Throughout history, and from all standpoints – philosophy, medical science, religion – people have found that every human has a multiple nature.
The well-established ‘Parent, Adult, Child’ model of the human psyche acknowledges our multiple parts and helps explain where these parts came from, how they were formed, and helps us understand ourselves in the present.
Thoughts, feelings and behaviours we copied from our parents.
Thoughts, feelings and behaviours we are aware of and that are appropriate to the here-and-now.
Thoughts, feelings and behaviours we experienced as a child.
This part of us is made up of the thoughts, feelings and behaviours that we saw in our parents and copied.
When we are in Parent this state we think, feel and behave as our actual parents or caregivers did when we were children.
As James Baldwin, famous American novelist and essayist, said
“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them. They must. For they have no other models.”
In this state it is as if someone presses “play” on a recording in our mind and we repeat what we saw and heard without question. This might be values and morals – “Big boys don’t cry” “Smile and the world smiles with you” “Elbows off the table!” – as well as emotions, for example never seeing your parent cry or get angry.
The Adult state consciously responds to the here-and-now reality. It is the only state that is not connected to the past.
If I asked you how to make an omelette you would probably tell me from your Adult state. Equally if someone dies and you grieve, you are responding in an appropriate way from your Adult part.
When we are in Adult we are aware of our thoughts, feelings and behaviours, why they are happening and we consciously choose them.
In our Child state we repeat thoughts, feelings and behaviours that we formed as a child.
From the excitement we felt at Christmas to the historic (and survival-serving) fear we had of being rejected, abandoned or disapproved of by our parents, our Child state is rooted in the past.
As children the world is big and scary. We were utterly dependant on our parents. In this vulnerable state our emotional reactions were survival-based and so imprinted strongly – we carry them with us throughout our adult life. In the present we may often “rubber-band” back into those thoughts, feelings and behaviours.
Learning to recognise and nurture this Child part of us is key to more balance and autonomy later in life.
We can immediately see that two of these three states are rooted in the past. This can protect us, but can also cause trouble in our relationships.
That is why it’s helpful to understand our multi-dimensional nature. Through education, self-awareness and therapy, we can update our Adult part with new information and better understand, embrace and challenge our Child and Parent patterns.
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