The following ideas, concepts, perceptions and observations that underpin Intra-actional Analysis are derived from over forty-four years of work as a psychologist, following on from many years of studying psychology and philosophy as both a science and an art. It has become apparent to me over the years and thousands of consultations, that the journey to understanding and self realization is essentially a journey within, and the only way to fully understand and appreciate relationships, and to make modifications to develop and enhance these relationships, is to explore and gain insight into the relationships within, and more specifically, the nature of the ego states, and the relationships between these ego states.
Intra-actional Analysis proposes that the outer world is a reflection of our inner world, and that any desired changes in the outer world such as, relationship changes, for example, will not sustain unless the changes occur within the inner world first.
I’ve labelled the exploration, identification, analysis and understanding of these inner relationships, Intra-actional Analysis, a model which, of course, has been strongly influenced by Eric Berne’s Transactional Analysis model and Freudian psychodynamics. However, while the Transactional Analysis model is focused upon interactions between others in the outer world, Intra-actional Analysis is exclusively focused upon the nature of, and interactions between, the ego states within each individual, and in this way then, how the individual relates to others in their lives is directly related to the dynamics of the inner relationships between the ego states.
The Intra-actional Analysis model proposes that there are three primary ego states comprising the Ego State System (ESS) including the Parent Ego State (PES), Adult Ego State (AES) and the Child Ego State (CES).
The Parent Ego State (PES) has been developed formed and moulded by the myriad of interactions with parents and significant others within the person’s early years, and commencing from the embryonic stage. Basically, the individual forms opinions and perceptions about themselves, others and the world around them, through these interactions, and forms the Core Belief System (CBS), which is a collection of beliefs relating primarily to the individual’s love, value and recognition status. In relation to the formation of the Parent Ego State, these interactions develop your capacity to nurture yourself, and, in turn, nurture others, and or, your capacity to control and judge yourself, and, in turn, others, and the world around you. If the emerging individual is treated with contempt the individual will develop a core belief that they are in fact contemptuous – if they are treated without love, and with coldness and aloofness, they will develop a core belief, as part of their overall core belief system, that they are unlovable. It is interesting in the context of counselling that if a person says that they felt unloved as a child – they certainly feel this as a sadness, but they invariably conclude, as a consequence of the operation of the Adult Ego State that they are, in fact, unlovable. The feeling of being unlovable is always deeply embedded in the sufferer’s psyche, it is never a surface concern.
Functionally, the Parent Ego State is subdivided into the Controlling Parent and the Nurturing Parent. Nurturing Parent represents more affirming and more pleasant qualities of what parents and society do for a person. Controlling Parent behaviours generally represent the corrective behaviours of real parents and the prohibitive messages of society. Positive aspects of CP and NP are reflected in the individual’s ability to determine right from wrong and to make good ethical decisions. It can certainly be the case, however, that negative aspects of both CP and NP can affect psychological health where individual’s replay and relive the messages from childhood that are either negative, or, overly protective.
In these interactions, the parent, or significant other, is actually forming the Parent Ego State within the individual, and depending upon the nature of the interactions, whether nurturing or controlling, primarily, then this will represent the default Parent Ego State within the individual.
I asked a client recently, “What were you like as a child” – she said that she must have been a “naughty child”. I replied, “How do you know that”, and she responded, “because my father used to hit me all the time”. This is an example of how this lady was taught that she was “naughty” and that her self perception, in relation to that stage of her life, and the current stages of her life is that she is inherently naughty. This example illustrates that the way we react and behave towards our children actually teaches them self belief and self perception, which then becomes part of their core belief about themselves.
There is no doubt that this form of teaching takes place at a very early time, and, in fact, the teaching begins initially during the conception and pregnancy period when the developing foetus is bathed in a chemical composition, which is either low in stress related hormones, medium, or, high in stress related hormones, and this, in turn, develops the emerging child’s psychological and emotional stance on the world it is about to enter.
