Today I wanted to share one of the topics that I find extremely useful and simple that I have taught in both counselling classes and also at a retreat centre for survivors of trauma and abuse. I feel that this topic and what it teaches provides a lot of value in helping you to understand YOU, that is, how you behave, how others behave, and how we interact with one another.
This model is called… Transactional Analysis, it’s implications for our healing pathway in life is very fascinating and helpful I have found. I learnt of this model, when I received my training on being a facilitator at a trauma healing centre for survivors of trauma and abuse. I also think that this model compliments a lot of the work we do here with Stewart, Janet, and Expansions. I will explain. Transactional Analysis simply means ‘looking at the framework for how two or more people communicate with another’
Transactional Analysis teaches that we basically have 3 ego states within ourselves, these are: CHILD, ADULT and PARENT. In any given moment we will be operating from one of these 3 ego states depending on what is happening in our lives and how we are either reacting or responding to our circumstances and what unresolved trauma and emotional pain is still living inside of us.
These ego states have positive/negative qualities except for the ‘Adult’ ego state, which remains ‘neutral’. It goes like this:
CHILD – Wonder Child / Wounded Child / Adaptive Child.
ADULT – Remains neutral is the ‘decision maker’, ‘assesses facts’, is the container and holds all experiences.
PARENT – Nurturing Parent / Critical Parent / Rescuing Parent.
Please refer to this above model throughout the article, remembering that the CHILD has 3 aspects, as does the PARENT state. The ADULT remains neutral
O.k, so to begin to put this into context… We are all born with a connection to the ‘wonder child’ inside of us… this is the part of us that feels free-spirited, adventurous, playful, unconditionally loving, without fear, trusting, explorative, freely expresses emotions, happy, joyful, steps into the unknown, creative etc. However all of us have experienced trauma to one degree or another. If this trauma is not lovingly taken care of by a safe adult or nurturing parent we then become the ‘wounded child’. The wounded child is sad, frightened, feels shameful, scared etc.
The wounded child is all our painful and negative feelings & emotions. If the wounded child is not helped to heal i.e being able to express those emotions and feelings at the point of trauma in a safe, supportive way, then the child has no other option accept retreat deeper inside themselves. A child does not have the tools to deal with painful situations as does an adult. But, as a result of the unprocessed trauma the wounded child does have one tool at their disposable, which is, to become the ‘adaptive child’.
The adaptive child develops as a way to protect the wounded child inside. The ‘adaptive child’ is all about behaviours, and these behaviours are designed to protect the ‘wounded child’ inside. The ‘adaptive child’ is the one who rebels, ‘acts out’, sometimes becomes the people pleaser or straight-A student, they can have aggressive or violent behaviours, excessive and dangerous risk taking, then as an adult this can become alcohol and/or drug abuse as examples. But, the bottom line is that the adaptive child’s job is to protect the wounded child from further wounding or emotional pain. It is a way to keep the world of your back and keep people at a safe distance at all costs, all with the outcome of a) the person not having to face their inner pain and b) the attempt to stop further wounding. However as we grow, the ‘adaptive child’ if left unchecked will keep us in our repetitive and self-defeating behaviours which keep us trapped, never truly dealing with our original core emotional pain and further creating more pain in the present.
We will now explore the PARENT state. Now, as we know our primary caregivers play a hugely important role in how we develop and grow. If our parents become the ‘critical parent’ then they will be criticising, blaming, putting you down, excessive scolding, abusive, violent etc. Also our abusers and perpetrators will fall into this category. The critical parent creates and reinforces our ‘wounded child’ and this in turn will strengthen our ‘adaptive child’ behaviours, the more trauma and abuse we experience then our contact with the wonder child inside can diminish more and more .
Then there is the ‘Rescuing Parent’. The rescuing parent can be more subtle in appearance but just as destructive in it’s affects. The rescuing parent is the parent who shields their child from all experiences which could potentially provide emotional difficulty or pain for the child. It is the parent who says ‘Don’t do this, don’t do that’ excessively. They are always coming from fear. The child eventually learns ‘I am not capable and so others must do it for me’, or ‘It is not my responsibility, there is nothing I can do about it’ etc.
But, if we have a nurturing parent then we will be able to grow and flourish in healthy ways, we will have a strong sense of self as we develop. The nurturing parent is the one who is stable, ‘present’ and attends to the needs of the child, supports and loves the child unconditionally, allows the child to learn and grow from their experiences in a safe way, provides clear boundaries, models safety etc.
Then finally there is the ‘ADULT’. As children we need all need a healthy adult there for us, and modelled for us to learn from. The adult is the decision maker and assesses what needs to happen in balance in any given moment. For example… today I need to work, or I need to rest or I need to be playful, or I need to pay some bills this morning and this afternoon I’ll take a nap. These are just some simple examples. Bottom line is the ‘adult’ decides…’what, when, how, why’ etc. Most likely the ADULT part of us will not have developed properly if a) it was never correctly modelled for us and b) we have lots of unresolved trauma which has us stay in our wounded child, adaptive child and critical parent ego states.
