The Four Ego Personalities and The Unconscious Child & Parent Within (From: The Right Brain & the Unconscious (Plenum Press, New York, 1992).
Rhawn Gabriel Joseph, Ph.D.
Brain Research Laboratory
All living things are not only what they are, but what they were. An alcoholic is still an alcoholic although he has not had a drink in twenty years. Someone who has deliberately killed another human being is still a murderer although he has not taken a life in over a decade. A poor man might become rich, but the memory of those years of poverty never completely fades. Metamorphosis is only possible for insects, since human beings have not yet learned to shed their skin. For mammal or man, what you were, what you have experienced, greatly influences if not determines what you will become. Growth is the nature of all living things, but complete transcendence occurs only with death.
THE CENTRAL CORE
As a tree grows the young tree that it once was never disappears but rather only adds layer upon layer which come to be superimposed upon its core. Deep inside, the baby tree that it once was is still alive.
The manner in which the young tree first took shape, the forces which acted upon it, the twists, turns, bends, breaks that it is subject to by wind, rain, humans, or disease determines the shape the tree will assume as it matures and ages. No matter how well tended it comes to be, it will never completely outgrow any neglect and lack of care experienced when it was but a sapling. If we were to cut down and examine the inner most portion of this tree, we would discover that the young tree that it once was continues to exist at its central core. It is still alive and forever retains its original form. What the young tree was, it will always be. What it was becomes the foundation for what it will be.
The adult tree retains this living core having grown outward from it. If we were to rot out this central core the tree would die as the integrity of the entire tree is dependent upon it. If the central core were weak and diseased, then no matter how expert the care, the adult tree would remain as feeble as its foundations.
THE CHILD WITHIN
Just as the living tree retains its early core, within each and every one of us, within the very core of our being is the Child that we once were. This Child is alive and constitutes the foundation of what we have become, who we are, and what we will be.
Although as adults we have grown, matured, had new experiences, assumed new responsibilities, changed our minds over a thousand times, and have done and said things we swore we would never do, the Child at our central core remains the child it always was. This Child has never grown up and continues to harbor the same feelings, emotions, resentments, frustrations, and memories which were present during childhood. It is in fact, a complex of emotional and experiential associations that together constituted a significant part of our early life. Although but a fragment of what we are, it remains the totality of what we were, what we experienced, how we were treated, how we felt, with the same desires, fears, and hopes.
If this Child was rejected or abused, it continues to feel and act as if it were being rejected and abused long after attaining adulthood. If it was predominantly loved, praised, encouraged and treated with dignity and respect, it would continue to expect such treatment long after having become an adult. Just like the tree, the manner in which we were raised and the environmental stresses and parental pressures that we were subject to shapes not only the character of the child but continues to exert formidable influences on the manner in which we behave and interact as adults. Indeed, sometimes the Child never grows up and remains fixated in character at a certain traumatic point in life.
THE UNCONSCIOUS CHILD EGO/PERSONALITY.
Young children are predominantly emotional beings, since language, thought, and the temporal-sequential aspects of consciousness are not yet well developed. Children are predominantly emotional and limbic in orientation and their psychic functioning is governed by unconscious forces. Hence, our child-like central core is not to be found in the left but in the right brain and limbic system. Indeed, the Child that we once were continues to exist in the central core of the unconscious in the form of a Child-like ego/personality.
Broadly, the unconscious Child ego/personality (hereafter referred to simply as the Child or Child ego) maintains the same feelings of self-worth, the same self-concept, the same self-image, and all associated cognitions, memories and emotions which were formed during childhood. It has the personality of a child, acts childish, and encompasses associated feelings and emotions aroused by others when we were young as well as the labels (e.g. stupid, pretty, ugly, clever, retarded, talented, pig, generous, failure, successful) that were repeatedly applied to us by other children, family members, and particularly, our parents. Because these experiences and emotions are associated, they tend to be recalled and reexperienced together as a complex of interrelated feelings. This associated complex of unconscious feelings constitutes the Child ego. Because so many labels and so many experiences and linked so as constitute the Child, often even seemingly innocuous events can trigger, via association, activation of the entire Child complex. The person might then behave in a very hurt and childish manner.
LEARNING TO BE "NOT OK"
THE NEED FOR PHYSICAL & INTIMATE ASSOCIATION WITH OTHERS
Physical, social and emotional interaction during infancy is critically important in neurological, intellectual, social and emotional development of the child. In order to successfully thrive and survive and prosper and to withstand emotional stress and other onslaughts of a negative manner, children need all the love and physical stroking they can get. Children are so needy in this regard that they are in fact biologically driven by their limbic systems to seek loving contact.
