Do you sometimes wonder why you behaved the way you did?
Wonder why you said something you did?
Feel like you’ve done something wrong, when actually, you’ve done nothing wrong at all?
You might be surprised to learn that there’s more than just one of you inside there, running the show! In fact, there are many different versions of you. Some versions are a re-run from the past, some are versions we’ve copied from other people!
Often these parts are in competition with each other, one part wanting one thing, the other wanting something else. One simple way of understanding how our personality is made up is the PAC model (pronounced ‘pack’). It is also a way of understanding your behaviour and the behaviour of other people, when we interact with each other.
In the PAC model, our personality is shown as being made up of three main parts: Parent, Adult and Child. Each part is known as an ‘ego state’, so we have Parent ego states, the Adult ego state and Child ego states.
Parent, Adult and Child
Adult ego state
We all have an Adult ego state – even children. When we’re in our Adult ego state, we are fully present and using all our resources: all our thinking capacity, all our problem solving skills, all the knowledge we’ve learnt to date. This is the most current version of ourselves. Sometimes it’s difficult to know when we’re not in our Adult ego state. One way to check that out, and to bring yourself back into Adult, is to bring your attention back to your body and focus on your breathing.
Ego states: different ways of being in the world
Parent ego states
The Parent ego states contains thoughts, feelings and ways of behaving that you’ve learnt from – you guessed it – your parents. Inside each of us, is a mini version of some of our parents ways of thinking, feeling and behaving! More than this though, the Parent ego state contains the ways of being in the world that we’ve taken from other influential figures in our lives. These can be people like grandparents, close family friends, siblings and teachers. Looking further outside ourselves again, our Parent ego state also contains the beliefs and ways of seeing the world of the culture and society we were immersed in as we grew up.
The Parent ego states are helpful, for example this is where we store our knowledge on how to cross the road safely, so we don’t have to figure it out every time we want to cross the road. The Parent also gives us social control – how to behave in society eg it’s not polite to burp at the dinner table. The Parent keeps us safe… but can also be limiting, because it contains other people’s opinions and beliefs, and ways of behaving. The nagging voice of self doubt we all hear is part of the Parent ego state, and can be very limiting, even debilitating for some people.
Inside each of us, is a mini version of some of our parents’ ways of thinking, feeling and behaving!
Child ego states
When we’re in a Child ego state, we are said to be behaving in a way we did at a younger age. We are thinking in a way we did at a younger age. In our bodies, we actually experience the feelings we had at those times too. It’s a bit like watching a repeat of a television programme – we re-run an earlier experience; we don’t see or hear everything that’s actually happening, and we go back to thinking and feeling in a way we did in the past. Due to this, we may behave as we did at that time too.
Our Parent and Child ego states are a re-play of little moments of time from the past. We experience feelings we had in the past, and think in ways we used to… but we’re often not aware of this. Even more significant to our present well-being, the thoughts and feelings we have shape our reality…. so if we’re in a Parent or Child ego state, our perception of reality is coloured by these moments of time from the past.
Our Parent and Child ego states are a re-play of little moments of time from the past