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The Adult as a higher Ego state

Although the Ego states are very clearly differentiated and they all have specific characteristics, in practice I personally found it hard to observe phrases or lines that clearly belong just to the Adult Ego state. Of course, considering that the PAC diagram is (at the time of this article) about 60 years old, and no alternatives came around, it might be that I don’t really get it. So let me share with you some of the ideas I got learning therapies and about the world from many different sources (as you probably did too).

One of the most important things I found is that our mind is dual. It starts when we are very young and really confused about the world and our mind is one. Gradually, we start to distinguish the world from ourselves and we find the duality of our existence: us against the world. This contact defines us. We now have an idea about who we are (the body at that age) and what we are not. This contact is the warranty that we exist. Without the contact there is no us. So we need to keep the contact active for us to be. This is what we see with objects as well. We cannot name anything until we see a contour. And neither the Universe itself as an object is not an exception, because we apply this name to an idea, that in our head seems like a finite whole, that we often see with our minds eyes from outside.

So this contact is so important, that we want to keep it constantly, and so we introject it. Thus the duality of the outside world becomes the duality of the inside world. The best way to create a boundary, is to pick up contacts between people. Why people and not objects? Because they are our best validators. They name us and address us and, thus, recognize us. Is the highest differentiation we can get. So in our minds we replicate this contact between us and other people or between other people altogether, and we play the part of one of them. And we keep this all our lives, unless we are not conscious, have some significant brain damage or while we transcend it through meditation or other means.

Another point towards the two facet world is that in Psychoanalysis are just two entities (Superego and Ego). The third (Id) doesn’t interact with anybody, it doesn’t have a voice. There are “living creatures” in there, like desires and drives, but the Unconscious itself is not alive, is not personified.

Also in religion there is just the believer and God. Even if there are more Gods, that is, arguably, because different aspects of the shadow seemed too different to belong to the same God. But there is just another voice besides “ours”. In the Bible at least usually, if not always, religious stories are about one person and one God at a time or a group of Gods as a whole (e.g. army) – I might be wrong, though,  I don’t know all the stories. Even the bicameral theory correlates to the two voices.

But the best concepts I have come across for this interior talk is the Gestalt Therapy’s “Topdog” and “Underdog”. They have a high equivalence with Parent and Child, respectively, from TA.  They are not as well investigated and described as in TA, though. They do emphasize a very important aspect, on the other hand: the dominance.

From the discovery of the contour between “me” and the world, there was always a matter of who has the power. The child believes he has it, in his omnipotence stage. Then, as he grows, he moves through stages and his power and dominance decreases in terms of controlling others and increases in terms of self-control.

And this fight is always part of our inner thoughts. Someone always has the upper hand. Someone always leads and someone follows. That is not to say that roles don’t change, but it can never be true and absolute equality at the border between two entities. When someone asks a question, he/she takes the leading role. If the other one answers becomes the follower. If he/she replies instead with another question, than he/she takes the leading role. If none will yield and becomes the follower, the conversation tends not to continue for long. That is not to say that Parents can’t talk to one another, because Parents can be led. Also one Child can lead another.

When we approach someone, we are leaders. Then there is that situation when we sit next to another and we have issues initiating a conversation, because we don’t know where to lead. And, if we summon the courage, there is some Parent in every such initiative. Even when we invite others from the Free Child, for example, we still have this “let’s do it” attitude that is a(n implicit) command made by the Parent.

There is, also, an even subtler dominance than asking the question. Is the answering itself. When we answer, we are the ones occupying the space. We are leading at that moment, even though we answer someone’s question. And since every domination is an act of asserting ourselves, of assuming we are important enough to open our mouths, that we will be interesting enough for others to wait and take in what we say, sometimes we are that inhibited that we don’t even say something. We still attract attention through our silence, because we are invested with a leading role when we are asked something. So the asker might lead even who will lead next. Even if someone is silent, we can say that they lead someone else into talking, by intentionally giving them space.

Considering that the Parent has the leading role and that the Child is the follower, then there is some Parent involved when we act as Children, because the acting itself needs some courage, and the courage comes when we feel that what we do or say is right. And this conclusion is associated more with the Parent, than with the Child. Also there must be some Child in the Parent stage. And if we look at the Parent stage as the Adult stage (classical Adult) or when we look at the extreme Parent (classical Parent) behavior we recognize it in children’s games when they pretend to be parents. That is, this behavior is characterized by directing and criticizing others based on beliefs that were not questioned or adapted (otherwise that would have been an Adult). This showing their childish, naïve approach to the world.

