I find the notion of shifting ego states very compelling. It certainly resonates with my own personal experience. I’ve often thought, it only takes a moment to change the whole world. Here I am one moment feeling low, fragile, anxious, under-confident then, unexpectedly, someone smiles warmly and reassuringly and – hey – the whole world instantly brightens. It’s like the blazing sunshine appearing suddenly from behind a dark cloud.
We have a postcard on the kitchen wall at home with an expression in German, Jeder Moment ist ein neuer Anfang, every moment is a new beginning. Sometimes new beginnings are of our own making, we make a new decision, take a new course of action, choose to see things differently. Other times it feels like new beginnings happen to us, as if caught unawares and finding ourselves propelled by inner feelings or outer circumstances.
A social worker friend of mine in Germany would sometimes say, ‘Es ist eine Frage der Wahrnehmung’, it’s a question of perception. Our perspective changes as we shift between ego states. It’s a phrase borrowed from transactional analysis – how one minute we can feel clear, adult, in the present but in another moment can feel and behave more like parental figures from our past, or how we felt and behaved as a child.
I remember one occasion when I was feeling very tired and stressed at work, but trying to push on ahead anyway. I met with a senior leader and could see a look of surprise and concern on his face as we spoke. It took me by surprise too. I hadn’t been aware of how I was feeling, how defensively I was responding, until I saw his expression. It felt like looking into a mirror, seeing an inverted reflection of myself, a moment of raised awareness.
We can regress into experiences and patterns of responding from our past. We find ourselves feeling off-balance, acting out of character, sometimes surprised by our own reactions. I’m curious about how this happens, what triggers it, how to be aware of it happening in the moment, how to shift back consciously into adult state when it does happen. It’s an ongoing challenge and yet a great opportunity for personal growth.
Nick is a psychological coach, OD consultant and trainer, specialising in critical reflective practice.