If the physical and emotional environment is stressful, for example, then the child has to “hit the ground running”, in that the child will be more hypervigilant and hyper-reactive because this psycho-physiological status is very important to survival. The child will continue to develop with higher degrees of hypervigilance and reactivity which may well place stress upon the inner and external relationships into the future. On the other hand, if the chemical environment is relatively placid, then this will not be the case and the child is prepared to be born into love and with the awareness that it will be cared for and protected, and so there is no physiological need to ramp up the inner defences.
In relation to the “naughty child” client, the issue is that as well as the behaviour towards her developing a “naughty” aspect of her Child, she will also inherit a punitive Controlling Parent aspect as well, which will ensure that long after her persecutor has left her life she will be carrying on the inner punishment, and the inner punishment will not necessarily be based upon actual behaviour at all, but it will be based upon a deep inherent perception that she is “naughty” and bad, regardless of her behaviour, and that is why this inner perception is so difficult to change. Her default position is that she is “bad” and to change this perception means to challenge the perpetrator of this perception – her father- and this, for her, was a terrifying prospect.
If the individual is raised by parents and significant others in a primarily controlling way, then the individual, by default, will relate to their own inner child in a similar way. The language of the Controlling Parent Ego State (CP) consists of “shoulds, “musts” and “ought tos” – and the language and actions tend to boundarize the behaviour of the Child through guilt and dominance, which may, subsequently, give rise to anxiety and depression in the Child ego state, because the reality is that the world doesn’t actually work like these controlling parents taught – the world and interactions are essentially unregulated and random, and even if the best planning is carried out, something can still occur unexpectedly.
Individuals with primary Controlling Parent ego states can always be identified by the number of times they use “should”, “must” and “ought to” in their general language, and also, of course, by rigidity and general authoritarianism. They use this same language to bear down on their inner Child in a similar fashion to how their parents and significant others treated them, and so they can be angry and resentful, but also highly anxious and depressed at times, because, in reality, their apparent “strength” is actually an overcompensation and a defence mechanism against the fluidity and randomness of the world around them.
If, on the other hand, the individual was raised in a principally nurturing, approving and affirmative environment, and experienced interactions characterized by these aspects, then the individual will develop a Nurturing Parent as a default ego state, and will tend to treat their inner Child, and indeed others outside their system, as a consequence, with warmth, acceptance and general positivity. The NPs inner language to the Child is characterized by “preference” and generally positive and affirming statements. The NP pairs with the Adult Ego State to provide the individual with a stream of positive and rational thinking about themselves, and about others, and the world around them, which provides the resilience to cope with stress and conflict without decompensation.
The Adult Ego State also pairs with the CP as well, because if the Child Ego State is feeling and expressing anger and resentment as a consequence of the inner barrage from the CP, then the anger and resentment can be projected out, and they will receive anger and resentment in return from the Child Ego State in others as a consequence of their behaviour, which will be processed in the Adult Ego State as confirming that the world really is a very angry place and the individual should not trust others because they will be betrayed.
The truth is that the inner Child of the individual with primary CP doesn’t trust the CP ego state, and doesn’t really love the CP ego state at all, and so this is then projected out to the outer world. It is important to note that all states and conditions are a blend and within the Intra-actional Analysis System, Primary and Secondary ego states are recognised. In this way then, an individual may have a Primary CP with a Secondary NP, and so while their default position is CP, they have a capacity, through the degree of NP that they possess, to provide a degree of nurturing to themselves, which is, in turn, provided to others, and so it can be the case that this is sufficient to maintain relationships and to compensate to the changes in the inner and outer worlds.
However, it may be the case that under duress the degree of Secondary NP may not be sufficient to hold the system together and decompensation may occur. In relation to counselling, this stage of decompensation is seen to be an excellent opportunity to talk to the bewildered Child free of the CP influence, in order to provide validation and affirmation, and, in effect, strengthen the NP and free up the Adult. Typically, the individual tends to be highly resistant to change, because the person desires to return to the created construct of themselves, which was initially provided by the significant others.
