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Who’s In Charge?

Do you know the definition of insanity? It’s doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results. Have you experienced problems similar to the following?

I have developed a new, simple tool to help you understand where these feelings and patterns of behavior come from.

And this same tool will help you to make positive changes in your life.

The diagram below, Who’s In Charge? describes our internal parts. There’s an Inner Child, innocent, vulnerable, often dependent. A unique part of this model, the Teenager, wants independence, but is often lost, angry or both. Our Inner Critic is judgmental, blaming, and demanding. Fortunately, all of us have an Adult part – loving, responsible, appropriate, and competent. We all have these parts, and sometimes things get stuck.


Take Mike, for example (a fictitious name, and a composite of clients I’ve worked with). At work, Mike could never get organized. The files were stacked up on the floor, and he was often late getting reports completed. He often avoided making calls and distracted himself by surfing the Internet. At home, his children were afraid to ask for help with their homework. They were afraid because he would get angry and criticize them. His wife was fed up. He didn’t help with chores, or he would finally mow the lawn after a lot of complaining. She said he was never happy. The distance between them grew, and their sexual relationship was almost non-existent.

Mike was a LATE man – a type of adult man I refer to as a Lost And Angry TEen. In fact, when I asked Mike how old he felt when he was avoidant, angry, or distant with his wife, he said he was about 15 years old. It’s no wonder. He told me that when he was 15 his father was verbally abusive. No matter what he did, it was never good enough. His mother was passive with father, but she always took care of Mike – by cooking his favorite foods, covering up for him by completing his chores and fixing his homework. Mike learned to play it safe as an adult by avoiding work and expecting others, such as his wife, to take care of things for him.

You can use this model to help you identify Who’s In Charge when:

  • Your feelings – mad, sad, ashamed, or afraid – are out of proportion to the circumstances (excessive and inappropriate);
  • Your relationships are stuck – with too much fighting or too much distance;
  • Your thoughts and beliefs are negative or self-destructive (all-or-nothing thinking; self-defeating beliefs; etc.).

Then you can use this model to make positive changes in your life. Try these exercises, and repeat them frequently:

  1. Visualization – Find a quiet place, close your eyes, and focus on your breathing. Picture yourself as a fully responsible, loving Adult. Recognize your current strengths in these areas. What do you look like in this role? How do you feel? How do others respond to you? What are your results – how are your relationships? How do you succeed at work and elsewhere?
  2. Written description – Write a one page description of your Adult. Be realistic, but stretch yourself and write about the Adult you know you have within you.
  3. Read this description out loud to yourself every day for 90 days. Then read it out loud once a week.
  4. Practice, practice – remember the Adult throughout your day, and ask yourself how the Adult wants to handle various situations.

After a few sessions of therapy with me, Mike was actively using this model (he told me he taped the diagram to his computer monitor!). He said it helped to guide him in his family relationships and at work, to be the man he always wanted to be. He started taking care of his “Inner Teen” in a loving and responsible manner.