ABUSIVE PARENTS & THE NEED FOR LOVE
Children may have parents who burn them with cigarettes and break their bones, yet these children will cling to these parents in search of love. Like Harlow's infant monkeys, it is beyond their control, as they need love and are biologically dependent on their parents. Their parents are their world and the only world they have. Children are biologically predisposed to seek association and physical contact and once those bonds are established they are extremely difficult to break. Nevertheless, so intense is the need for stimulation that sometimes even a bad parent is better than no parent. That is, in the extreme, if mothering and the stimulation of physical contact is not provided on a regular basis, the result can be death.
During the early 1900s, when the need for mothering and physical contact was not well recognized, the death rates for orphaned children under 1 year of age were more than 70%. Of 10,272 children admitted to the Dublin Foundling Home during a single 25 year period, 10,237 died 1.
Those who have survived an infancy spent in other institutions in which mothering and contact comfort were minimized, were characterized by low intelligence, extreme passivity, apathy, severe attention deficits, and extreme difficulty forming attachments 2,3. In fact, so great is the need for physical, emotional stimulation, that deprived infants will begin to self-stimulate and sometimes develop bizarre and even self-abusive behaviors. Later in life their ability to form emotional attachment is almost abolished.
In the extreme, consider the social behavior of adult monkeys who were deprived of mothering and were raised with "terry cloth surrogate mothers". As described by Harry Harlow 4, These monkeys when they reached adulthood would "sit in their cages and stare fixedly into space, circle their cages in a repetitive stereotyped manner and clasp their heads in their hands or arms and rock for long periods of time. They often develop compulsive habits, such as pinching precisely the same patch of skin on their chest between the same fingers hundreds of times a day; occasionally such behavior may become punitive and the animal may chew and tear at its body until it bleeds."
And why is this? Even painful, abusive stimulation is better than no stimulation at all. The alternative is death.
FEELING REJECTED & UNLOVED
Children and infants who have neglectful, rejecting, or worse, abusive parents are doubly damaged and deprived. In some cases where mothering and attention are minimal the baby will fail to thrive. It's ability to thrive in an emotionally and psychologically healthy manner is also unfortunately affected. When a very young child feels badly, he often concludes that he must have done something to trigger these bad feelings.
An abused child cannot conceive of the possibility that his mother or father is deranged or quite sick. Rather, emotionally he feels if he is being called names, beat, rejected, or ridiculed, it is because of something he has done, it is because he is bad. If he is unloved it is because he is unlovable. For the abused child there is nothing wrong with his parent, there is something wrong with him.
DIVORCE & DEATH
A child who is raised without a father or a mother, the child who is adopted, the child who loses a parent or parents due to death often share a common unconscious emotional reaction, the feeling of being rejected and abandoned. Unconsciously they may be plagued by the question: "Why?" "Why me?" "What's wrong with me?" "Why don't mommy or daddy love me?" "If they loved me they wouldn't have left me." Consciously and unconsciously they are bothered by the suspicion that "there must be something wrong with me." Since they feel bad they concluded that they are bad. It is this badness which must have driven mommy and daddy away.
Infants and children cannot reason like adults as their psyche is governed by the immediacy of emotion. Moreover, since the right hemisphere and Limbic System are predominantly concerned with emotion and social interactions they respond to their experiences in only an emotional and visceral manner and in accordance with its needs of being loved and accepted. Insofar as the limbic system is concerned, it wants love and it wants it now. Reasons and explanations to the otherwise mean nothing.
The child who loses his parents, knows only that mommy and daddy are gone, and unconsciously they may feel abandoned, and possibly unloved, and unlovable. The overwhelming unconscious sense is that of being rejected and feeling different which makes the child feel terribly hurt and sometimes very angry. Indeed, although not necessarily put into words, the emotional impact is just as devastating.
We can explain to the child that his mommy or daddy loved him very much, and we can give eminently reasonable explanations for the death, divorce, or the necessity of his being left with relatives while mommy worked. However, children are emotional and are not capable of rationalizing and understanding events in the manner that is so clear to an adult. They take the loss or absence of their parents in a profoundly personal manner. Even the most stable of adults may respond in a similar fashion when his parents or loved ones die --he feels miserable, frightened, upset and guilty.
Unfortunately, children, likes adults, may not even be conscious of these feelings, and may not express or describe them except indirectly.
