An embodied ego state refers to the particular characteristics that make up a person at any one point in time. It might refer to a parent part, child part, or some other specific feature of the personality. Furthermore, an embodied ego state refers to the thought patterns, sensorimotor expressions, behaviours, and feelings that make up a person’s experience in a given moment. These embodied ego states are shaped and reinforced throughout life. As an example, we might talk about a person that was the embodiment of courage or determination. In another instance, we might refer to a person that embodied compassion and kindness.

However, during our life we often learn to dissociate from particular painful emotions or experience. As a result, these characteristics are disembodied. Disembodiment becomes a type of survival mechanism or adaptation. Experiences that are punished, scorned, or unrecognised get blocked off. This can then impact sensorimotor experience, core beliefs, the actions we engage in, and our health. It can have far reaching implications for how we are able to function and feel in the world.

Conditioning and Examples of Embodiment

Embodiment refers to a particular quality or early life experience that comes to colour a person’s life. This could be power or weakness, an inner child’s playfulness or sadness, anger and assertion, or an adult part’s withdrawal or hostility etc. An embodied experience is palpable and feels very real to both self and often to others. Problems arise when particular characteristics become over-developed, while other helpful or healing parts are disembodied. When we are constantly stuck in anxiety, defences, keeping busy, and other unhelpful regressive states (e.g. detachment, helplessness, or antagonism) then we lose contact and access to the self and the self’s healing properties.

For example, if a parent needs to maintain full power we might subconsciously learn to disallow this quality within ourselves. This then might manifest as an embodied ego state of subjugation, body tension and inner conflict, hyper-vigilance, and people pleasing. Here internal power is given up in order to maintain a precarious sort of safety or peacefulness. This then results in lack of career progress, being used by others, and generally feeling resentful. Conversely, it might manifest as persistent power and control struggles and over-exertion to maintain dominance. Here the adaptation is more concordant with that of the parent.

In another example, a child might learn that it was never ok to sit still and just be. With overly critical parents that demanded perfection the child internalizes exacting standards, rules, and should’s for their behaviour. As a consequence, they experience chronic burn-out, have difficulty switching off, and become over-controlled in adulthood. Here therapy might involve creating a slowed down space so that this person is able to access and connect with more embodied states of calmness and self-reflection.

Embodied Ego States and Therapy

There are many therapies that endeavour to help people process and better understand these embodied ego states. Some of these therapies include internal family systems therapy, schema therapy, ego state therapy, psychodynamic therapy, and object relations. These therapies aim to help people build awareness of the different ego states that have control of a person’s life. More importantly, they aim to assist people to tap in to healing parts of the self that have been missing, disowned, or exiled from the psyche. Some of the characteristics of these approaches include:

  1. Embodied therapies delve into the subjective realm of healing. It involves a deeper moment to moment exploration of inner experience fostering an open stance of acceptance and trust in the wisdom inherent in our body-mind connection.
  2. These approaches empowers healing and transformation through the practices of self-inquiry, self-observation, and self-knowledge. This methodology directs care and attention inward, fostering a unique connection to our embodied interior life. Therapy helps to reflect back patterns, parts, and internalised object relations that we might be blind to (e.g. just outside of our awareness)
  3. Embodied ego states aren’t an intellectual construct, but a fully realized and experienced self-state. It emphasizes the importance of understanding, accepting, and processing these embodied responses on a deeper level than cognitive awareness alone.
  4. It encourages the acknowledgment of pain, happiness, sadness, and conceptual thinking without judgment, allowing for a fuller engagement with our unique presence.
  5. Healing often involves creating space to access and work through these embodied ego states. By doing this we tap in to inner resources, memory banks, energy, self-realization, and adaptive beliefs.
  6. In addressing symptoms of trauma and stress, these approaches acknowledge the somatic memory responses. They pay close attention to how the bodily system shifts, contracts, inhibits, and holds or releases tension.
  7. Therapies that explore embodied self awareness recognize that conditioning from early experiences shape our present body-mind functioning. Childhood traumas and adverse experiences can leave imprints on our physiological, biological, and chemical processes, impacting our overall health.
  8. The journey of healing involves compassionate attention to our body’s self-regulating capacity, supporting the release of trapped energy in a respectful and safe manner.

Still as part of this process we want to fully observe and realize how these states take shape in the body. Sometimes, it requires a true letting down of the guard to fully recognize and own that one has been living with chronic anxiety, inner control, a tormenting inner parent, or anger most of their life.

Intellect and our defences can often operate at a very rapid pace. By remaining extremely busy we don’t very often connect with the deeper parts of ourselves. Sessions differ from conventional therapy in that they are often at a slowed-down pace, allowing for a more profound reception and processing of the felt sense of awareness.

Embodied States: The Benefits

Embodied therapy involves returning home to ourselves and our deeper inner life. Furthermore, practices that help us to re-embody aim to foster self-respect, compassion, and acceptance. It provides a pathway to inner authority, reclaiming the “inner light” within our body-mind experience for empowered health and vitality. The practice involves self-acceptance, inquiry, open attention, and attuned responsiveness to various aspects of our being.

The benefits of Embodied Self Awareness include feelings of empowerment, greater self-acceptance, energy restoration, mental clarity, healthier breathing habits, and a deeper sense of connection to self and life. We often call these moments state shifts – when we move from old patterns of defence and distress to something new and corrective. The body might simply feel clear and free from internal clutter. Greater security might be accessed, achieved, and realised. With these new states we feel better equipped to deal with and approach life. Rather than being slumped in helplessness, healthy action tendencies can be accessed and sequenced.

Dr Damon Mitchell

Dr Damon Mitchell is a clinical psychologist and owner of Core Life Psychology. As a psychologist he is passionate about assisting people to transform their inner world. Damon connects and works actively with people to find pathways to hope, healing, and inner well-being. He recognises that life can be challenging and complex and takes a non-pathologizing approach to understand each persons experience.

Stay in the loop

Subscribe to our free newsletter.

Related Articles