Tuesday, 23 June 2015

The Egogram: A Tool for Change

Making a Change in Parent, Adult & Child

In the previous post we looked a way of describing our personality using the Parent, Adult, Child (PAC) model.
This time we'll explore how we can use this together with The Egogram as a tool for change.

To try this all you'll need will be pen, paper and some undisturbed time for yourself where you can reflect on your process.

On the paper draw a horizontal line and divide it into the five ego states. Initial the five sections CP for Controlling Parent, NP for Nurturing Parent, A for Adult, FC for Free Child and finally AC for Adapted Child.

Next reflect on how you and how much of your time or energy you spend in each of the ego-states, then mark this on the chart as below.

Clive's diagram above shows that he feels he is in Controlling Parent and Adult for equal amounts of time followed by Nurturing Parent then Adapted Child. Clive spends the least amount of time in Free Child.

Clive now considers each of the ego-states individually and indicates, on the egogram, how much time is spent in the unhelpful or negative part of each one, and shades this in.

Here Clive has seen that a large part of his time is spent in the negative Controlling Parent and negative Adapted Child ego states. He has identified this by using the guide to the characteristics of ego states that we looked at in the last blog, "Parent, Child & Contaminations".

Reflecting on how this impacts on his thinking, feeling and behaviour he realises that he frequently restricts his spontaneity, choosing to do things he feels are what he "should do" to please his inner negative Controlling Parent. He realises he seldom has fun or allows himself to play.

The most effective way to bring about change in our egogram is to increase the energy, or time, we allocate to the ego-state that we want to have more of.
We do this by identifying the characteristics and behaviours of the desired ego-state and set aside time to do these. 

Clive knows his positive Free Child is a football fan, loves going running, is a fan of Dr. Who and enjoys drawing.
However, he hasn't allowed himself any of these activities in response to his negative Controlling Parent voice saying "You shouldn't waste time at the match", "You're not good enough to go jogging", "Dr. Who is for children" and "Your drawings are messy".

Clive now gives himself, and his positive Free Child, permission to do the things that he enjoys and allocates time in his diary to go to a football match with his mates, take up running again, subscribes to a Dr. Who magazine and joins (and attends) his local art group.
As it's been a while since he's done these things, some seem a little awkward or 'clunky', however he's determined to bring about the positive change he wants and is pleasantly surprised that they become more 'natural' to him.

It is a satisfying consequence of 'putting more energy' into the ego-state we desire, that there is less time and energy available to the others, including those we've identified has unhelpful to us.

Want to Change?

If you'd like to make some changes why not try using your own egogram?. 
You could draw it reflecting on how you consider yourself to be most of the time, or you could use a specific time or activity, such as when engaging in a particular aspect of your work.
What are ego-states you would like more of?
What are you prepared to allow yourself to do?
When are you going to do these?

The one thing that is constant is change, and I believe that we can influence these changes to contribute to our wellbeing. 
The use of the egogram is just one of the many techniques available to us.

Things don't have to be the way they are.


Clarke, S. L. (2012) Clarke’s Dictionary of Transactional Analysis: A Compendium of Definitions, Diagrams, References, Awards, Biographies and Organizations. Edited by Susan Legender Clarke. United States: Peace Imprints
Dusay, J. (1972) Ego grams and the constancy hypothesis
Stewart, I. and Joines, V. (1987) Transactional Analysis Today: A New Introduction to Transactional Analysis. 19870601st edn. United Kingdom: Lifespace Publishing
Van Tol, R. (2004) Transactional Analysis Student. Available at: http://www.tastudent.org.uk (Accessed: 6 May 2015)
Woollams, S. and Brown, M. (1978) Transactional Analysis. 1st edn. USA: Huron Valley Institute Press

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Parent, Child & Contaminations

Understanding & Using Our Inner Parent, Child & Adult

Transactional Analysis (TA) offers us an easy to use model for understanding our personality.
This insight into the origins and functions of our thoughts, feelings and behaviours allows us to choose those that are most helpful, whilst disempowering those that are unhelpful.

