Wee backstory: During a trip this week back to Sheffield I had Panic Attacks so bad not even my beta blockers were stopping them. Terrified I ended up at Uni’s Counselling Service and they set me up with an appointment. In the appointment we discussed something called The Parent-Adult-Child Model which was an interesting view of the roots of Anxiety.
This model was originally developed by Eric Berne in the 1950s and talks about 3 alter egos that exist within the human mind. (These are different to Freud’s three-part structure of the human mind). They were designed to illustrate human interaction and relationships. However they also have a very interesting application when dealing with Anxiety.
As mentioned before the mind is split into 3 parts: the Parent, the Adult and the Child.
As you can see below the Parent represents the learned behaviors from parents and parental figures. It speaks from experience and from the lessons we have both consciously and subconsciously learnt throughout our lives.
The Adult is the rational alter ego which responds to current events and isn’t ‘tainted’ by our past experiences. It can be summed up as the ‘Thought’ element of our minds.
The alter ego Child represents emotions and feelings from childhood and influences reactions both good and bad in a variety of situations.
Interaction and Harmony
In an ideal setting the Adult is the loudest ‘voice’ and it dictates the processing of situations and interactions without influences from the other two parts. However more often than not there is an imbalance where the Parent or the Child (sometimes both) are louder and drown out the Adult voice.
Everyone’s ratios are different and often the loudest voice will change depending on emotions, situations and in cases therapy (or lack of) can help alter these dynamics.
Application to Anxiety
When this was explained to me with my counselor he said that the Parent voice will often be in control of your view of the world. If you have been taught that the world is a scary place you are more prone to be anxious and struggle to feel that safety outside of your home because that is what you have been taught.
The Adult voice is the voice that tells you “Everything is going to be okay” when you are struggling with the anxious thoughts. Its the thought process used in CBT which gets you to examine your surroundings and to look at the world through a more rational pair of eyes.
The Child is the emotional side (as explained) and is the source of that agitated and panicked state which is the essence of panic attacks. Its fear is amplified and it often triggers the flight to safety response.
During a Panic Attack your Child feeds off your Parent voice. The Parent is telling you all the things that could go wrong or the things that you are scared off which is met with a strong and scared response from your Child voice. Often the Adult voice is drowned out and so you are left in a loop of thought and behavior which can’t seem to find a stopping point.
It can be very easy to ask ‘Why don’t you just train your mind till there is only the adult?’ and at times it can seem like the thing you want to do. You want to ignore the world and any emotions that it brings along because often the Child can come from a source of pain. But its actually important to have a balance between the three and indulge the Child part of you in both good and bad situations. I’m not saying you have to let the Child have free reign over chocolate and panic attacks (as polar opposite examples) but sometimes allowing the Child to help you release the emotions your Adult alter ego doesn’t necessarily acknowledge can be a healthy practice.
As I learnt this from my counselor and have done my own research this post is based on my own opinions and interpretations whilst also using as much accurate knowledge as I could. For information I used please refer to:
Business Balls (Tee Hee it says balls)
This really helped me understand where my Panic Attacks were possibly coming from and how I could work on them in the future. I found it interesting and wanted to share. Enjoy your day, Ruthie ~