As in most situations, the ideal state is a balanced state, and as will be seen in relation to the Free Child and Adapted Child ego states within the Child, the ideal situation is a balance between the Nurturing and the Controlling Parent. In this regard then, the Nurturing Parent ego state is loving unconditionally in relation to the individual themselves, whereas, the Controlling Parent ego state can be focussed upon the behaviour of the individual and placing boundaries upon the behaviour in relation to the safety and well being of the individual within the personal and social context. However, if the Adapted Child ego state within the individual leaks into the CP ego state then the boundaries may well be applied in a harsh, angry, unjust and punitive fashion characterised by guilt and dominance. In this case it appears that the boundary setter is acting through the CP, but, in fact, it is the Adapted Child ego state that is dominant at the time.
There is no doubt that, ideally, love and nurturing requires boundaries and reality checks for the safety and well being of the individual and society at large, and it can be considered that dealing with the individual exclusively through NP can be damaging in that it can lead to an over abundance of energy in the Free Child Ego State, which could be reflected, in its extreme form, as narcissistic and sociopathic behaviours.
Intra-actional Analysis considers the Adult Ego State (AES) as like the computer hard drive, by definition, rational and without emotion. The Adult Ego State is concerned with rationally processing information within the context of all the information, or life experience, accumulated and stored to that point. When the information process steers into judgement, for example, then the Controlling Parent Ego State has become dominant in the Ego State System, and when the processing begins to become distorted by emotion, then the Child Ego State has become dominant, and in both cases, decisionmaking can become compromised as a result. Many of the day-to-day requirements of daily living are processed through the Adult Ego State. Aspergers, in particular, is a good example of the Adult dominated Ego State System. People with the Adult domination have difficulty understanding human relationships, nuances, expressions and tend to process all the information is a highly literal way. They have difficulty understanding humour and in unifying the environment around them, therefore, they will become preoccupied with bits and pieces of whole objects, and in this way, they will become over absorbed in obtuse information and areas of thought. They do not see the world around them as seamless. In an overall sense then, the Adult Ego State is “principally concerned with transforming stimuli into pieces of information and processing and filing that information on the basis of previous experience.” (Berne, 1961). It is quite similar to a data-processing computer. From the earliest recorded “tapes” of an introjected parent, the Adult calculates what action must be taken on the basis of that information. The Adult Ego State is constantly updating its own processing and storage guidelines. Eventually, the Adult Ego State (the central core computer of the personality) is able to integrate all three ego states with reality.
The Child Ego State (CES) is the first state to develop, and is similar to the Freudian concept of Id, operating on the pleasure principle, unconscious, aimed at gratification and fulfillment of needs. Child is about expressing feelings and being intuitive. Child is typified by “I” statements, “I want”, “I need” etc. The Child Ego State is a function of impulses and desires to find pleasure and be happy, and the Child Ego State in association with the Adult Ego State accumulates information to form the Core Belief System, which provides constructed meaning and purpose for the individual. This ego state stores information about the individual’s lovability, value and recognition, which, in turn, contributes to the varying degrees of energy stored in either the Free Child or Adapted Child. If the individual was starved of information about love, value and recognition capacities, then the Adapted Child Ego State will be strengthened in a mission to gain this positive input, and in all likelihood, the energy in the Free Child State will diminish because of the risk of rejection.