Known as the P-A-C model, this metaphor, describes our personality as being divided into Parent, Adult and Child ego-states. It is drawn as a set of three stacked circles containing the capital letter of the 'personality style' it represents, see below

The Structural Model

of Ego-states

The Parent

When I am thinking, feeling or behaving as 'powerful' people did when I was a child, I can be described as accessing my Parent ego-state.
This part of my personality might be provided with content I've internalised from my parents, teachers, older siblings or even powerful 'personalities' such as super-heroes or religious figures.

Held within the Parent are rules, traditions, superstitions and morals.

The Adult

When I am thinking, feeling or behaving based on here and now information, that is free of prejudice or preconceptions, I can be described as accessing my Adult ego-state.

The Child

When I am replaying thoughts, feelings or behaving as I did as a child, I can be described as accessing my Child ego-state.
When 'in Child' I will only be able to draw on the resources that I had available to me, at the age I'm replaying.

The Child is often described as the original ego-state, out of which the others evolved.
Held within the Child are energy, spontaneity, rebelliousness and self-centredness.

Non of the ego-states are 'better' than the others. All contain content that I can choose to use in a way that will be helpful to me... or not.

So far we have looked at the structure of the ego-states and what they contain. Next we will look at how we use them and what function we give them.

A Walk in the Park with 'my selves'

Let's take a look at how I might experience my ego-states whilst taking a walk in the park.

The weather is fine, I'm feeling happy and I decide to go for a run in the park as exercise. I change into my running kit, fill my water bottle and set off. 
Here I've been using my Adult to access my here & now experience, my happiness is in response to the weather today and my decision to go for a run in the park I enjoy.

When I arrive at the park I see an advertisement for a Fair, to be held next weekend. I'm excited, feel energised and remember how much fun the 'Waltzers' are.
Here my Child responds to the advert for the Fair, replaying earlier thoughts and feelings.

Distracted by my thoughts of the Fair, I don't notice a Doberman coming towards me. It leaps towards me and I'm terrified by this monster!
My Child scare alerts me to a possible danger.

"Rover, get down!" shouts the dog's owner, then to me "He's just a big puppy really and wants to play".
I carry on running, relieved the dog was on a lead.
I mutter to myself, and shake my head, "Stupid man, he should have trained it better before walking a dog like that in the park".
Here my Parent ego-state shows it's irritation, and I don't even recall that's what my Grandmother used to say about excitable dogs, even shaking her head in the same way.

Some of the ways I use may ego-states may be useful to me, others may not.
By recognising the characteristics of the helpful and unhelpful parts I can support choose how I use the information they're offering me.

A Functional Model

of Ego-states

This diagram divides the Parent and Child ego-state in order to describe the observable behaviours, that suggest how people use and express their ego-states.

The Controlling Parent 

As a child my parents would sometimes tell me what to do, they might criticise or control through their words or actions.
When I behave in ways that re-enact this, I am in Controlling Parent.

This can be further divided into both positive and negative components:

CP+ve is when we are genuinely motivated by protecting or promoting wellbeing and offering structure through being directive, firm and inspiring. 

CP-ve is when our behaviour's intention is to put down or criticise the other by being bossy, fault finding or punitive.

The Nurturing Parent

At other times my parents were caring or nurturing towards me, wanting to take care of me.
When my behaviour replays this, I am in my Nurturing Parent.

As above, this can have positive and negative parts:

NP+ve is motivated to offer care and nurturing from a position of positive regard for the other. We display behaviours such as compassion, understanding and are cherishing towards the other.

NP-ve is when our 'nurturing' of the other discounts their own wants, needs or abilities. We are over-indulgent, inconsistent or smothering of the other.