WE ARE ALL TAUGHT TO FEEL "NOT OK"
We need not undergo the trauma of losing a parent or being adopted in order to feel that one is different and that there is something wrong with us. As so insightfully discussed by Eric Berne, Fred Harris, and W. H. Missildine, in their respective books 10, "The Games People Play," "I'm OK. Your O.K.," "Your Inner Child of the Past," early in life each child is taught that what he or she is is "not OK." This is because we must all shed characteristics which are not acceptable, and the limbic system must be tamed 5.
Fortunately, many children also receive "your OK" messages as well. OK messages, however, often do not make the same intense impressions. "Not OK" feelings often predominate and make a more lasting impact.
Since children are completely dependent on their parents, these God-like all powerful individuals initially provide their children with a mirror and the standards by which their self image arises. There is a biological need for physical contact, love and association and it is through association with others that we discover who we are.
To be accepted, to win praise, means to shed characteristics that our parents find objectionable. We learn what is undesirable by physical punishment, verbal scolding, admonishments, or the withholding of approval. We learn what is "OK" and what is "not OK." We learn that we must become other than what we are, and that what we are is in some manner unacceptable; i.e. "Not OK."
EVEN GOOD PARENTS GIVE "NOT OK" MESSAGES
The normal process of socialization, and the steady stream of disproval, punishments, scolding, spankings, deprivations and other admonishments from our parents as they attempt to teach us self-control create feelings of guilt and inadequacy in the child. Even "good children" who have very loving, accepting parents, at one time or another suffer punishment, the withdrawal of love, or looks of embarrassment. At one time or another, every child learns that something about him is "not OK."
Hence, a normal by-product of the early socializing process are negative feelings and emotions. Children do not like to feel "not OK" and do not like to be thwarted in their desires. When this occurs they feel badly. Unfortunately, many children unconsciously conclude that if they feel badly, they must be bad. Even anger at the thwarting, disproving parent may give rise to bad feelings because these emotions are so threatening. Although angry, every child needs and wants the love of their parents. Hence, even feelings of anger may give rise to guilt and the suspicion that "I am not OK."
Again, as pointed out by Dr. Thomas Harris, almost all children at an early age begin to feel and begin to conclude that there is something wrong and unacceptable about them. Even children of parents who are good, loving, kind and supportive experience these "not OK" feelings since they are endemic of the socialization and educational process.
During the course of being socialized our parents, or other authority figures begin to impress upon us what they consider good, bad, acceptable, objectionable, lovable and unlovable. They may do this by yelling "No," or hitting us or calling us names. When we are engaged in a behavior which they disagree with they may tell us "don't," "You can't," "don't you dare," or give us looks of pain, embarrassment, anger, disappointment, rejection, shame, and so on, messages keenly observed by the right half of the brain. In fact, parents and adults give each other these same messages.
The constantly reinforced message is that "I am not OK." "There is something wrong with me." "What I am is not acceptable." "I must be different and must change in order to be accepted and loved by my parents."
Indeed, even parents who hold their tongue and try to distinguish between "being bad" and "behaving badly" may inadvertently instill this sense of inadequacy. Disapproval can be non-verbal and quite subtle: a frown, a sigh of disappointment, a look of sadness or exasperation, foot tapping, arms folded across the chest, a furrowed brow, pursed lips, head-wagging, hands on hips, pointing with the index finger, an irritated or unhappy tone of voice, or even a failure to acknowledge some success. However, its overall impact is similar and all these messages are intently attended to and registered in the right cerebral hemisphere. Again, however, these non-verbal messages are commonly transmitted, often unconsciously, between adults.
It is very important for children to receive these messages, for this is how they learn self control and how to set standards. Hence, parents need to punish their children when they misbehave. However, more important, parents have to love their children all the more soon after punishment has been administered, as well as when their children are well behaved, or are just being children. Children need to know that they are loved, especially after being punished for behaving badly. Moreover, although punishment is not the best way to change behavior, it certainly is more effective in this regard when administered immediately after the act has occurred by someone whom they know loves them. It makes a more meaningful impact when coming from someone you love and who loves you, and who you know will continue to love you again. It is in this manner that the limbic system comes under increased control, and the right and left half of the brain learn the differences between being loved versus mistreated.
Few of us escape the varying sense of unimportance that is instilled in us by our parents, and society when we are little children. Our feelings are sometimes thought of lightly, our desires thwarted, and if not told to "clean up our mess," "be quiet," "shut up" and "quit asking so many questions," we may be ignored, told to wait until we are older, or even punished for reasons which are not at all clear to us.
Sometimes we were even forced to wear certain clothes or eat foods that we did not like. Indeed, this feeling of being forced, of being told to wait, to be quiet, to go play outside, is yet another form of diminishment. In a sense, children often feel belittled. Even children who are "overprotected" are in fact being told, "You are inadequate."
