The ego states of the transactional analysis

In this article, I will teach you what is transactional analysis and how to use it to control your thoughts, emotions and actions in order to build more positive and healthy relationships.

Transactional analysis suggests that one of the overriding factors of your reactions to conflict situations is not the other’s person behaviour but your own state of mind.

The problem is that you are spending your time trying to figure other people out, when you should draw the attention towards yourself.

According to Eric Berne, each individual has three ego states: the adult, the parent and the child.

The parent is your ingrained voice of authority, absorbed conditioning, learning and attitudes that you accumulated when you were young. This ego was conditioned by your parents, teachers, close relatives, neighbours or older people.

Your parent ego is formed of beliefs and attitudes that start with: ‘how to, under no circumstances, always, don’t lie, cheat, steal, never forget, must, have to etc.’ Your parent ego is formed by external events and influences upon you as you grow. Your parent ego is what you are taught. Your parent ego feels, thinks and behaves based on how your parents or other authority figures acted.

The child ego is formed of your internal emotions, feelings and reactions you had towards the external events you experienced as a child: hearing, seeing, feeling and emotional data. The child is in control when anger, despair or frustration dominates reason. Your child ego is what you had felt. Your child ego thinks, feels and behaves just like you did in your childhood, in response to external events.

Your adult ego is formed through your ability to think and determine actions for yourself based on received data. The adult is the rational part that should predominate all human interactions. In order to change your parent and child self, you need to use your adult self. Your adult ego is what you have thought.

Your adult ego thinks, feels and behaves in response to the hear and now and enables you to draw on your full life experience, getting to a realistic, objective perspective of your experiences. Unlike the adult and child states, the adult isn’t subdivided. That is because the adult ego has access to all information.

Due to their limited information, the parent and child ego states are not great to rely on. You change your ego states in response to thoughts and events you experience or in response to certain people:

  • Events, thoughts and memories that seem unfair will likely put you in your parent state where you become judgmental, angry or superior.
  • Events, thoughts and memories that embarrass you will likely put you in your child ego state where you might feel ashamed and think you are bad.


Characteristics of ego states

The parent ego state is angry, impatient, patronising or expresses body language of authority (finger-pointing). Also, the parent ego uses words like: always, never, for once and for all, and also judgmental, critical and patronising words.

The child ego state is emotional, sad, shows despair, temper tantrums, whining voice, rolling eyes, teasing, speaking behind hand, laughter and giggling. Moreover, the child ego uses words like: I wish, I don’t know, I want, I don’t care, oh no, the worst day of may life, things never get right for me. It also uses superlatives and words to impress.

The adult ego state is attentive, interested, straight forward, non-threatening and non-threatened. The adult ego asks questions to understand others’ views. They make reasoned statements, and use expressions like probably, possibly, I think, I realise, I see, I believe, in my opinion.


The positive and negative sides of  the parent and child ego states

It is important to understand your parent and child ego states in order to use them productively towards your own self-development and self-improvement. By understanding both the negative and positive traits of both of the ego states, you will learn to diminish the negative traits and explore the positive traits that come with them.

The two main manifestation of the parent ego states are: controlling or nurturing. 

The controlling parent can lead to fault-finding, is dismissive and auto-critic. On the other hand, a controlling parent can also lead to positive traits like being firm, organised and constructive.

The nurturing parent is compassionate, caring and nurturing, but can also become smothering, invasive and overprotective.

The two manifestation of the child ego are: adapted or free (rebellious).

The adapted child might have learned to be fearful, compliant, anxious and helpless. On the other hand, the adapted child can be accommodating, cooperative and compliant.

The free child can be wild, eccentric and inconsiderate, but also creative, curious and playful.

How to control your ego

When you communicate, you do it from one of the three ego states. Your feelings are the reason why you would choose an ego state over the other in a specific moment.

You need all of our ego states in order to achieve balance. However, you need to be in control of them. The problems occur when your parent or child ego states control you.

By understanding this theory, you can give yourself the choice of choosing your adult ego over parent or child ego and, as a consequence, create, develop and maintain better relationships.

When you are in control of your emotions, feelings and behaviours and your ego is in adult state, you can access and utilise your parent and child states when you need them.

Challenging and changing your reactions, thoughts and emotions are not easy tasks. However, understanding what determined your feelings, thoughts and behaviours and being aware of the ego state that triggered your reactions can put you back in control of your life.


Final thoughts

I hope this article has taught you what is transactional analysis, how to distinguish between the 3 ego states (parent, adult and child) and how to use this theory to gain a better understanding of your own thoughts, emotions and actions. Furthermore, by understanding what triggers your emotions and reactions, you will be able to be in control of them.

