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Say It Straight Part 2

Role play on the second day of Abe’s course helped us recognise the various ego states and whether they helped or hindered healthy ‘transactions’.

I was struck by the enthusiasm of those ‘inhabiting’ the ‘critical parent’ and surprisingly it seemed easier to play the role of the so called negative ego states than the positive. The rebellious child raised a laugh or two but as we recognised bits and pieces of our own behaviour in so many of these interactions, mirth gave way to more serious reflecting on our various tendencies to criticise, nurture, rebel , and more intriguingly our various reactions to them…

Abe was generous with his facilitation and quick to point out that we all inhabit one or other of the various ego states at one time or another, its simply, so the theory goes, a matter of spotting which one we’re inhabiting at the time; and just as importantly, being objective* enough to recognise how we respond, in other words, which ego we tend towards as we react to criticism, advice, nurture or play.

Our ability, to recognise and influence, to analyse, the transactions, gradually improved as we spotted the ‘nurturing parent’ in a caring, constructive remark or the ‘rebellious child’ in a bolshy response to some unskilled criticism. The course helped me recognise the authoritative, bullying ego and my tendency to comply or conform in its presence. Deftly I switched response and turned to my adult or rebel ego, relishing the freedom from my erstwhile ‘compliant child’.

Erstwhile only to a point, of course. Shedding habits of a life time that have slowly steeped in to and formed one’s character is easier said than done; indeed some would argue that such tendencies remain entrenched and embedded. The optimists would counter and say that we can learn to avoid our innate negative reactions and responses, though only through assiduous practice, desire and support.

Two days certainly can’t undo all the conditioning which may cause unhealthy dynamics in our communication…oh that they could, however, the course gave us all a useful insight about distinguishing between healthy, constructive ‘transactions’ and, what are described as, ‘crossed’ ones.

At the very least we learnt avoidance techniques, at best, we mastered the art of turning a negative interaction into a positive one.

The most surprising feature of the course came on the last afternoon. By then we had become familiar and relaxed with each other; Abe sat us in a circle and asked us to take turns expressing positive attributes about one another. I sensed a group cringe at the prospect and our discomfort in hearing and giving praise seemed contradictory. To this day I find unconditional praise both hard to receive and give, but interestingly when I do, I feel a sense of liberation (and relief) from my tendency to be critical both to myself and others.

Try it some time and you may surprise yourself…

More to come of some other ‘ego states’ in the fascinating theory of transactional analysis, but for now practice your nurturing, caring, supportive parent ego state and see how people respond to the new you!

*I think Buddhists speak of the ‘silent witness’, which somehow disconnects from our current experience and helps us recognise our behaviour, giving us an opportunity to objectively appraise our actions at the same time as we are performing them.

Mark Milton is a partner at The Depot Riverside Restaurant & Bar.

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