Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The parent, the child and the adult walk into a candy store...

I'm sure you've noticed by now that I reference my three voice-keteers post pretty often. And I wanted to explain the concept of the parent, the child and the adult a little more in depth (no, it's not multiple personality disorder).

The idea of the "3 voices in our head" describes the model of a thought process. The theory was developed by Freud who called the three voices: the id, the ego and the super-ego (sound familiar?). You can read more about Freud's theory here (it's a very deep and interesting read). But in order to keep things simple — and easier to relate to — I call them the child (id), the parent (super-ego), and the adult (ego). To me, the visualization of the characters goes a long way. Here's the gist of it:
  • The child is only interested in pleasure and instant gratification; it hates pain and suffering. Think of a 3-year old in a candy store: she doesn't care about right or wrong; all she wants is to eat the candy.
  • The parent is the inner critic. It uses guilt to "help" us conform to socially acceptable norms. Back to the child in the candy store: her mother (the parent) now shows up and scolds her, saying how it's wrong to take candy without asking/paying.
  • Finally, the adult that does its best to please the child, yet avoid upsetting the parent and breaking any of its rules. Its sole purpose is to make the best possible decision under these circumstances. Back, again, to the candy store: the store owner (the adult) comes out the back to see a parent telling off a fit-throwing child. So he says to the child that she can have the candy if she apologizes, and that next time she should ask her mother before eating it. Crisis over.

These three characters are internalized in your head, and they sound off each time a decision needs to be made. At times louder, at times less so. The challenge is to figure out which one is reacting and driving the decision. When you figure that out, you'll be able to pause and recalibrate the reaction into something more calculated. Think about the last argument you had with someone; do you wish you were less angry and more collected (i.e. "less" child)? Where you focused too much on why you were right and they were wrong (i.e. "too much" parent)? If you listen close enough you'll be able to make that distinction. You'll be able to calm the anger or try a different approach other than the right/wrong angle.

Reacting accordingly is up to the adult to carry out. That's just what grownups do. And by reacting accordingly you will be doing your self-esteem a HUGE service. Huge. So get to it!

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