Functionally, the Child Ego State is comprised of two aspects, the Free Child that is spontaneous, intuitive, creative, pleasure seeking, and the Adapted Child that is compliant and conforms to wishes and demands of others, particularly parents. The Child Ego State is the seat of all of our emotions, and this aspect of our personality harbours all the happiness,, fears, anxiety, delight, contentment, anger, frustration, upset, and depending upon our earlier experiences at the hands of the significant others in our lives, the Child Ego State will try to please and comply with others in order to be loved and approved of, and this is particularly the case if the Nurturing Parent ego state is not fully operative. In this way, the Child will look towards others outside the personality system to fulfill that role, and love, nurture and accept them. In this way then, there will be a perceived need to comply and keep the surrogate Nurturing Parent happy and approving. There will be a tendency, therefore, to repress the Free Child because of fear of rejection. It is the case, however, that even the Adapted Child will exhibit some Free Child because this may be considered “cute” behaviour, and desired, but it is important not to overstretch the surrogate Nurturing Parent, so there will be only glimpses permitted of the Free Child.
The Free Child Ego State represents a playful and spontaneous part of human behaviour across the age span, and it can be appreciated that the young child may gain enjoyment and interest from arranging sea shells, whereas, the adult may find enjoyment from playing ball games, and so, whether the individual is five or fifty years of age they can behave in joyous and playful ways which is the expression of the Free Child. The Primary Free Child ego state is usually characterised by brighter colours, spontaneity, impulsivity, disinhibition, joking, pranks, tricks and a very strong identification and expression of emotions and feelings about the world around them and others in the world around them.
The Adapted Child Ego State is the expression of behaviour focused upon receiving the love, value and recognition which has been denied them earlier, or was in short supply. The behaviour. therefore, has a degree of negativity, resistance, reaction and hostility, and a disobedient child and a rebellious teenager or adult, may be considered to be expressing in the Adapted Child Ego State. The Primary Adapted Child is basically projecting “I will fit in to gain love and approval”.
It is very healthy to be naturally playful, and to sometimes be strongly adapted to the life or situational circumstances. Excessive indulgences in either, or both, can be a problem. If a person is too playful on the job he can get fired. If people are too adapted, such as being inappropriately defiant, withdrawn, unhappy, rebellious or resistant then this is also a difficulty.
So, in an overall sense then, it can be appreciated that while Transactional Analysis is focused upon identification and modification of the various games placed between individual groups and families, Intra-actional Analysis is exclusively concerned with the relationships within and the inner games played by the individual within themselves.
In summary then, within the personality there are three primary ego states, Parent Adult and Child. In relation to the Parent ego state there exists two aspects, namely Nurturing Parent and Controlling Parent. These Parent states are inherited directly from significant others in our lives, primarily from our own parents, and various authority figures in our lives. Basically, if we were subjected to nurturing, loving, accepting and non-judgmental parent figures then our inner Parent ego state will be more strongly Nurturing, which will allow us to self sooth, and recover from various emotional crises more quickly, because our default Parent position will not tend to blame and punish us for perceived indiscretions. If, however, on the other hand, we have a Controlling Parent ego state as the default state, then we will hear a lot of “should “must” and “ought tos” in our internal language, and basically, our behaviour will be driven by guilt, and we will typically harbour a negative view of our behaviours in general. The attitude towards us by the Controlling Parent tends to be love by condition only, and so we will be driven to adopt the position that we are what we do, whereas the Nurturing Parent provides us with unconditional love, and so we are loved because we are.
In relation to general life, the situation is that everybody exhibits a Primary ego state aspect of their personality, however, consider that the voluntary community worker may well give the appearance of Primary Nurturing Parent, for example, although it may be the case that it is, in reality, Adapted Child seeking love and acceptance from others out of a need to be needed. Frequently, these individuals tend to burn out because the primary focus is the care and support of others, rather than care and support of themselves first. The community work does provide their Child with a degree of nurturing, but nowhere near as strong as if they provided nurturing directly to themselves. However, the difficulty is that they can’t provide this, because they don’t feel that they deserve it themselves, or that it is selfish to think of themselves first. So, burn out and compassion fatigue can develop and then, these individuals can’t care for others, so they go into depression, and or, anxiety states.
