Getting into the Right Headspace: How to Recognize, and Avoid 6 Unhealthy Ego States
by Trenna Ahlstrom
Being the parent of a troubled teen is anything but easy. While trying to manage your teen’s problem behavior, it can be difficult not to engage in problematic behavior of your own. You might find yourself being unfairly harsh or critical, or “helping” your teen in situations where it might be better to let your teen face the consequences.
One way of improving the chance of you responding in a healthy way is to make sure that you are operating from a healthy Ego State. The theory of Ego States is based on the work of Eric Berne, and his research on Transactional Analysis. The terms Berne uses have been changed in this article to better suit the way they fit into our therapeutic program.
Ego States describe thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that people use when they interact with other people. Being in the right Ego State will help you to make the right choices, even when the things get rough.
A word of warning: When you learn to recognize ego states, you might be tempted to call other people out on the Ego State that they appear to be operating in. Resist the urge to label other people. It could be counterproductive and cause people to become resentful. Instead of focusing on other people, think of these tips as ways of helping yourself to make your best choices.
Identifying Unhealthy Ego States
There are seven different Ego States, and six of those ego states are unhealthy. The unhealthy Ego States are: Selfish, Pleaser, Rebellious, Master Manipulator, Critical, and Enabling.
Selfish – In the Selfish ego state, people are reckless and demanding. They try to have fun without thinking of the consequences.
Pleaser – People who are Pleasers obey the rules, but do not necessarily believe in the rules. They are obedient in the hopes of “flying under the radar”. They are more concerned with looking like a good person then being a good person.
Rebellious – The opposite of the Pleaser would be Rebellious. Rebellious people are openly oppositional. They resent and reject control by others. Also, they reject the ideas of cooperation or compromise.
Manipulator – Manipulators have no regard for rules that get in the way or their own interests. They will exaggerate, distort the truth, or try to play psychological games with others. Their intention is to serve themselves at the expense of others.
Critical – Critical people try to control other people by being demanding or judgmental. They might also use sarcasm. The intention is to dominate other people.
Enabling – People who are Enabling try to eliminate other people’s suffering in order to make themselves feel more comfortable. They feel it is their responsibility to make other people happy or successful. While Enabling people believe that they are being nurturing, the message that they send to others is that other people are not capable of caring for themselves.
Shifting Ego States
You may recognize that more than one of these Ego States is familiar to you. Most people show behavior that demonstrates these first six ego states by the time they are three years-old. Ego States continue to develop throughout a person’s life, but different Ego States dominate at different times.
None of these first six Ego States are especially good at helping you to make the right decisions or maintain your relationships. Finding ways to reach a new Ego State, called the Wise Executor, could help you improve your choices and your relationships.
The healthiest Ego State is the Wise Executor. When people are in the Wise Executor Ego State, they operate in the here and now. They are supportive of others, but not overly enabling. People in the Wise Executor Ego State have developed their own personal set of moral values, which they use to help them make decisions. They are able to strategize to solve problems rather than try to manipulate other people.
The Wise Executor Ego State develops later than the others. In many people, it does not develop until they are around eight years-old. In some people it might be developed later.
For the sake of your relationships and decision making ability, it is important make sure that the Wise Executor is in control as much as possible. That is not easy. For the Wise Executor to be in control of your personality, you have to know yourself. You have to learn a skill called Insight Management. Insight Management is the act of managing your own ability to understand the motives and reason behind your own actions.
Developing insight into yourself is hard, but it is worth it. Without a strong Wise Executor, your interpersonal relationships may degenerate into a web of unproductive and manipulative games with no real winners, and no real intimacy.
The goal of personality development is to help the Wise Executor Ego State become the strongest part of your personality, and to appropriately govern the other Ego States. Succeeding in this goal will help you to succeed in your relationships, and to make choices that make you proud.