Common messages sent by even well meaning parents are: "you're too young for that... you'll never be able to do that... if you do that you'll get hurt... you're not big enough.... you're too small... not strong enough.. not smart enough... too stupid... can't sing... can't hit.... can't catch... can't throw... lazy... that's nonsense... absurd... naughty... ridiculous... shocking... foolish... idiotic... you never... should... etc. all of which are negative appraisals.
Depending on the amount of love and acceptance that is otherwise available, a high frequency of these negatives can cause the child to feel very badly about himself, to distrust his own capabilities and to anticipate failure as his own abilities are not seen as good enough. Unless the child is also given a lot of love and has received positive feedback about his capabilities, often these messages can form the basis for conscious and unconscious self-contempt in child and adulthood.
FEELING LEFT OUT.
Childhood can be a happy time; childhood can be a time of trauma. However, no matter how happy, we have all had occasions when other children may have responded to us in a cruel, teasing, or hostile manner. Perhaps we may have been left out of some activity, were last to be chosen as part of a team, excluded from some group, or otherwise made to feel inept, lonely, hurt, inadequate, rejected, and isolated. Indeed, messages of being "not OK" can be frequently transmitted outside the family and other children can sometimes be very vicious and cruel.
SEEKING TO MAINTAIN THE FAMILIAR.
Feelings of being alone, left out, and unloved are always painful. Even if these experience are transitory and infrequent, they nevertheless leave an indelible imprint, particularly within the mental system of the right half of the brain. That imprint, however, often remains unconscious, and although unconscious it continues to influence the way we behave, think, and feel.
Due to these unconscious influences some people seek out experiences or people who will create the same familiar "not OK" emotional atmosphere that at one time was a "normal" part of our existence. Even if unpleasant, the familiar is easier to accept than what is strange, different and unfamiliar. They can "relate" to it. Moreover, by recreating the past, they get one more chance to "fix" that problem or obtain the love they were always denied. Unfortunately, if these experiences and this sense of the familiar are maintained predominantly within the right brain mental system, the left half of the adult cerebrum may have little or no knowledge as to their presence and influence.
THE CRITICAL PARENT WITHIN
Our parents are the initial if not only source of love and affection that is available to us during infancy and early childhood. We learn who and what we are by the way they touch us, look at use, treat us, by the names they use to describe us and through the manner in which they make us feel. These experiences and feelings become linked and highly associated as all these messages are attended to by the right brain.
It is through our parents that our initial conception of Self is formed and through which we develop feelings of self-worth. This initial self-concept in turn becomes the foundation upon which we continue to build our sense of Self, what we are, what we are capable of, if we are lovable, hateful, good, bad, ugly, or deserving of abuse.
Children learn who they are by the manner in which they are treated. They learn what they can be by the examples set by their parents. Parents are not only the child's world and universe, but for tiny children they are models of what they may become. Little girls want to be like their mommy's, trying on their shoes, putting on their make up, and little boys look to their fathers as models of what it means to be a man. Our parents also teach us how we should expect to be treated.
Children learn by example and often they model these examples, incorporating what they see and hear and engaging in similar behaviors when they play. If their parents yell, fight, argue, and sometimes hit one another, children will yell, fight, argue, and turn their playgrounds into battlefields where the wars observed at home can be fought and acted out again and again. If parents swear and curse, often the same curses and oaths of anger will be repeated by their children, sometimes in the most innocent of circumstances.
For example, when I was very little I often spent several weeks, two or three times a year staying with my grandparents on their farm. My grandparents were religiously very strict and did not drink, smoke, or even believe in dancing. My parents, however, often used very bad language, but not in the presence of my grandparents.
Although raised in the city, I loved the farm and loved my grandparents dearly. One day, however, as I was riding in the back of my grandfather's pickup out among the fields of corn I began to sing: "goddamnsonofabitch... goddamnsonofabitch..., etc". Later, my grandmother said she could hear my little 3 year old voice miles away at the farm house. My grandfather immediately stopped the truck, walked around to the side where I was gaily singing away, and slapped me across the face thus cutting short my singing career. He had never hit me before or after. Hence, this made quite an impression. Indeed, almost 13 more years passed before swearing again became part of my repertoire.
When our parents engage in certain behaviors which we then observe, or when they treat us in a certain manner, we learn and possibly model and mimic these modes of interacting. We learn by trial and error and by example. For very young children, their parents often initially offer the only examples that may be learned.
