We all have different aspects of our personality that come out in different situations. You are very different at the bar with your friends than you are in the sales meeting with your boss. Or at least I hope so. You do not want to be the executive at home when you’re supposed to be the lover; or bring the negotiator to the daycare center.
Sometimes we can see people change before our eyes and wonder what happened. How did the conversation turn so quickly to vulnerable or angry? Or maybe you have even said to yourself, “I can’t believe I said that!” Or “I hate when I act like that.”
In those situations, you have changed ego states. Ego states are formed in childhood as part of our development. There are certain states we all share, like the Comedian and the Rebel. To what extent it gets developed varies from person to person. If you remember Chandler Bing from Friends, his go-to was humor. Anytime he was faced with a stressful situation, he would become a jokester.
We develop these states as ways to adapt and build resilience to situations around us. We all have many parts. I have a main part, called Capricorn, who keeps me on task, but can also be too strict and a workaholic. I have had to balance out that part with other parts of myself. We can have up to 50 ego states. Normally only 10 to 15 are executive (in charge) at any given time. Only one state can be in charge at one time, and we can switch pretty quickly. Usually, the right state is out for the job, but sometimes a different one gets a little too enthusiastic and wants to take over. We see this when we bring the Executive home and snap at the kids for spilling the milk, when our Nurturer should be the one there.
Here is a classic example of ego states switching: You are hungry, so your Happy Pig comes out and demands ice cream. Your Manager says, “Hey we agreed to not eat ice cream, we are trying to lose weight.” Your Shameful Kid comes out and feels bad, then your Judge comes out and says, “See I knew you couldn’t do it.” Finally, your Rebel comes out and says, “Screw you all, we’re having ice cream!” It can switch that fast.
Another issue would be having two different ego states in conflict. For example, one wants to sleep and the other one wants to go through your to-do list over and over again. Once you have identified your ego states and what their jobs are, you can actually negotiate with them as you would negotiate between two people. This is easier with a coach, but you can certainly do it within yourself. To work with your ego states, map out who they are and what they do. Then decide what part of you needs to be brought forward for each situation.
The easiest way to change ego states is to come from a neutral place of “self.” Self is who you are when you are just present, like during meditation. In that neutral state you get to choose who you want to be. It is like a paper doll; you get to choose what outfit she is going to wear. If you can stay in your calm, kind, patient self, you can then choose who you want to be when the need arises. I hope you can find ways to use these states to bring your best you forward.
Dr. Kathy Gruver is an award-winning author, professional speaker, and former actor with over 30 years of experience in mind/body medicine and human behavior. Dr. Gruver is a speaker at the Global Excavation Safety Conference VIRTUAL. Learn more at globalescvirtual.com/education.