The Adapted Child

As a child much of the time I was supervised by my parents or others, more grown-up than me. They would give me guidance, instructions, and rules. I discovered that when I complied or modified my behaviour in line with these I "got on better" with the grown ups.

AC+ve is when I cooperate with others, in the way I did as a child to get positive strokes. I display behaviours such as being sociable, sharing and being clear about my 'wish list' of wants.

AC-ve is when I'm compliant or resistive in the way I did as a child that resulted in my getting negative strokes. I behave in ways that are submissive, anxious or rebellious.

The Free Child

Sometimes as a child I behaved in ways that were independent of the grown-ups, neither adapting or rebelling against these rules or expectations. In Free Child I display behaviours that display my uncensored desires, passions, emotions.

FC+ve is when I'm behaving spontaneously, displaying my creativity, expressing my feelings, energetic and dynamic.

FC-ve is when I'm behaving in ways which display undeveloped ways or relating to others. At these times I'm egocentric, selfish and careless.

We have four ways in which to identify which ego-state is being activated, these are:


Here we notice the types of interaction ( or transactions) being made with others.
If I'm presenting myself as asking another to take care of me, it is likely I'm in Child inviting the other to step into their Parent to take care of me.
If I feel invited to joke and have fun it is likely they are in Child, whereas I may feel an urge to respond with a fact, if the other is in Adult.


By paying attention to our previous experiences we can gain useful insights. Imagine I'm in discussion with you about a piece of theory, when I notice that I'm wagging my finger just the way my father did when he was telling me how to do my homework.
This alerts me to the likelihood that I'm in my Parent, inviting you to be in Child.


In TA we mean noticing a response to a stimulus, as if it were a reenactment of how I responded in the past. I re-experience my thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations in the here and now, with little loss of impact, despite the passage of time.


When noticing behaviour we pay attention to what we can see and hear. Imagine you were getting into character to play a role on stage.
You'd pay attention to your lines or words,
your tone of voice,
your mannerisms and gestures,
your facial expression
and your posture.
By paying attention to several of these we can deduce the likely ego-state is active.

By identifying which ego-state we're in, we can decided if that is useful to us at that time or not. 
If not, we can identify a more useful one and choose to activate or energise it's characteristics.


Sometime we may find it difficult to identify which ego-state we're in, we may even be 'muddled' and think we're acting from here-and-now Adult when we're not. 
A useful thing to do at these times of confusion is to ask ourselves "...is that really the case".

Parent Contamination

When I'm experiencing a Parent Contamination, I'll confuse a Parent catchphrase, prejudice or motto for Adult reality, for example:

"I've been stood here for half an hour and there have been seven number 6's but no  number 8 buses !"

"People can't be trusted"

"Real men don't show feelings"

"It always rains in Manchester"

If I think statements like these are reality, I'm in a contamination.

A tip here is, if I refer to myself as "you" then I'm probably in a Parent Contamination, for example

"You have to make sure your blog is perfect before you can publish it"

Child Contamination

When I'm in a Child Contamination, I'll confuse my childhood beliefs with my adult thinking, for example:

"I can't spell"

"There's something wrong with me"

"All spiders are dangerous"

"I'm stupid"

"Breaking a mirror causes bad luck"

"If I get wet I'll catch a cold"

I use my contaminated Adult to support my Child to rationalise and support a firm, false, fixed belief.

Double Contamination

A Double Contamination occurs when I re-play an Adult 'catchphrase' , then agree to it with Child belief and confuse both of these as reality, for example

Parent: "Real men don't feel"
Child: "I feel sad"
resulting in: "I'm not a real man, there's something wrong with me"

Parent: "People can't be trusted"
Child: "I can't trust anyone"
resulting in: "I can't share this with anyone"

These Double Contaminations forms part our 'Frame of Reference', through which we view, interpret and interact with reality.

Managing Contaminations

One of the ways in which we can manage contamination of the Adult ego-state, which is one of the first stages in Transactional Analysis therapy, is to strengthen the Adult ego-state boundary.