The Primary Adult Ego State is well reflected in Autistic Spectrum Disorder (Aspergers), and typically, these individuals are non-emotive, highly literal and pragmatic, and tend to have “brains like computers”. In this regard, the Adult ego state is separated from the Child and Parent ego states, and basically, their behaviour is uninformed by the emotion of the Child, and also, uninformed by the Parent ego state. The information appears to indicate that there exists an Acquired Aspergers/Primary Adult ego state (attachment disorder), and a genetically based Aspergers/Primary Adult ego state. The genetic state is not necessarily influenced by environmental factors, while the acquired state is influenced by the dynamics of the growth environment. The acquired state can arise as a result of a defence mechanism against the emotionality of the environment such as, excessively emotional parenting, for example, and the individual will internalize and deny emotions, to the point where they will become “emotionless”. These individuals can operate at optimum levels in a crisis and are considered “calm in a crisis”. In this respect then, these individuals typically learn to repress and internalize Child at a very early stage in their development, and so emerge as Primary Adults with a secondary Parent, usually Controlling Parent.
The other point to remember is that the average within a family unit, or social grouping, is definitionally a constant, so that if someone loses weight, another will gain, so that the mean remains the same. The same thing happens with emotion in that if some members of the family are highly reactive and emotional (Primary Child) in their response to the world around them, others will be very non-emotional so that a balance is maintained. In counselling, this can be seen very often with the highly emotional partner, and the other partner remaining stoic and non-emotional, which, in turn, causes the emotional partner to become even more emotional, and then the other partner reacts to this by becoming even more non-emotional and withdrawn, which further exacerbates the entire situation. In that example then, the emotional partner was defaulting into the Child ego state (Adapted) and seeking approval, nurturing and recognition, however, the other partner, instead of going to Nurturing Parent, goes to a blend of Controlling Parent and Adult. In this state then, the partner tells themselves that their partner shouldn’t be acting in this way and then this is usually accompanied by an Adult statement such as, “if I put emotion into this situation there will be even more emotion present”. Their Child usually responds in this situation with “if I give her/him emotion, there will be even less emotion for me”.
Considering the ego states through personality disorders can be informative in that if one reviews the various signs and symptoms of personality disorder, it will become evident that many of the signs and symptoms are reflective of every day human behaviour, and could be considered normal personality attributes. However, the key to understanding personality disorders is that these normal human attributes are grossly exaggerated and amplified, and the clustering of personality signs and symptoms can be considered a disorder if the person is significantly impacted across the various activities of living including, occupationally, and in terms of relationships. Cluster B personality characteristics are basically excessive emotion, and would be considered a direct reflection of the Child ego state, unmanaged by either the Parent, or, the Adult ego state, and in this way then, disorders such as, Borderline, Histrionic and Narcissistic, for example, can be seen as a direct reflection of the Child including, the spontaneity and the fantasies. Cluster C personality characteristics such as, in dependent and avoidant personalities, are, again, a direct reflection of the Child ego state, uninformed and regulated by the management and rationality of the Parent and Adult.
The fact is that we are born into the world alone within our personal system, and we only ever have a preference that others will love, care for, and nurture us, and not abuse us. The compelling fact is that we have no control, whatsoever, about how others treat us and relate to us and this is why the inner relationships are so important. We all have a preference though, and usually that preference is that others will treat us in a favourable way, but the reality is that we have no control over that. When this fact is considered, how do we then emotionally grow and develop if we have no control over this process? We can become highly compliant with others, as in Adapted Child, and hope that this will win approval and keep us included in the pack, but this, of course, is not really sustainable, and does not allow for personal growth, and to become who we are truly meant to be, so that the only answer is that the answer must be found within, in terms of the interactions between our inner ego states, and in that regard, internally we have everything we need.