By example, our parents show us how to behave toward others, how loved ones should be treated, and how we should expect to be treated by those who supposedly love and care for us. These early parental experiences, be they the attitudes, emotions, speech patterns, tone of voice, facial gestures, non-verbal activities or other behaviors are of course registered in memory and figuratively etched into the fabric of the limbic system and right half of the brain.
If our parents, treated us with love and respect, then this is incorporated and repeatedly acted out with dolls, toys, and friends both real and imaginary. If they hit, yelled, scolded, criticized, and belittled our behavior, efforts, and accomplishments, then this too was incorporated and internalized. Our parents teach us how we should expect to be treated.
Sometimes the good and the bad are differentially stored in memory. Positive experiences are more likely to receive a verbal label, that is, as compared to the negative. Thus the left brain may store and retain the ability to gain access to positive emotions and memories. However, since the negative, which along with all aspects of what is emotionally significant are stored within the right, the left brain may later be unable to recall or gain access to past experiences which are still troubling. Later in life if the negative and unpleasant are recalled by the right brain, thus creating emotional havoc, the left brain may be completely unable to gain access to the source and origin of it's difficulties. It will not know why it is upset, angry, and so on.
THE UNCONSCIOUS PARENT
The mind of the child is quite malleable. Impressions are easily made and maintained. Indeed, just as an impression of someone's hand can be left in wet cement, the impressions made by our parents also make an impression in the very malleable, as yet unformed psyche of the child. These linked and associated images and impressions stay with us forever in the form of an internalized Parent. This internalized unconscious Parent then continues to exert influences similar to those exerted by our parents but within the confines of our own psyche.
The shape of our mind affects the shape and form of our feelings and thoughts. The manner in which our mind was shaped will in turn influences the manner in which future thoughts and feelings take form. Hence, future thoughts, feelings, fears, hopes and desires will echo the feelings, descriptions, pronouncements, and images repeatedly imposed upon us by our parents. If we were repeatedly told we are a failure, the parental voice will echo forever in the form of a Parent Ego/personality (hereafter referred to simply as the Parent or Parent Ego) that is now ours and ours alone. It is inside of us and it is alive!
Indeed, just as the child that we once were continues to exist and exert its influences on our behavior and feelings, a verbal/non-verbal and emotional image of our parents is also maintained thanks to the interaction of the amygdala, hippocampus, and the right half of the brain. The image is composed of a linked complex of feelings and experiences associated with the treatment dealt us by the authorities who ruled our early life, including, sometimes, older siblings, grandparents, in addition to parents.
This complex of associated parental images and models of behavior begin to constitute our own internalized Parent Ego which then begins to comment and criticize us within the confines of our own mind. For example, if our parents were emotionally abusive and treated us as if we were worthless and unlovable, the Parent Ego will treat us in the same manner. If they mixed the bad with the good, this too will come to be experienced in the form of the Parent ego. The shape and manner in which our minds have been molded demand this.
Thus within the shadows and recesses of our mind are the shadows cast by our parents, forever beckoning, threatening, admonishing, loving, hating, thwarting or demanding that we live up to their pronouncements, labels and descriptions of us, be they good or bad.
THE PARENT EGO/PERSONALITY
Thus developing simultaneously with the advent of the unconscious Child is the ego personality of the unconscious Parent. The unconscious Parent Ego personality corresponds to our developmental experiences with authority figures, specifically our parents or their surrogates, and represents an internalization and incorporation of their values, admonishments, behavioral patterns, morals, judgments and related traits. This also includes the manner in which they treated us and made us feel about our selves.
Indeed, as the child's psyche is in large part molded by the manner in which it is treated, in the final analysis the treatment shapes the mold so both become nearly identical and both exert their influences forever in the form of a parent image. The parent leaves his own image in the wet cement of the child's psyche in the form of a Parent Ego which forever remains as it was originally experienced.
That imprint, however, often remains unconscious and continues to influence the way we behave, think and feel. Indeed, often it compels us to seek out experiences, situations or people who will create the familiar Parental emotional atmosphere that at one time was a "normal" part of our upbringing. Again, however, good messages tend to be more easily accessed and coded by the left brain, whereas the good and bad may be stored in the right. Because of this, we may have very mixed feelings and often feel confused, particularly if the bad far exceeded the good. The right and left half of the brain will have trouble reconciling these differential influences.
If we were repeatedly told we were "bad" and "no good" and experienced little success to makes us feel otherwise, this will come to affect the right half of the brain and the unconscious mind so that later in life we will seek out friends, lovers, teachers, or employers who will treat or tell us the same. Or, we will find friends, lovers, or employees that our now unconscious Parental voice can criticize in our place. That is, we assume a Parental attitude and the unconscious Parent Ego becomes activated and begins to criticize the actions of others, just as we were criticized when we were but little children.
