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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Voices in Your Character's Head

A while back, I did a post on Parent, Child, and Adult ego states and explained how when we communicate, we come from one of these position. Today I want to focus on when our characters hear the voices of these ego states in their head, namely coming from their Parent ego.

To recap that earlier post:

The Parent ego state is a set of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that we learn from our parents (or caretakers). It's almost like we unconsciously mimic them, incorporating their values, morals, and core beliefs into our outer communication. We express these ideals by being either critical or nurturing.

Nurturing Parent is soft, loving, and quick to give permission. The Critical Parent is the other side of the coin. When in this state, a person will react as they imagined their parent might have reacted, or they act toward others the way their parents acted toward them. It's uncanny, but we might use some of the exact same phrases we head from our parents, or strike the same postures, use the same mannerisms or gestures...we become our parents.

The Parent ego state can be likened to a tape recorder. It constantly plays pre-programmed statements that we can hear when we are adults almost like a voice in our head. the tapes can make a person feel either good or bad depending on whether it's a recording from our Critical Parent or Nurturing Parent.

Far more likely is that our characters (and us) internalize some of those negative Critical Parent (CP) messages. Perhaps our CP plays negative, put-down statements like, "You're not good enough to amount to anything," or "You're ugly/stupid/crazy." This internalization by the character can lead to negative self-talk and low self-esteem. (And let's face many fictional characters can you name off the top of your head who have an issue with not meeting expectations they think their parents had of them?)

Here are some examples of this in action:

Child wants to be loved = CP says "You don't deserve it."
Child wants to give love = CP says, "It isn't wanted."
Child is angry at an unrewarding job = CP says, "This is the best you can do because you're lazy."
Child comes up with a new idea that goes against old ideals = CP says, "You're crazy to think like that."

Far better would be to internalize the loving, unconditional sayings of the Nurturing Parent, like, "I love you," "You're a winner," "You're smart," "You're a princess," or "You're beautiful." But to this I heave a great big sigh. I just don't see much of this phenomenon...certainly not with clients in my office.

Q4U: What voices do your characters hear? Who's on repeat play in their head? (And can I just get a shout-out from those of you out there who actually remember tape recorders like the one shown above?)

Wordle: signature


Keli Gwyn said...

Jeannie, the heroine in my debut novel has a critical parent. The "tapes" playing in her head drive her to prove herself. The heroine in my work-in-progress has a nurturing parent, one who, sadly, goes overboard, causing problems of a different kind.

I'm older than dirt and remember very well the Christmas when I was 13 and received a tape recorder for Christmas. I'll date myself further and say I remember my sixth grade teacher recording a play I wrote (and my class performed) on a reel-to-reel tape recorder.

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

that's AWESOME keli!! i had a Care Bears recorder and thought i was the stuff. :)

and how true you are...going overboard with nurturing can lead to other problems for sure.

Nyah said...

I recently taught a customer service class that detailed the many "tapes" we have playing in our heads. Phrases or Statements that come to at any given point queued by any given trigger. Such phrases or statement that can lead to us a service representatives passing judgement on a client and/or coworker. The level of psychoanalysis behind why we think the way we do or react the way we do in certain situations was really interesting. Amazing the same thing can be applied to character development as well.

As for the tape recorder, oh yeah I remember those. I actually chuckled when I saw the picture because it reminded me of my Raggedy Ann and Andy mini vinyl record player I had when I was little.

Cecilia Marie Pulliam said...

Yes, I remember those tape recorders very well. Owned one, used it a lot. I agree that the Negative Parent Voice seems to be the loudest. Sad to have our joy of life and hope robbed in such a way. It is a lifetime endeavor to override that voice with more positive thoughts. Guess that is why there are so many Positive Thinking books out there. Again, a great post!

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