People do battle with themselves. At least, some of them. Dramatic battles, huge wars, but hidden, secret wars. These wars unveil however in the therapy office, some of the few places where people afford to be who they really are, unafraid of judgment or being absolutely silly. And most of these wars are fought between the ego states – the Child, the Adult and the Parent. Yes, I’m going to speak again using the frame of Transactional Analysis (TA), because it fits me more than any other psychotherapeutic approach. Be assured that this is not the only approach I know, but TA simplifies everything a lot.
First I will set-up the background and will give to you an explanatory link:
To put it simple, the Parent is a taught concept (what we learned from the others in our early years). The Child is a felt concept (what we felt versus our early experiences). The Adult is a learned concept, something we develop later in life. Most of the wars with the others are fought between Parents and Children, but I’ll focus more on emotions and the Child this time.
The Child is, didactically, divided into the Free Child and the Wounded Child. Everything in life shapes us, attacks or inveigles us, and we have to adapt. Some parents are critical, abusive, others are disinterested, fearful, unavailable, etc., and we grow, as a consequence to all this stuff, an ego-state of Adapted Child (I use the Wounded Child term because it’s more suggestive). There is, however, a remnant of what we used to be before being “adapted”. Children lost in the woods do behave like animals thanks to this ego-sub-state of Natural Child. But in civilization, we develop our inquisitive and enthusiastic ego-sub-state, the “Little Professor”. The two ego-sub-states are reunited in the ego-state of the Free Child.
Let’s look at our fundamental emotions now. Apart from indifference (lack of emotions) and calm (balanced emotions), there is Anger, Fear, Joy and Sadness. In therapy, we say that Anger and Fear are the two sides of the same coin. In the Parent ego-states, we fully experience these emotions. The Critical Parent is angry, the Protective Parent is anxious. The Adult in us is mostly rational, like a decision-making computer. Both the Free and Wounded Children can experience fear and anger.
What about sadness? It’s hard to tell if we learn how to be depressed from our parents. A critical parent is angry, and anger removes any trace of sadness. A caring parent is unlikely to teach us sadness. Same for the Adult. So it seems that most of our sadness (if not all) comes from our Child, obviously from the Wounded Child, especially because sadness is an emotion developed in time, after several injuries. And that’s why, when working with deep problems in therapy, the ego-state that is more likely to steal our mental energy and use it to get us depressed is the Wounded Child.
As I was saying, wars are fought between Parents and Children. Those are mostly outer wars, relationship wars. The big inner wars are fought between the Wounded Child and the Adult in us trying to maintain control and balance. There are numerous triggers around us that change our mental state. Just open the door of your house, or your tv/radio/internet, and you’ll be flooded by stimuli. You’ll get scared, angry or sad, depending on which one of your ego-states is triggered. You’ll probably become a Critical Parent versus the government, a Protective Parent versus a cute animal or suffering child, and, depending on your life history, your Wounded Child will punish some, obey the others, feel abandoned, helpless or hopeless, and that’s life. At some point, and after many sessions of self-discovery, maybe therapy, maybe meditation, maybe a different spiritual practice, you will begin to notice, to see, more and more, how the Wounded Child steals your life time. And after some time, you’ll learn to prevent it from changing your mood, by forgiving the past abusers, but strengthening yourself, by giving love to yourself – by loving you.
However, when you take something from a human being, as a rule in psychology, you must give something else in return. Denying access to your Wounded Child is great, but you need to begin the quest for the 4th and last fundamental emotion of the human mind: the joy. Happiness is unlikely to come from the Parent or Adult ego-states. It mainly comes from the Free Child. Curiosity, passion, energy, creativity, enthusiasm, many things that some of us have trouble accessing because of the barriers within us. We had this Free Child automatically loading in the past, but for some of us, joy isn’t loaded by default at all now, in the present time. Not being sad, blocking the sadness is only half of the job. A blocked sad Wounded Child will only result in a rational, unemotional, executive Adult. Plus a background activation of the Wounded Child in ways that aren’t available yet to our conscience (a discreet sense of hopelessness, for instance, which is not felt, but exists at a closer look). The other half of the job is to trigger in ourselves the Free Child, to actively seek activities, situations, triggers of joy. This might involve revisiting the past and do again what we enjoyed doing in the past. Re-start our passions, our hobbies. Call back forgotten friends. Everyone has his own list of things that his Free Child enjoyed doing…
It is hard to believe we will manage to heal all the scars left in us, so the Wounded Child will surely try, in unexpected ways, to subdue our life. Our main task will always be, as Adults, to be aware of our emotions. At the same time, releasing the Free Child in us, allowing it to exist in us, is our second task. After all, it is the Child who survived.