Transactional Analysis

by Len Horridge


This is a reflection of how you were brought up by your parents, teachers and other people seen as authoritative.

The parent ego is learnt from others and is archaic, in that it relates to our past. It mostly comes from our parents (people often comment upon how, in later life, they say things their parents used to say to them). However, it can also come from others in authority from our past, such as school teachers or managers. It is the most obvious way in which we replay the tapes that Berne referred to in his research.

The parent ego state reflects what we feel is right and wrong and has two distinctly different sides.

  • The NURTURING parent takes care, looks after others and shows love and affection.
  • The CRITICAL parent makes rules, keeps traditions, judges and criticises.

While both roles can be protective, they can also both lead to suppressed feelings and lack of individual growth.

The nurturing parent

There are obvious positives to the nurturing parent, who is loving, caring and will look after people (not necessarily just their own offspring). The nurturing parent will want the best for others and try to support and help others.

But there are downsides. This ego state can be smothering, stopping people growing and taking up too much time looking after others. In management terms, it can lead to a team which is too dependent on the manager, not growing or developing and therefore creating time management problems for the manager.

The critical parent

The critical parent has its obvious downsides. Critical parents can provide a negative environment and evoke negative responses from people, as most people respond better to positive feedback. Critical parent types can also be seen as aggressive and controlling.

However, there are some positive sides to a critical parent. With them, you will know the rules and where you stand. They will be particularly useful in stressful times or when targets need to be hit quickly.

Short-term, they can be very effective in achieving; long term, however, they can be seen as bullies or as one-trick ponies who find it difficult to develop deeper relationships and are therefore only short-term managers.

The strong parent state

How do you know if you have a strong parent ego state? Below are some pointers.


Should, ought, must, come here, because I said so, what will the neighbours think – these indicate a parent state.

Body language

Body language associated with the parent state includes pointing, the pat on the back, pounding the table, rolling eyes skywards and nodding encouragingly.


The parental tone may be punitive, sneering, condescending, helpful, sympathetic or supportive.

So, do you have a strong parent ego state?

If you have scored more than 10 in the questionnaire, you may have. However, you need to analyse your own behaviours and people’s responses to them.


Do not confuse parent behaviour with ‘older’ people. Children start to behave like their parents at an early age and reflect the standards expected of them onto others.