A way in which we can do this is to ask ourselves, or others:

"Is that really how it is?", then...

               ... allow ourselves pause for thought. 

Those responses we give ourselves immediately, that are absolute, or that sound as if there is a wagging finger behind them, may be coming from a contamination.

I suggest allowing oneself to be open to the possibility that...
... things might not be that way.

Giving it a go...

If you'd like to try out 'analysing ego-states' you could try watching a TV drama.
Can you spot what ego-states the characters are in?
Do they change ego-states?
When are they displaying Contaminations?

Next Time:

The Egogram: A Tool for Change


I am grateful to Robert van Tol and his website www.tastudent.org.uk for making the originals of diagrams used in this blog available.
His site is a fantastic resource and I'd encourage you to visit it.

Further Reading

Clarke, S. L. (2012) Clarke’s Dictionary of Transactional Analysis: A Compendium of Definitions, Diagrams, References, Awards, Biographies and Organizations. Edited by Susan Legender Clarke. United States: Peace Imprints

Stewart, I. and Joines, V. (1987) Transactional Analysis Today: A New Introduction to Transactional Analysis. 19870601st edn. United Kingdom: Lifespace Publishing

Van Tol, R. (2004) Transactional Analysis Student. Available at: http://www.tastudent.org.uk (Accessed: 6 May 2015)

Woollams, S. and Brown, M. (1978) Transactional Analysis

Monday, 27 April 2015

When Games aren't fun.

Do you ever ask yourself:
"Why does that keep happening to me?"
"Do they see me coming?"
"How do I get into these situations?'

Perhaps you're in a Game.

A psychological game can be described as a way of communicating with others, a concealed message, that is often contradictory to our spoken word. Games are outside of our conscious awareness, yet are things we frequently do and they have a familiar outcome.
Games are ways, that we learnt as a child, of getting what we want and we all still play them from time to time.
The drawback of Games is that they are inauthentic, the outcome is unsatisfying, can be dangerous and sacrifices intimacy.
(Intimacy is when we are expressing our true thoughts, feelings and wants without attempting to exploit or manipulate the other.)

So why do we play them?

Games satisfy our basic psychological needs:

  • By playing my familiar game I reinforce my beliefs about the rules I live my life by.
  • I avoid the anxiety I might experience if I did something unfamiliar.
  • They provide me with a sensation of being close to another, however this lacks true intimacy.
  • We can use Games as a way of socialising, for example you & I gossiping about another.
  • They get us noticed by others and provide feedback, we feel noticed and significant.
  • The outcome of the game reinforces our beliefs about ourselves, others, the world and our place in it.

What might a Game entail?

One of my favourite tools to understand a Game is:

Stephen Karpman's
Drama Triangle

The Drama Triangle is drawn with the Victim role in the one down position with Persecutor and Rescuer above.
The lines are drawn with arrows to indicate there can be movement or switches in positions.
Names of positions are given a capital letter to indicate these are inauthentic positions.

The Players

The Persecutor 

Believes they are OK and the Victim is not.

Acts in own interests and to punish others.

"I'll improve you", "You're inferior"

Puts down
Tries to change the Victim
'Knows better than the Victim'
Tries to make the Victim do things differently

The Rescuer

Believes they are OK and the Victim is not.

Acts out of concern for the Victim.

"I'll do it for you", "You're inadequate"

Keeps dependent
Does things for the Victim that the Victim could do for their self
Does more than 50% of what's to be done
Does things even if they would prefer not to

The Victim

Believes they are not OK and that Persecutors and Rescuers are OK

Allow Persecutor to dominate
Allow Rescuer to smother
Discounts own power and capacity

"Sorry", "I can't..."

Each of the roles is discounting an aspect of their own or others OKness. 

