Ego State Therapy – A Life-Changing Concept
Updated: Oct 20, 2021
I used to suffer from chronic anxiety. This anxiety played in my background and had a big impact on my thinking patterns, feelings and behaviours, even though I wasn’t consciously aware of it at the time.
Ever since I came across the concept of self-love, I embarked on a journey of healing and self-discovery. This journey wasn’t smooth-sailing, there were many times when I felt frustrated and wanted to give up. One of the most frustrating thought was, “Why are you back to square one? You did it yesterday. Why are you back to your anxious old-self?” This self-blame that stemmed from self-love truly bugged me. The constant swing from one emotion to another made me doubt my sanity at one stage, until I discovered this psychology concept called “Ego State Therapy”. This concept helps me to gain a better understanding of myself and adds so much more love and meanings to my journey. Challenges exist still, but I now know how to better support myself in these situations.
So what are ego states really? Do you ever have the experience of feeling an array of emotions in a day? Confident this second, anxious the next? This is due to the different ego states that live within you. Each of us is made up by a group of different ego states. Each ego state contains a distinct quality such as confident, fearful, outgoing, shy, cheerful, pessimistic, etc. You can think of yourself as a bus with many passengers (ego states). When a passenger takes over the driver’s seat, he or she becomes the main character. Whichever ego state that you are in, you are convinced that “this is me”.
So the next question is, where are these ego states from? Our past experience has a big role in this. For example, if a kid got praised for helping out his parents, the next time he craves attention or compliments he will take initiatives in helping. If he continues to receive positive feedback he will develop an ego state that loves helping. On the other hand, if this kid got scolded for making mistakes and this experience was traumatic to him, it could form an ego state in him that is afraid of making mistakes/ failure. In short, ego states can be formed by repetitive behaviours or past traumatic experience. Ego states are not something abstract, but something that actually exist in the physical form. They are neural pathways that reside in our brain. In other words, an ego state is a group of neural pathways that dictates a certain set of emotions, behaviours and reactive responses.
These ego states, as frustrating as they can be at times, truly believe that they are doing us a favour. Take the little kid in our previous example, his ego states were created to gain attention or to avoid hurt. As we grow up, most ego states grow with us. However, when they don’t for some reasons, they can lead to sabotaging patterns such as things we do to avoid failure, making mistakes, judgements, rejections, etc. When certain situations trigger the wounded inner child within us, this child will take over the steering wheel and become the bus driver. The way he presents himself could be anxiety, fear and worry, so as to protect us from re-experiencing the hurt he’d been through. This inner child might be oblivious to the fact that we have grown up and are now capable of protecting ourselves in a healthier and more wholesome manner. Locating this inner child and showing him love and attention is the key to healing and growth.
So the next thing we need is to cultivate our awareness. When we fall back into a fearful or anxious state, ask if there’s any real danger that can jeopardise our lives? If there’s none, it is highly likely that our wounded inner child has taken over the driver’s seat. A lot of us suffer from our harsh inner critics that blame us for being childish, emotional or irrational. A common one we hear is “Could you be a grown-up?” But is blaming really helping? If you know your wounded inner child lacks the 'emotional nutrients' to grow up, will you choose to blame yourself still? (I will be posting another article about 'emotional nutrients' so make sure you subscribe to my blog for the latest updates.) When we hurt ourselves physically, we know we have to protect the wound by putting on a band-aid, so why do we do the opposite (ie. blaming that aggravates the wound) when we are emotionally hurt?
So may I propose an emotional band-aid? When our wounded inner child shows up, we can choose to give ourselves love and patience. The truth is, we already possess everything that our inner child needs. We now know how to protect ourselves, and we know how to love, like how we love our partner, children, friends, pets, etc. You can invite the stronger, more loving ego states within you to support and nurture your wounded ego states.
The next time you find yourself stuck in the “one step forward, two steps back” cycle, don’t be too harsh on yourself. Know that you are a unique, complex and beautiful being made up of many different ego states. There is not a single person in this world who has the exact same group of ego states as you. You are literally one-of-a-kind and irreplaceable. Fear not, for the Universe is on your side. Just as our Universe is constantly expanding, it looks forward to your expansion too. All challenges are merely an invitation to look inward, to resolve our past traumas so we can expand into a bigger and better version of ourselves. We each have a unique set of gifts and talents within us, waiting to be expressed and shared. Each of us is destined to shine. I hope you find your unique light code that brightens up the whole Universe.