So, to sum up, it’s all fun and games, a play, a dance, but there are only two possible participants. Two dynamic entities that corroborate for our best behavior. There is always a dispute between the two. We can even listen to it in our heads, and there are just two. And even if we assume that the Ego states are just that – states – and not participants in an ongoing conversation that constitutes our thoughts, we can observe, as mentioned above, that there is always some Parent and some Child in every interaction.

Considering this, I would conclude that the Adult doesn’t really have a place. And if we would consider the Adult state as an equilibrated and harmonious combination of Parent and Child, we can explain the Adult very well. Let’s analyze a few Adult Ego statements:

“What time is it?” “It is one o’clock.”. It is so hard to differentiate this from a P-C transaction. One leads and the other follows. One tells the other what to do / say. The other one doesn’t feel forced to react in a certain way, but I wouldn’t describe Child as “that state that you are forced to react from”. And regarding the Adult’s lack of feeling… Is there really a time when there are no emotions? Even in the most Adult state, you would still fill comfort, connection, acknowledgement, appreciation etc. It might be more subtle, but it’s there.

The same with “Hi!”, “Hi!”. Someone initiates the conversation and shows care to the other one, and the other replies back.  Emotions of acknowledgement and regards, if not more, are shared.

I would say that it is even clearer regarding more complex interactions. “Have you finished that report?” “No, I haven’t.”. The question, if it comes from a good boss, is made from a controlled, tempered Parent state, meaning from an authority position, with a little free Child to inspire equality. Or, if it comes from a colleague, it could be made from a Child to a Child, with a little Parent to inspire responsibility. Or if it is meant as “I hope you didn’t do it; what a nerve to ask for a report”, the Parent is involved by bringing new rules and values to the table. Either way, if you take the Adult state out, not only that your understanding remains, but it also gets more colored and complex.

Considering the information processing aspect of the Adult, we would find it hard to attribute it to the Child or the Parent. But this is not related to behavior. When we acquire or transmit information we are using the Parent-Child duality. We do it either more authoritarian, either more submissively and apologetically. The information processing is done on a different level.  The Parent would just present information that is believed, regardless how true it is. When we presented or we dissect it, we use the Parent that knows and we approach those that give us information from this authority position. Otherwise, we accept all of it, without question, from the Child position. When we reach a breakthrough in understanding, the breakthrough just happens. The gestalt gets formed with nobody to form it. And then that identity within, that Adult, will change the information transmitted, the behavior or both.

So, in regards to the human mind, I would argue that there are only two entities or one, if the two entities are either non-differentiated or reintegrated. But I do believe that there is a hierarchy and that the two entities would be part of a more complex entity reasonably named Adult. I do consider the undifferentiated state as the same entity called Adult, even though the name might not be suited for the baby. I guess the “I” (the original name that Freud gave the Ego) is a better suited word. Although, what bears the name Ego now, would not be the same as this concept that I am presenting, because it’s part of a duality.

I know there aren’t many, if any, psychological models with hierarchies, and I know the zeitgeist is against such concepts. Inspired by Ken Wilber and his book “Sex, Ecology and Spirituality”, I do believe there is a holarchy, a healthy hierarchy, a structure that is bigger than its parts and this too applies to the way our mind works.

Why a hierarchy would make sense? First, because we have thoughts that are shared between two entities in our heads and we also refer to ourselves as one being, as if we have a center, a headquarter. Second, if there is a collaboration between the Parent and the Child, it would make sense to have a mediator, to have someone decide how much of which we are using. Third, no matter what behavior we elicit, we sometimes are aware that we (the I, the sense of the first person) are behind that… persona, that mask. We know we are using a tool – our behavior – to produce a result. Forth, there is a psychological growth in humans. We do things years later in ways we didn’t even dream about before. We are still acting as Parents or as Children, but at a whole new level. Neither party can explain how growth happens. Is like new information led to new decisions and that systematically led to change in behavior as a whole. Since it affected the entirety of behavior, I would say that it is likely that it would affect a higher system, that would affect the lower systems in return.

I conclude my presentation at this point, adding that I also think that “I am ok, you are ok” is also on a higher position than the rest (all 4 or 6 others), on the same principal: it includes parts of behavior that can be found in the others. Also, it involves a good dynamic equilibrium between inferiority and superiority (as mentioned above).

Overall, I do believe TA and the whole of psychology would benefit from the adding of a new dimension.


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