meand egostates

My Ego State Family

What are ego states?  As I understand the term, they are those “parts” of our personalities that perform somewhat specialized functions as we go about our days.  For example, when I am motivated to take a problem “by the horns,” give it all my energy, and do whatever it takes to “wrestle the problem to the ground,”  my  Cowboy takes charge, and I can get the job done. I have another ego state that is “Ms.Take Charge and Organize.”  This particular ego state is similar to my Cowboy state, but she isn’t quite as prone to charging full ahead on a task and wrestling the problem to the ground.  She works more thoughtfully, smoothly, and steadily than Cowboy and is more polished and sophisticated.  “Ms. Take Charge and Organize” directed my behavior when I taught school and directs my behavior now when I need her.  When working with  a class of seventh graders, I truly needed “Ms. Take Charge and Organize.”  At times, however, I also needed Cowboy!   (

I have another ego state, “Ms. Listen, Understand, and Offer Help If Wanted,” who becomes dominant when a friend talks to me about personal matters.  My “little girl” ego state and my “battered wife” ego state become anxious when someone or something in my environment comes across as threatening my safety, and sometimes the ego states that hold the core of my trauma damage react in such a way that they seem to pull all of my other ego states momentarily into that horrible dark space where the negative shadow parts lurk and skulk. The shadow parts, however, scary in their darkness, often lose their ability to scare me when I confront them in bright daylight.  In fact, as I have learned while going through this process, parts that began the process as scary shadows often, given respect and recognition, can develop into protectors. Some of these dark shadow parts, in fact, have evolved to become the guardians of the light in my soul.  Without them protecting my light, I might be plunged back into the state of despair or darkness that I have experienced at times.

 The ego states described thus far are not the only ego states in my psyche.  I have acquired a multitude of ego states during my seventy-four years of life, and I suspect that even though I recently have managed to achieve a state of relative peace and harmony among them, enough so to reduce my symptoms, I will need to continue working with my ego states to maintain this harmony.  

So how, exactly, did I know that I needed to do some work with my ego states?   When I first began seeing my present therapist, I was constantly being triggered by the environment outside my apartment.  I dreaded stepping out my apartment door because I knew that I would encounter somebody or some situation that would cause me to react with that familiar “fight or flight” response or would trigger a flashback or a dissociative episode. Sometimes, depending on what was happening in my environment, I would experience derealization* or depersonalization*. Those feelings or sensations are so uncomfortable and so confusing that I did my best to limit the trips beyond my apartment door just so I could avoid them.  The world inside my apartment was predictable, but beyond that door lay the unknown and the unpredictable.  

Three years ago I did not understand that my psyche was in a state of chaos, as unpredictable and disorganized as the world beyond my apartment door:  The ego states inhabiting my psyche lacked connection to one another; they were fragmented.  On one of my first visits to her in April of 2010, my therapist told me that before we could work with EMDR, I needed to strengthen my ego.  I wasn’t sure what she meant by that, but she said she thought Ego State Therapy would help me do that.  When I asked her to explain, I interpreted her explanation to mean that I needed to bring about a more organized and harmonious condition within my psyche, a condition where all my ego states worked together to promote my inner peace and healing.  She went on to say that normally a person identifies as many of her ego states as possible and then invites the ego states to a conference so all the parts sit around a conference table and negotiate to bring about peace among them. I have read that ego state work is much like family therapy work, but where family therapy involves working with individual family members to bring about harmony amongst a collection of individual people, ego state therapy works with an individual’s internal family of ego states to achieve harmony.  

 After giving her words much thought, I conceptualized my therapist’s description of the process to be akin to defragging a hard drive in a computer–when one runs the defrag program, all the little bits of information that are chaotically scattered throughout the hard drive are gathered up, organized, and placed so they work together for the good of the entire system.  The computer runs more efficiently, and the glitches and retrieval problems are reduced.  When a person “defrags” his or her mind/brain by working with ego states, that mind/brain works more efficiently.  Mental chaos subsides, and healing can take place.  With healing comes a reduction in PTSD symptoms.  That has been my experience, at any rate.

Thus, motivated to reduce my symptoms, I began my ego state work. Perhaps because I am a writer and have had experience putting myself into a light trance state to access my imagination and my intuition, I decided to write my entire Ego State Therapy process as a dialogue or drama, each ego state being a character.  Normally, the work is done in the therapist’s office, but Cowboy wanted to get started and didn’t want to wait for my twice-weekly therapy appointments to get the job done.  Thus began the 1000+-page story of my ego states’ interactions.  Because my Monday appointments are ninety minutes long, I have used Mondays to read my work to my therapist.  She has listened, asked me questions, and helped me when I got stuck.  Sometimes, when I simply could not get unstuck, she got out the colored pencils and paper, and I drew what I could not say.  Then, when I was at home and had time, I used the material I had drawn to help me verbalize in my dialogue.  Eventually, after about three years of doing this, I reached a point where my therapist and I transitioned into EMDR work. 

My dialogue isn’t finished; it probably never will be finished while I am alive, and I don’t want it to be a “closed book.”  I want the book to remain open so I can go back into it and use my characters to help me resolve issues that are yet not resolved.  What is important is that in writing my dialogue,  I have achieved the outcome I wanted.  I have managed to reduce my PTSD symptoms.  I can leave the predictability of my apartment environment and walk out the door now without fear of being triggered.  I no longer experience flashbacks and no longer dissociate when I hear people arguing loudly or shouting at one another.  Also, my bouts with anxiety have decreased in number, possibly because I now feel calmer and more powerful and capable of taking care of myself.  

Of course, I could not have done my ego state work without the support of my therapist.  She has been with me throughout this process, just as she is with me now as we work with EMDR.  She listened to me read my ego state dialogue, and she guided me whenever I needed guidance.  She was with me in a way that only a therapist could be with me, using her skill and experience–and herself!–to give me whatever help I needed.  Most importantly–my therapist has had faith in me, faith that I could do this work and succeed in achieving the outcome I desired.  Because she has had faith in me, I have had the confidence I needed to do the work. 

And now my therapist and I are working together to make sure that I get the most benefit possible from all my hard work.  Last Monday, for example, she gave me a lesson in using my ego state work as a tool to help me alleviate anxiety when I feel threatened.  I told her that a recent interpersonal situation had resulted in my experiencing the old “flight or fight” sort of anxiety.  She asked me if I thought that my little girl ego state and my battered wife ego state needed some reassurance from me, Jean, that they were safe and that I was in control of the situation and would not let harm come to them. 

 I realized then that I can turn down the intensity of any anxiety I experience simply by scanning my experience to see if my anxiety is warranted, and then, if it is not,  reassuring those parts of myself by letting them know that this is not “then”; this is “now.”  And in the “now,” they and I are safe because I’m a grownup and not a vulnerable child and am not living in an abusive marriage any longer.  I have the power to protect myself, and I no longer allow other people to violate or take advantage of me.  I can put up my boundaries and control the impact other people have on my life.  Or, as I prefer to express this, “I don’t have to let anyone mess with me!”  

*Here is a site that will give you information on derealization and depersonalization: