I was inspired to write this on my 44th birthday as I reflected on my life and specifically my relationships with people around me. I also reflected on my relationships with my clients, and I challenged myself to think carefully about what it is that has helped me and my clients form long-lasting and meaningful relationships. This led me to ponder several other questions that I think we could all benefit from asking ourselves more regularly.
When we speak with other people, are we aware of why we are speaking with them?
Why do we chose certain people over others?
What are you truly thinking about when the other person is talking?
If you can pay close attention to your unconscious relational patterns (also called life scripts), you will soon find out that there are other “voices” that take part during your interactions with others, which, without your knowledge, help you make decisions and influence many areas in your life. Are you curious to learn more about these “voices”? In the remainder of this blog, I will elaborate more about these “voices” and explain the psychology behind these voices, as well as provide you with some simple steps that you can take to eliminate some of the voices (or background noise, as some might call it) so that you connect/interact with others without distractions.
Step 1: Be Aware of Your Thoughts & Life Scripts
As young children, we receive messages from our environment, and these messages help create the life scripts that we craft for ourselves. This is all happening on an unconscious level, and many of us go through life unaware that our life scripts can define us and construct our lives. If you pay close attention to your interactions and conversations with other people, you will soon realize that the daily interactions you have with others remind you of the relationships with the people who are most close to you. More specifically, you will be reminded of adult figures in your early life or the voices of the child in you that is replaying in your adult head. In order to best illustrate my point, I will share some of my own life scripts and how they have helped shape my life.
As a child I grew up in poverty in a very dysfunctional family and had to leave home due to a lack of financial means as well as emotional support. I saw my family struggle. I then learned that I had to struggle and give up on things I enjoyed in order to survive. In my early adulthood, I studied and worked as hard as I could so that I could survive, but I also established relationships with people who helped feed the voices in my head that told me that I was poor, worthless, and unattractive. For years, I had many opportunities to establish better and closer relationships with people, but I passed on those opportunities and continued to establish negative relationships.
Step 2: Identify Your Three Ego States
Once you establish awareness of some of the voices that are playing in your head during interactions with others, it is important that you categorize these voices into three main states—or ego states as they are referred to in psychology. There are consistent ways of thinking that are formed by our three ego states: Parent, Adult, and Child.
People are often intimidated by the word psychology and psychological theories, but I encourage you to have an open mind when reading this because I believe that this simple theory can help you lead a healthier and happier life.
According to Dr. Eric Bern, a psychiatrist who developed a theory called transactional analysis, understanding the various ego states is the basis for our communication and the backbone for social relationships. Once you understand the parent, adult, and child state and how this might apply to you, you will be able to ask yourself at various times during interactions or situations, “Which voice is present?” Some of us are more aware and in control of these states while others are less aware or not aware at all. Once we are aware of them and learn to integrate them we can live with them with peace and lead a much more fulfilling life. With time and practice, you will learn to identify each state automatically and learn to use other skills that will enable you to be more present.
Step 3: Discover Your Unconscious Relational Patterns
Now that you are able to clearly define and identify the three ego states, I encourage you to take another step forward and identify patterns or behaviors that are repeated in your relationships. For instance, you might identify that when you interact with people or maybe just certain people, you find a very critical voice inside that guides you and governs your behaviors. Feeling worthless or fearful is another common pattern of thought that is usually related to how you felt as a child. To illustrate this point, I will give an example of a client I work with. Lori is a 35 year-old woman who struggles with negative thinking. Lori noticed that during her interactions with men, she experiences a lot of negative thoughts, which results in her inability to form long-lasting relationships. I encouraged Lori to write down her various thoughts after each interaction and it became obvious to her that there was a consistent pattern, which she realized stemmed from her father and his negative attitude. She stated, “I realized that it was my father who was speaking through me and communicating with those men I interacted with….what an epiphany.”
The Following questions can help you identify patterns:
What events and/or people trigger your parent or child states?
Do you have to be in control during specific situations/at all times?
Do you feel forced into taking control?
Do you have a hard time making decision?
Do you try to get others to make decisions for you?
Do you feel fundamentally that you are not as good as others?
Take a few minutes and write down some of the answers to these questions. What did you find out? Anything stand out? Surprised you?
Step 4: What Is Your Game?
When you interact with others, you don’t necessarily think about playing a game. However, if you think about your interactions or transactions (as Dr. Bern refers to them) and further analyze your thoughts and actions, you will find out that you are often playing a game. Meaning, on a conscious or subconscious level you are trying to gain something out of your interactions with people. These games can be mutually beneficial and positive in many incidents, however, it is important to be honest with yourself and be aware that this is occuring. When I first started my practice, I noticed that I had a tendency to ask people about their profession. Initially, I thought that it made a lot of sense to ask someone about their job, but I later realized that I wanted to expand my practice and obtain more clients, and my hope was to identify professionals that I could establish mutual referral relationships. Can you think about your recent interactions and ask yourself whether a game took place? The answer might be no, in which case, a game didn’t take place during that interaction. However, you might find out that during certain situations and with certain people you have a tendency to play games.
Step 5: Strengthen The Adult State & Achieve Real Intimacy
Working with a therapist can help you have a professional sounding board that can help guide you through your journey. Your therapist can help you break down the various interactions into smaller parts as well as identify the various ego states. This can be a very emotional and draining process, depending on your life experiences. However, I believe that this is one of the most important gifts that you can give yourself and your loved ones.
As a child I was very insecure and felt unworthy and also had a loving, but very critical mother. Despite working on identifying my various ego states and strengthening my adult state, I can still identify moments where I don’t value myself and feel unworthy when Interacting with others, which can be reflected in my responses and behaviors. My point is that the fact that you are reading this and learning about the various states is a good starting point and if this is all you can handle at this time, it’s ok as it is important to be kind to yourself during this process.
These steps are a great way to begin the process of establishing more meaningful relationships. I also realize that a lot of this process can be challenging and confusing. If going through these steps has inspired you to want to learn more or work with a therapist who can help guide you on this journey, I encourage you to reach out.