So, as children all of these ego states are modelled to us and we grow and develop accordingly. It is important to note that as children these states are all external, that is our caregivers model this and we learn. But, as adults we internalise this model and have it operating within self. So, now as adults if we have unresolved trauma our wounded child will come forward when triggered , and our ‘adaptive child’ may come forward to shield the inner pain – destructive and self defeating behaviours like self-sabotage, fighting either internal on self, or external with the world, alcohol or any other drug abuse or addiction maybe also be the behaviours that start expressing just to name a few examples. From this our inner ‘critical parent’ can come forward with all of the negative self-talk which beats up on self, those voices might be “You’re not worth it’, ‘Stop whinging’, ‘Your hopeless’ etc. This internal critical parent voice can intensify if our wounded child’s feelings are strong and present, and or the ‘adaptive child’ part of us is ‘acting out’ in destructive ways.
Some of us can cycle through these negative ego states, Wounded Child, Adaptive Child, Critical Parent and not be aware of it making the task of healing almost insurmountable which also perpetuates our pain and suffering. For example I met a lady once who repeated a behavioural cycle she told me ” When I feel lost, upset and scared (wounded child) I usually then starting fighting with my partner and kids (adaptive child) then I decide to drive and go and stay where one knows where I am (adaptive child) then I realise how silly I am to be behaving like this and doing this to my family (critical parent) I then feel ashamed (wounded child). I then think that what’s happening at home isn’t because of me so there is nothing to worry about and I forget about it and move on (rescuing parent) then the next month I drop down feeling sad again..etc.
The tricky part is that if we have grown up not having any healthy adult or nurturing parent available then we will not know how to do it as adults, we simply do not have the neural pathways available to know what it feels like and behave that way. In this instance we then have to learn it and behave it ourselves bit by bit- this takes time, effort and dedication for sure. We have to learn to become adults and decide to take responsibility for our inner pain and wounded child along with our adaptive child behaviours and begin to nurture ourselves through the healing process. If you cannot do this for yourself at the beginning then you can look for a suitable, supportive counsellor who can initially provide and model an ‘adult’ and ‘nurturing parent’ to you, so that you can begin to heal the wounded child inside…which is the goal here. But, ultimately you will need to do the work on you that is the bottom line
Another interesting aspect is how you behave will encourage others in one of these ego states. For example, if you come from the critical parent space criticising someone about some aspect of their behaviour, words or appearance then you will invite their wounded child to come forward (sadness, guilt, upset) which might then have them move into avoiding you (adaptive child) or pleasing you (adaptive child). There is certainly no space for healing here if the people involved are not conscious of what is going on (adult). This is just one example, but there are countless varieties of how it can play out with different emotions and behaviours involved. The key as always is being conscious of what we are doing and why, then we can begin to take responsibility for our thoughts and feelings and how we interact with self and others.
Bear in mind that when you decide to heal the wounded child inside you will most likely encounter the resistance of the adaptive child and his/her behaviours. Remember the adaptive child was created inside of you to shield you from the inner pain of the wounded child. The adaptive child has had years to develop behaviours to keep the inner pain away, it will not give up it’s job easily. They can be very simple behaviours, but there can more sophisticated ones as well, it can be anything from sabotaging positive endeavours or relationships, to addictions, to stopping yourself from feeling feelings, to being sick all of the time, the list can go on.
However, whatever the case, you CAN heal, all it takes is an ‘Adult’ decision that this is what you really want to do. This is where you need to persist and turn up and learn to be the nurturing parent for yourself and your wounded child. Be consistent on your healing, being available and showing up for yourself just like every child would expect a good parent to do. If you keep showing up in this way then bit by bit we develop a sense of inner trust and slowly but surely the adaptive child will begin to surrender to the ‘safe nurturing parent’ that you are demonstrating..Then healing for the wounded child can begin to take place. The wounded child within you will learn to trust again… trusting in the safer YOU. Then he/she will begin to share their feelings and emotions with you the adult/nurturing parent, and you can be the loving, caring giving parent for yourself that you always wanted and needed form your original caregivers that you did not receive. This is re-parenting yourself and beginning to grow up the child within. The child, that’s growth was stunted and halted due to emotional and mental trauma. Ultimately, you need no other person to heal, for all is inside of you.
I know in my case that the more I showed up for my inner child ( which was really about me deciding to set aside time each day to connect on an inner level, and doing exercises such as Stewart’s ‘The Child Within exercise’ and some others) he could trust that an adult self was here, available and present, then the more he shared with me, which was me beginning to allow me to feel my feelings, and release my inner pain in a safe and supportive way. I then learnt to drop my adaptive child’s suppression of pain and self-defeating behaviours that had kept me locked up previously. He just needed to have a voice to share his feelings about what happened, to allow them to express in full, with support and with a sense of kindness, unconditional love and openness. If we do this our true ‘wonder child’ can begin to come back into our lives, along with a new sense of a ‘nurturing parent’ and clear minded adult’. Then we begin to get our inner forces going in the correct direction for positive new growth.
So, I invite you the reader to reflect on your own interactions with yourself and with others.
Can you see in your life where you are behaving like the child, adult or parent?
Perhaps you can see where you are being the wounded child or the adaptive child? – The areas within that point to ‘healing needed’
Maybe in some relationships or interactions you are an adult, maybe others an adaptive child, or a rescuing parent.
Perhaps you can see that you are very in touch with your wonder child and or adult/nurturing parent parts of self. I invite you to share your examples and thoughts here, so that we can all learn from each other.