The unconscious Parent will demand that we live up or down to their expectations and to continue receiving (or dishing out) the treatment that we were told we deserved.
THE PARENT, CHILD & ADULT EGO PERSONALITIES
THE RIGHT BRAIN
The right cerebral hemisphere (including initially the Limbic System), is predominantly concerned with social and emotional perception and expression, including the storage of emotional memories. It is the initial repository of all our childhood experiences including our feelings and impressions as to how our parents treated us. Because as very young children our ability to understand and reason was quite limited, and as our language abilities was also not well developed, most of these very early experiences were stored only within the right brain or in a code not accessible to language.
Hence, both the Child and Parent Egos are the result of visual and emotional images, associations and impressions stamped into the unconscious mental system maintained by the right cerebral hemisphere. The left brain may have little knowledge or understanding as to their presence, except in regard to positive memories which may be more accessible.
The right brain having selectively experienced and stored in memory the matrix of emotions and feelings which make up the Child and Parent, can at a later time in response to certain situations act on those memories. It can also reactivate the Unconscious Child or Parent and all its attendant feelings and attitudes, much to the surprise, perplexity, or chagrin of the left half of the brain. When this occurs, the left brain can only respond "I don't know why I acted that way." As noted, the language dependent, conscious mind and left brain, cannot always gain access to memories stored in the right half of the brain, particularly if they were negative and unpleasant.
THE ADULT SELF EGO/PERSONALITY
As the child ages the Child and Parent Ego matrix do not disappear. However, over time these aspects of psychic and emotional functioning are supplemented by the formation of a more mature ego which consists of the Adult Ego personality. The Adult personality is similar to what we consciously recognize as our ideal Self; i.e, our Adult Self Image. (Hereafter the terms Adult Ego and Adult Self Image will be used interchangeably).
The Adult Self is more closely associated with consciousness and is thus more easily recognized by the conscious mind. This is due to its being largely formed after the development of language and the temporal-sequential aspects of consciousness. However, it is also in part an ideal as to how an Adult should behave as well as representing the more mature, responsible, and controlled aspects of our personality. We do not act as adults as all times and sometimes we can act very childish or parental.
Hence, whereas the Child and Parent are largely associated with the right brain and the unconscious regions of the mind, the Adult Ego is more or less maintained by the conscious aspect of our psyche. However, the Adult Self image is a composite or a variety of experiences and feelings. Although predominantly consciously maintained the Adult also transcends consciousness and occupies the mental realms of consciousness and awareness maintained by both the left and right hemisphere.
CONSCIOUS RECOGNITION OF THE EGO/PERSONALITIES.
Just as certain capabilities are maintained in both halves of the brain, so are certain aspects of the Adult, Child and Parent. That is, our parents also spoke in words and sentences, and as we aged, so did we, and these linguistic experiences be they associated with our Parent or our Child, are in turn stored in the left half of the brain. This is why we are not only aware of their presence, but can become conscious, with some effort of this as well. However, what is most accessible to the conscious mind and the left brain, is the positive and our rationalizations and confabulations regarding the negative.
What we are unconsciously aware of, and what we are conscious of often comprise two different aspects of ostensibly the same experience. This is due not only to the different way in which the right and left brain process information, but to the immaturity of the corpus callosum. Hence, for the child, much that is experienced cannot be compared or become clearly associated. What is stored in memory are in fact two different experiences and thus two different memories; one of which is maintained in the right, the other in the left half of the brain.
Indeed, neither the Adult Self, Parent, or Child Egos is wholly conscious or unconscious as they have both verbal and non-verbal components. If they all were only conscious or unconscious, successful interactions between these different realms would be almost impossible. one would never know what the other side was doing. There would be no Self, but only fragments of a whole; a multiplicity of personalities and ego states each unrelated to the other. It would be as if there were two completely separate people existing but not communicating within the same head; a condition that arises only after the corpus callosum has been completely severed.
The only aspect of the mind which is almost entirely unconscious is that aspect of the psyche and the ego/personality associated with the Limbic System. This is the IDfant Ego personality, the most primitive aspect of the mind.
THE IDfant/LIMBIC EGO/PERSONALITY
The IDfant Ego personality (hereafter referred to as the IDfant) is a mental system which arises in association with and as reflective of the primitive interactions of the Limbic System of our brain. It also corresponds to the most primitive and the most inaccessible, infantile, reflexive aspect of the unconscious and is somewhat similar to what Freud labeled as the Id almost 100 years ago.
