Ego States in Couples and Group Therapy

All of us have multiple parts (ego states) of ourselves, with varying degrees of internal connection, disconnection, and sometimes, even dissociation. In social settings -couples, families, and groups – parts of one person often have specific and significant effects on the parts of others, both positive and negative; moreover, these effects are frequently mutually interactive. These interactive dynamics often create problems and crises for couples, families, and groups. But at the same, by understanding these dynamics we can convert these crises into opportunities for change and growth.

One pattern is triggering, where one person’s part triggers an emotional part in another; often the triggering is mutual, leading to a vicious cycle. Projective identification is a negative reaction to a part in another person that one wants to disown in oneself. Idealization occurs when one looks to another person, e.g., a spouse, for something that one feels is missing in oneself; often it is not missing — just hidden.

By identifying and clarifying the parts involved in these dynamics, these interactive problems can be reversed. A variety of individual Somatic Imagery techniques can be used to clarify and resolve these dynamic problems. But, in addition, a group Empathic Somatic Imagery technique can be used with couples and groups, first, to identify the salient ego states, and, second, to facilitate the development of a positive virtuous cycle among the previously conflicted ego states.

Using these techniques, the couples/group process will lead to the acknowledgment and ultimately acceptance of previously hidden or disowned ego states. Parts that are ashamed or afraid of other parts become more accepting. Resource parts previously underappreciated become more accessible. Both internal and externalized polarizations subside.

Mark Lawrence, M.D.