In the emotional intelligence of a youth worker, it is extremely important how to learn how to communicate properly with other people. In Transactional Analysis by Dr. Eric Berne, he talks about the transactions, which are the way that people interact which each other. Berne divides the transaction into complementary, hidden and crossed. However, the type of transaction we are in is related to the ego state from which we entered the interaction.
Ego states are parts of our personality, systems of thinking, behaviours and feelings and can be identified as the ego state of the Parent, the Adult and the Child. We all need ego states to properly function. “We need the ADULT for the situations here and now. We need the PARENT to include ourselves comfortably and safely into the society and the CHILD to be spontaneous, creative”.
None of the above ego states is better than the other, but we need to try to control our behaviour, feelings and thinking so that ego states are aligned with the situation we are faced by. We find ourselves in the ego state of a PARENT when we behave, feel and think the way our parents or important influential people did. We learn most of our parent ego state in our childhood, hence we only recognise the rules of the parents, their tone of voice, expressions etc but not also the reasons for their behaviour. Whatever derives from this ego state, it is embedded as the ‘truth’, because it is what an important person has taught us to believe.
The ego state of a CHILD is bound with emotions and feelings, because as children, we didn’t have many insights about the truth or the reason behind, we merely operated through our emotions - may they be negative or positive. These emotions and feelings of course were conditioned by our experiences from childhood and lack of conscious memories. One may think that having an adult communication through the ego state of a child is not good, but there are many positive features in the child ego state such as curiosity, freedom, adventure, creativity etc.
The ego state of an ADULT is based on our own experiences, information, personal process and previous experiences. This ego state is different than the judgmental PARENT and emotional CHILD. Ego state ADULT is created from ego states CHILD and PARENT but adds some personal deductions and processes of an adult and individual person we have become.
It is important to keep in mind these three ego states when working with youth, because we can understand a young person’s communication much better. Young people, especially from the age of 13 to 20, are still developing their own personality. They are very susceptible to any input in their lives and they can be influenced by many different sources of information, people and experiences. They often behave in the contradictory space between all three ego states.
The job of the youth worker is to explain these three ego states, to help a young person to define each ego state, to find an example or situation that made them react from each ego state. The next step would be to help them be in their ADULT ego state as much as possible: to take responsibilities for their actions, to give them space, time and support to make their own deductions and own interpretations. We should explain to young people that there is a difference between the behaviour and the person, and to understand that by rejecting their negative behaviour, we do not reject them as a person.