As mentioned before, the Limbic System consists of several ancient and primitive nuclei buried within the depth of our brain. It is concerned with maintaining internal homeostasis, minimizing tensions, and regulating food and water intake as well as the most rudimentary aspects of emotional functioning, i.e. pleasure, rage, feeding, fighting, fleeing, and sexual intercourse.
The Limbic System, specifically, the hypothalamus, and its corresponding IDfant mental system is almost fully functional at birth, and although it can be modified through experience, it is intensely concerned with maximizing pleasure and minimizing unpleasant tensions. The IDfant serves the Pleasure Principle and our homeostatic needs.
If the infant is hungry, the limbic system causes it to cry and finally to engage in raging, screaming vocalizations if its needs are not met. Essentially, the IDfant ego/personality says: "I want it and I want it now!" It knows nothing of morals, has no conscience, no sense of reality, and makes no judgments regarding right or wrong or the inappropriateness of its desires.
The experiences and memories which make up the IDfant are generally not amenable to reflective scrutiny by right or left brain conscious/awareness, as it is almost wholly unconscious. However, it can continue to influence and take control over behavior even among well adjusted, moral, educated adults. When this occurs the person is likely to behave in an impulsive manner, without thinking and without regard for consequences. As such their behavior is likely to be described as infantile, selfish, self-centered, and in the extreme, sociopathic, psychopathic, and criminal.
Nevertheless, while in the role of the Adult, or Parent or Child, we often pander to the needs and desires of the Limbic System, and thus the Idfant portion of the psyche; hence the complete and unending fascination with sex, food, and violence exploited so skillfully by television and the movies.
Together the unconscious aspects of the Child, Parent and IDfant constitute in part the unconscious self-image. As a complex of unconscious interacting influences they may be referred to collectively as the "Lesser Ego," for often (but not always) they exert influences that the conscious Adult Self finds undesirable or negative. The Lesser ego is a source of personal doubt and feelings of inferiority. When activated it often thwarts conscious goals and desires, and is often the source of emotional conflicts and unhappiness. The seeking of the familiar unhappiness of one's childhood, is often its prerogative.
THE CONSCIOUS AND UNCONSCIOUS SELF IMAGE
As we grow and develop, the limbic system and the IDfant mental system begin to lose their preeminent dominance over behavior as the neocortex (new brain) and the right and left cerebral hemisphere mature and wrest control over these primitive systems.
The non-motor and sensory regions of the right brain, however, appear to mature more quickly than the left brain, which is more involved early in life in developing motor control over the body. Hence, rather than the left, the more rapidly developing right brain, which is more involved in emotion and visual imagery, is the initial repository of all our childhood experiences, including our feelings and impressions as to how our parents treated us. The Child and Parent are the result of impressions stamped predominantly into the unconscious mental system maintained by the right half of the brain while we were growing up.
As we age the conscious, language dominant aspect of our mind and brain begins to play a greater role in controlling our behavior. Simultaneously a conscious Self image is fashioned and over the ensuing years this sense of Self continues to be modified and expanded until and long after we reach adulthood.
It is this conscious Self image that we identify with, be it good or bad. It contains all the traits, tendencies, abilities, talents, goals, fears, and even some flaws and failings that we consciously view as comprising our essential character in total. However, just as the greater mass of an iceberg is hidden beneath the waves, a considerable portion of who and what we are falls beyond the horizon of the conscious mind. What we are consists of conscious and unconscious elements; we are both our right and left brain.
THE TWO SELF IMAGES
Just as we have a conscious and unconscious mind, as well as a right and left brain, we also possess two self-images. One is consciously maintained whereas the other is almost wholly unconscious. The conscious self-image is more or less associated with the left half of the brain for most people. However, it is also subject to unconscious influences.
By contrast, the unconscious self image is maintained within the right brain mental system and is tremendously influenced by current and past experience as well as that of the unconscious Child and Parent. Together, the two self-images constitute, in total, our Ego 2.
Although the two self-images may in fact be quite similar in some respects and share many identical and overlapping qualities, in other ways they are exact opposites. However, they also interact. Indeed, sometimes the conscious self-image is fashioned in reaction to unconscious feelings, traumas, and feared inadequacies which the person does not want to possess but which nevertheless may be unconsciously maintained.
For example, a person with a "superiority complex," is often reacting to his or her own unconscious fears of inferiority. The person who is a "know it all," often unconsciously fears he knows much less than he proclaims and is thus trying to hide his own ignorance. The man who over emphasizes his masculinity may be trying to hide or compensate for a soft inner feminine core which he finds consciously unacceptable. An individual who sees racist or sexist comments in even the most innocent of interactions, may be responding to his own sexist biases racism, or their own feelings of unconscious inadequacy.