The reality is that we can’t control how others treat us, but we can develop a measure of control and awareness about how we treat ourselves. This is the basis of Intra-actional Analysis in that the only reality is the inner reality of the dynamics between our ego states, and this interaction and dynamic, is, in turn, accurately projected out onto the world around us. If our Nurturing Parent is inoperable because of the earlier circumstances in which we were raised, then we seek the Nurturing Parent in others, which, in turn, reflects the dependent aspects of our personality, and, at the worst, it will reflect a dependent personality disorder. If, the perception of the Controlling Parent is that the Child ego state is basically naughty, then the person may seek abusive partners to enact punishment, or engage in substance abuse, not only to punish, but also, to disengage and disable the Controlling Parent in an attempt to stop the inner criticism. Alcohol, and substances in general, work to disable the Parent and Adult ego states to allow the Child ego state to function independently for a period of time. This, of course, is self soothing, or, self medication, and it can be illuminating to discover the primary emotion of the Child ego state whether anger, sadness, or resentment when the individual is in the affected state. Basically, the personality is disinhibited and the underlying emotions come to the surface.
There is the appearance that the individual in the world is a reflection of outward behaviours and outward relationships, but the reality is that this outer world is directly impacted and governed by the dynamics of the inner world, and the journey to self discovery and awareness is not a journey without, but it is very much a journey within.
I would suggest that the journey involves a movement towards an identification, appreciation and acceptance of the individual’s specific nature of the ego states, and how they impact upon each other, as a precondition towards a balance between these ego states, such that movement between them is seamless, and there is no separation and segregation. In this way then, wherever you go, and wherever you are, the ego states are balanced and working together to ensure the optimization of every experience.
Typically, the journey within is conducted through silent contemplation, this state is the state within the ego states themselves – this silence is the apparent empty spaces within which no aspect of any of the ego states is dominant. It may be considered that this process is actually accessing that part of us which is not at all apparent to us, and some label this state the higher state, the god fragment, and the spiritual aspect that, of course, dwells within us and which we begin to develop an acquaintance with through silent contemplation. This spiritual aspect is actually the glue that binds the ego states together and ensures a level of harmony and meaning and purpose within our lives. This aspect ensures that there are no internal detachments, dissociations, splitting, decompensation and disintegration within the personality. Sometimes, decompensations, as in nervous breakdowns, etc, are necessary to re-examine and rebuild the emotional system, and can be a wakeup call, as much as a physical illness can be, to alter lifestyles habits and perceptions.
The reason why silent contemplation is so important for the development of sustaining and healthy inner relationships, is that the conditioning has taken place primarily at the pre-language state of development. In this way then, the mother has communicated a lot of information to the developing embryo through a complex mix of hormones associated with thoughts and feelings towards the unborn baby, and this communication is carried on after the birth in the form of bodily contact, eye contact, facial expressions and body movements, and basically, the communication, ideally, is about love, value and recognition. Interestingly, these three human needs remain the primary emotional needs throughout life, and are the primary focus of attention in couples counselling. If the mother and father and significant others communicate love, value and attention, they are teaching the child to be able to satisfy these needs for themselves by developing and strengthening the internal Nurturing Parent. If on the other hand they communicate the opposite then, the Controlling Parent and Adapted Child can be strengthened instead, and a core belief develops which is, typically, that they are “unlovable”. This of course is literally true as the non-nurturing parents have demonstrated, however, the case is that the child can try to be Adapted Child to get their parent’s love and approval, but this is only a hope and preference, so it can be seen that the only way the child can feel love and approval is through the inner Nurturing Parent, over which they have a degree of control. The problem is that the Nurturing Parent is not very strong because the teaching has been so weak, so, once again, the inner journey is important to quest for the unconditional love, which is to be provided by the yet to be energized Nurturing Parent.
The inner journey, or the quest through the various contemplative exercises, is to experience “yourself” in a silent and contemplative way for increasingly longer and deeper periods of time, in order to experience the love and acceptance that not only unifies, balances and nourishes the ego states, but provides you with knowledge and awareness about your true identity and purpose, as opposed to the constructs provided by an examination of the ego states on their own.