Let's have a look at how these roles might act

Scene One

Victim: (Sat in room with window open, shivering)
Rescuer: (Walks in room and looks at Victim)
Victim: (Looks at Rescuer)
Rescuer: (Closes window and turns on heater)

Without a word having been spoken the Rescuer has assumed the Victim is cold and should have the window closed.
The Victim says nothing allowing the Rescuer to decide what's needing to be done.

Scene Two

Victim: (Drops a plate when clearing the dinner table)
Persecutor: You clumsy idiot, can't you do anything right?
Victim: I'm sorry, I didn't mean to, I'm so clumsy!

Movement on the Drama Triangle.

If the players keep their adopted roles these situations can repeat and go on ad infinitum. Each continuing with their complementary transactions, with no one rocking the boat.

However, a true Game requires a Switch.
This is when movement occurs on the Drama Triangle, with a jockeying for positions, confusion, anxiety and a "what the heck happened then?".
Sometimes this Switch can be as a result of a players frustration at the limitations of their role or that of the others. Unfortunately, movement to another position on the Drama Triangle still means you're in the Game.

Scene Three

Harry (in Rescuer): If you're going to get home tonight you need to catch the next train.
Clyde: (in Victim): I've lost my ticket and I've run out of money.
Harry (switches to Persecutor): That's typical of you, losing things and expecting me to sort you out!
Clyde: (in Victim): Oh Harry, I don't know what I'm going to do!
Harry (in Persecutor): Grow up!, that's what you can do, I'm not your babysitter. (walks off)

Clyde is left confused and anxious by this Switch in their way of relating to each other.

The Drama Triangle's greatest strength is as a diagnostic or assessment tool.
It can be helpful to identify when we are being invited to, or behaving as either Victim, Persecutor or Rescuer.

However, when move to another position on the Drama Triangle, we may change role but we remain in the Game.

An authentic, OK - OK Triangle

Acey Choy and other authors have suggested that there is an equivalent triangle that is based on authenticity, OKness and that allows intimacy.

An OK Triangle

The Positions

When potent

I am OK and you are OK

I respect your interests
I Act in my own interests
I change my behaviour to get my needs met
I share my thoughts and feelings
I don't 'put down' or 'get back'
I leave others be

When responsive

I am OK and you are OK

I am concerned for the vulnerable person
I genuinely offer help
I allow and facilitate others to do their own thinking
I only do 'my fair share'
I don't do what I don't want to do with a clear explanation

When vulnerable

I am OK and you are OK

I am suffering or potentially suffering
I use my feelings as a useful source of information
I works out or finds out how to solve the issue
I think for myself

Making meaning, to make changes.

By using both triangles it becomes possible to understand the way in which we are relating to others. With this understanding we can choose to make changes and move to autonomy & intimacy.

The most effective change is accomplished when we recognise the role we have adopted, or have been invited to play, on the Drama Triangle.
Once identified, we can move to the equivalent position on the OK Triangle. 
This move is accomplished by accepting an OK-OK relationship with others, and relating to them using the characteristics describe above.

Ending the Game

The most impactful change can be when I have been in a Victim position. By recognising the role I have adopted, I can choose to accept my capacity to make changes to manage and reduce my vulnerability.

It is through recognising our vulnerability that we can accept our strength and power to make things different.

Additional reading

Choy, A. (1990) ‘The Winner’s Triangle’, Transactional Analysis Journal, 20pp. 40–46.
Clarke, S. L. (2012) Clarke’s Dictionary of Transactional Analysis: A Compendium of Definitions, Diagrams, References, Awards, Biographies and Organizations. Edited by Susan Legender Clarke. United States: Peace Imprints
Karpman, S. (no date) Karpman Drama Triangle. Available at: http://www.karpmandramatriangle.com (Accessed: 27 April 2015)
Stewart, I. and Joines, V. (1987) Transactional Analysis Today: A New Introduction to Transactional Analysis. 19870601st edn. United Kingdom: Lifespace Publishing