If you have any questions, feel free to leave them below and I will be more that happy to answer them.

All the best,


  (Accredited Counsellors, Coaches, Psychotherapists and Hypnotherapists)

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14 thoughts on “The ego states of the transactional analysis”

  1. This is a powerful and thought provoking article, Ioana! Our mindsets certainly dictate our emotions and reactions toward other people, whether positively or negatively. I love how your broke down the three different ego states: parent ego state (authoritative or domineering), child ego state (whiny or self-absorbed), and the adult ego state (rational, logical and balanced).
    I fully agree that our adult states should dominate our everyday interactions with others: we should think things through, weigh out the pros and cons, and come to an informed decision about everything. Such thinking will make it much easier for us to communicate with one another in a loving and constructive way. Great read! God bless you!

    • Hi CN,

      Thank you for your comment. I am happy to see you enjoyed reading my article. I cannot agree with you more, an informed decision when all the pros and cons have been considered is crucial.

      Kind regards,

  2. This article was eye-opening, and it made me realize things about myself but also about other people I know. I believe that I am mostly using my adult ego, although the child ego has sometimes peeked in. I also know some people who are often led by their parent egos and it is true that that causes problems.
    This was a really interesting read. Understanding this can indeed help how you react in certain situations, although controlling your emotions is never easy, especially when you find yourself in a provocative situation. However, understanding what triggers your reaction is certainly a step towards being more in control of yourself.

    • Hi Christine,

      Thank you for your comment. You are absolutely right, controlling your emotions when triggered is almost impossible, but with the right information, awareness and understanding, it becomes easier. Where there is a will, there is a way.

      Kind regards,

  3. Wow, this was a masterpiece. Everything about this was top notch and the ego states was a new thing I learned from here, and transactional analysis as well. I showed this to my fiancee and her sister and they loved it so much. Thanks for this eye opener. It was really educative and enlightening as well.

    • Hi Igwubor,

      Thank you for your comment. I am happy to see that you’ve found my article educative and enlightening. Thank you for sharing it with your fiancee and sister. 

      Kind regards,


  4. I wasn’t familiar with the term transactional analysis before, but I now know how I can better control my emotions in different situations. The idea of 3 different egos does make sense when thinking about the stages of life. There’s no better time to make a life change than the new year, so I look forward to implementing your strategies.

    • Hi Ivette,

      Thank you for your comment. I am happy that you have learned something new from my article, I hope the information here will help you make the life change you want to.

      Kind regards,

  5. Hi Ioana,

    It’s great that I have came across this article because it has helped me as an Uncle and a godfather of my nephew and niece. But also, my friends young children who I see quite often. The three transactions will definitely help me to take a step back and think more when I am around my niece and nephew.

    This article will also be helpful to my friends when they are with their children too. As with many of your other articles, I will share this with them. They have benefited from your other articles so I am sure they will benefit from this one too.

    Thank you for sharing and keep up your amazing work as always.

    Have a Safe and Happy New Year,


    • Hi Tom,

      Thank you for your comment. I am pleased to see that you will share the article with your friends. The information here is not only referring to parenting, but our own ego states as adults and how our childhood influenced the way we are thinking and behaving.

      Kind regards,

  6. Hi Ioana,

    I’ve always loved articles that dives deep into the psychological state of a person – for this article, ego. It’s really interesting.

    You are right, we should actively understand ourselves. I believe your article has made me reflect a bit more about myself. Most times I feel like I have good control of my emotions, but when an unexpected situation arises, I tend to react strongly. I do hope to improve on that.

    I enjoyed reading this. Felt that I’ve learnt something new!


    • Hi Sam,

      Thank you for your comment. I am pleased to see that you enjoyed reading my article and it helped you reflect on yourself. The best way to always improve ourselves is to become aware of our egos and what stays in the way of our happiness.

      Kind regards,

  7. Hi and thanks for this.
    It’s been many years since I read about transactional analysis. It is interesting how I remember some of the main elements but get really fuzzy on the details. These are very powerful insights. It is always going to be easier to recognize parent, controlling, or child impulsive behaviors in others.
    But as you say the important skill to develop is to recognize these behaviors in ourselves and learn to let the adult speak or more often listen in their stead. You summarized the crux of this subject so well.
    Best regards

    • Hi Andy,

      Thank you for your comment. I am happy to hear that you have gained powerful insight from my article and it reminded you of the paren-child-adult behaviours of transactional analysis and how important is to recognise these behaviours on ourselves in order to become more self-aware and continuously improve.

      All the best,


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