Let’s pretend for a moment that you are five years old again. It is a hot summer day and you see a fountain spewing bubbling water into the heat of the air and landing on the concrete, creating a splash that reaches your knees. Without a second thought you go dashing into the fountain, stomping your feet in the puddles, running briskly trying to beat the water spewing randomly out of the ground.
Now, let’s pretend you are this child’s parent. You see your child running full speed into the slippery, dangerous abyss of wet, wild, and rambunctious children. You might say out loud “be careful!”. You might even beckon them back to make sure their shoes are tight and that they take off their favorite shirt, so as to protect them from the pain they may feel if it gets damaged. You may find a spot on the perimeter where you can have a clear view of them from every angle to make sure they are safe.
Let’s imagine one more scenario. Your age is somewhere in between five and 35. Walking down the sidewalk you come upon this same fountain; you see the children splashing and giggling. As sweat drips down your back, you think “what I wouldn’t give to run through that fountain”. In a matter of seconds you go from “that looks awesome” to, “what would people think of me?”. “My shirt would look so disgusting on me wet.” “I’d rather have sweat stains on my shirt than look like an idiot.”
This illustration represents some of the different parts that make up our Self. This is often referred to as ego states. Working with these different parts in counseling is often called Ego State Therapy. While the scenarios above signify a child state, protector state, and critical self I often find that as complex beings we can have many more as well.
Now imagine the child who grew up in a toxic home environment. Instead of running into the fountain without a thought they may freeze, terrified of the chaos. As a parent, their own anxiety and fear may cause them to grab the child’s hand and keep them close instead of free willingly run into madness. They may have a deep sense of never being good enough, or feeling worthless. The child becomes a wounded child, the protector becomes fearful, and the critical self becomes so powerful that maybe anxiety and depression have become unbearable. Conflict arises when these parts of self are distinct entities, rather than an integrated whole.
The amazing and powerful thing about us as human beings is that we are complex and intricate. We have many aspects that make us whole; powerful strengths that make us who we are! Often we may feel “stuck”, anxious, depressed, and fearful. Through Ego State Therapy the goal is not to get rid of some parts of self, but rather honor and strengthen those parts that serve us and acknowledge and shift those that are no longer helpful. While the child, the protector, and the critical selves are necessary, they can also be harmful to our functioning and contribute to the feeling of “stuckness”. The goal is to integrate these parts so as one is not our primary or overpowering way of being, rather we become whole. In doing this, we work towards healing and growth. Ultimately, becoming our best self!