The unconscious and conscious Self (or ego) are in part a product of the "not OK" socialization process we all weather. There are aspects of our Self that we had to hide, deny, suppress, or discard since our parents, friends, and teachers made it clear that to be otherwise was unacceptable. Slowly a conscious self-image is fashioned as we learn the role, be it good or bad, that we are expected to play.
The fashioning of the self image is thus due to a compromise between the individual and society. As pointed out by Dr. Jung, in some respects the conscious Self-image is designed on one hand to make a particular impression on others, as well as to conceal the true nature of the individual from the individual himself, his parents, and the culture at large. In this regard, the Self image hides as much as it reveals. In some respects it could be considered a carefully constructed mask; i.e. a Persona.
Indeed, as noted, the Self image is fashioned both consciously and unconsciously and even the conscious self image retains an unconscious stamp. Thus why we are the way we are, and even who we are and what we truly desire, often remains a mystery; that is, it remains unconscious. Of ourselves, we tend not to be knowers.
COMPETITION FOR PSYCHIC CONTROL
Just as there can be only one driver of a car, usually at one time or another, either the conscious or the unconscious half of the mind predominates in the control over our behavior. However, it is quite difficult for one aspect of the mind to always be in control. Sometimes the the unconscious mind predominates and sometimes the language dependent regions of the psyche, depending on the situation and our emotional state, or, if we are, for example, reading a book, throwing a football, or performing arithmetical calculations.
Moreover, by nature of the very structure of our brain, sometimes the right brain and/or Limbic System predominates, sometimes the left depending on our homeostatic condition and the actions we are engaged in. For example, an individual who has had too much to drink and is sexually aroused, may act on those desires, even with someone they may normally avoid, due to the driving power of the limbic system. The next day, when they reflect on their behavior, the left half of the brain may become active and generate considerable feelings of guilt. Conversely, an individual struggling with a physics problem may experience only minimal limbic interference.
Hence, depending on what we are involved in, sometimes one mental system and region of the brain will struggle for control. The left brain may resist acknowledging what the right brain is fully aware of, or the limbic system and all its unconscious attendant process may attempt to overwhelm the conscious psyche. It is due to these competing influences that we sometimes behave in a manner completely contrary to our conscious self-image or in a manner that we may later regret.
Struggles for psychic control do not occur just between brain regions and the conscious and unconscious mind. Sometimes conflicts and power struggles can occur within a single mental system. For example, within the unconscious, the Parent and Child may come into conflict; the Parent behaving abusively or in a very critical fashion, the Child feeling badly. Although the battle rages within the unconscious, the entire brain and psyche becomes upset. However, at a conscious level a person may not know why he feels so terrible.
Indeed, the conscious Self is sometimes completely overwhelmed by the Parent, Child or IDfant and the turmoil occurring within the unconscious mental system. As such he may respond in an irrational, destructive, violent, childish, impulsive, abusive or loudly critical manner, or just feel lousy, angry, upset, or moody, and not know why.
When these conflicts become so intense that the conscious Self begins to be affected when confronted by unpleasant consequences, it often happens that this aspect of the conscious mind begins to employ various Defense Mechanisms so that the source and origins of it's problems can remain unconscious. Common Defense Mechanisms include rationalization, projection, denial, self-deception, reaction formation and compensation (which will be described in Chapters 15-17).
THE ADULT SELF AS MEDIATOR
Fortunately, the Adult Self and the conscious mind have the capacity to recognize the existence of certain aspects of the Child and Parent and can sometimes attempt to regulate interactions occurring between them so as to minimize their influence and thus gain control over the persons life. That is, a person may recognize when he is about to act Childishly or as a critical Parent. Or he may ask himself what is occurring between the Parent and the Child, and what might they be unconsciously struggling over.
In this regard, when interacting in the mode of the Adult (at least ideally), a person may attempt to act as a mediator trying to act on or appease the desires or feelings of one mental system or another through compromise. It may refuse to give in to the demands or proclamations of the IDfant, Child or Parent. Or it may even seek counseling or psychotherapy so as to get these aspects of the ego and personality under control. Unfortunately, as the Adult (as described here) is somewhat of an ideal, and is subject to cultural and environmental influences, its influences may be quite meager, it may be poorly developed, or, it may even join forces with these negative unconscious influences and then prey upon society, or whatever unfortunate victim comes its way.