.
Usually though, if possible it's better to wait
and attempt the communication when the other person
is more likely to be in the Adult ego state. Once a
person's rationality is hampered by the Child or
Parent ego state, reasoning isn't very effective in
producing positive change. Furthermore, it's very
easy for us to unconsciously become contaminated by
our own Child or Parent. To remain in the Adult state
while trying to communicate with someone who isn't
requires tremendous awareness and discipline. In my
personal life I have attempted to do this many times,
and it often has resulted in a negative outcome.

A simple but valuable process can help us
use the concept of ego states. Though similar to the
Eastern concept of mindfulness, this process is more
self-focused; I call it "detached personal
observation." In this process we enlarge our
perception of what is going on with ourselves by
taking the time to observe ourselves--we interrupt
our thinking and mentally step back to look at
ourselves as if we are objectively examining another
person. Then while doing this we try to identify what
we are thinking and feeling. By observing our body
language and becoming aware of our thoughts and
emotions, we can try to determine which ego state we
are in and what tapes are playing.
Using this process can be difficult at
first, but the more we practice it the easier it will
become. A tendency is to use detached observation to
reflect on past situations. While doing so will give
us a better understanding of what has happened, using
this process on past situations does little to change
what we are doing now.
The real power in detached personal observation
emerges when we use it at the same time that one of
the ego states is causing a problem. If we are
feeling angry or depressed, or acting excessively
nurturing, authoritarian, or childlike, then using
this process immediately helps to put us into our
Adult ego state. This in turn enhances our ability to
implement updated tapes consisting of sounder
thoughts and more appropriate actions. The process
can seem almost magical in the transformation it
produces; by observing ourselves, we spontaneously
become the more objective and rational Adult.
The effect of this process is even substantiated
in quantum physics, in which Heisberg's Uncertainty
Principle affirms that when we become an observer, we
change what we observe. Accordingly, we automatically
change ourselves through the process of
self-observation. The logic behind this correlation
is quite sensible: in changing from being unaware of
our automatic programming (old tapes) to being an
observer of it, we spontaneously alter our
programming and gain greater control in choosing our
thoughts and actions (new tapes). Doing this will
also change how we feel, because changing our
programming invariably changes our thoughts and
actions, which then affects our feelings.
But there can also be problems from being in the
Adult ego state too much: we can become bogged down
in excessive reasoning that isolates us from more
fully experiencing what we are thinking about. In
addition, excessive use of the Adult can cause us to
miss out on the benefits of the other ego states. If
such problems occur, we need to deliberately search
for and use the positive aspects of our Child and
Parent. The Parent can be used to limit how long we
evaluate a situation, and the Child can be drawn upon
to discover joy and contentment. However, because of
the reasoning power of the Adult, for people to do
this by themselves is difficult--a person's thinking
can create the trap of trying to reason one's way out
of reasoning. Zen Buddhist monks sometimes overcome
this problem, but even they have teachers to guide
Yet regardless of our situation, by creating a
new tape consisting of "detached personal
observation" we can build the underlying foundation
for adding other new tapes and making our lives
happier and more fulfilled. As with developing other
abilities, after understanding the fundamentals we
can increase our ability to use this process through
regular practice. And as we increase our
understanding and our ability to "sort it out," the
rewards will grow.

Questions we can ask ourselves:

1. When am I in each of the three ego states? How
does being in each of them create problems for
me? When does being in each of them enrich my

2. What new tapes (consciously chosen, updated
responses) would I like to create as substitutes
for outdated and inappropriate tapes from my
past? How can I envision an old tape popping
up and then substituting a new one? How do I
envision encountering something that "pushes
my buttons" and then using my new tape before
an old one plays?

3. How can I use detached personal observation to
expand my awareness and gain self-control? When
might my old deep fears and hurts (Child tapes),
or old rules and judgements (Parent tapes)
interrupt using detached personal observation?

4. What aspects of the Child, Parent, and Adult
would I like to encourage and benefit from?
What things could I do to promote the
development of these aspects?

Copyright 2001 by Keith L. Kendrick
E-mail: awaken@teleport.com
Url: :http://www.inner-growth.com