What is Transactional Analysis

Transactional Analysis, developed by Eric Berne, is a commonly used approach to therapy, which has been around since the 1950’s, and is still developing today.

TA is based upon the idea that our psyche functions from three basic states, which Berne called Parent, Adult and Child. It is not only a form of personal therapy, but also much used in organizational psychology.

Dr Berne thought that failures in communication were at the root of many of our problems, and that each time we communicate with each other (he used the term transaction for communication), we do so utilising one of these basic states. We not only do this when communicating with each other, but also in our internal dialogues with ourselves.

Our Parent state is typically authoritative , and usually uses such language as ‘under no circumstances’, ‘always’ and ‘never forget’, ‘don’t lie, cheat, steal’, etc, etc. Our Parent is formed by external events and influences upon us as we grow through early childhood.

We usually use one of two types of Parent, either the Nurturing Parent (caring and concerned, trying to keep the Child safe) or the Critical Parent (trying to make the Child do as the parent wants, inculcating values and beliefs and shaping behaviour).

Our Child takes over when anger or despair dominates, sending logic and reason out of the window. Attitudes like ‘It’s not fair”, “Why me?” and “Why should I” often appear as our reactions to external events when we are in Child mode. It’s how we react when the computer crashes for the third time and we just want to smash it rather than calling the repair man.

Our Adult state results from our ability to reason and logic to determine what courses of action to take, and in effect, often acts as a brake on the impulsive or unthinking responses of our other two states. If our Parent or Child states are over-controlling, we can change them, but only by acting through our Adult.

In TA theory, problems arise when communication becomes ‘crossed’, and this is the result of one party in the transaction being in a different state to the other.

Satisfactory communication and forward movement can only take place when we talk Adult to Adult. When conflicts arise, it may benefit you to establish whether or not the other person is in Child or Parent mode. Meet them there, and then guide them to Adult mode so that good communication can happen. Try it with yourself and see what happens!

Eric Berne’s most famous book was ‘The Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships’, and our next article we’ll have a look at some of our favourite games.

Playing games? Sounds like fun, but in the transactional analysis sense, it’s what people do much of the time. In our interactions with other people, we often use repetitive patterns of social behavior, whether consciously or not.

Of course, all games have rules, don’t they? They tell us what we can or must do in any given situation, and naturally enough, we have different rules for different games, such as buying and selling, meeting and greeting and dating and mating. Our games can be innocent and playful, but can often be very manipulative.

It all works very well if every player knows the rules – and sticks to them – but if not, we start to have problems. When one party gets off track and refuses to get back, the current game stops and a new one ensues, often involving recrimination, put-downs or victim status.

When we take part in a game, we usually choose what mode (Parent, Adult or Child) we are functioning in, but very often that mode appears to be thrust upon us, as if we had no choice but to accept it. It’s a useful skill to be able to identify these situations so that we don’t fall into the trap of functioning in a way that benefits the other players, to our own detriment.

If you notice behaviour patterns that are repetitive or apparently meaningless or harmful, you’re probably watching (or taking part in) a game! Take a step back, clarify the rules for yourself, then if you want to play, do it your way!

It’s fascinating to watch people game playing, whether it’s at home, at work or on the Tennis Club Committee. With a little practice, you rapidly become aware of the subtle nuances of game play, so that you can avoid being manipulated, and if appropriate, do a little manipulation yourself.

So just for fun, here are some of the clearly identifiable games we play:

– ‘Attraction-rejection’ game – is the classic lovers’ alternating chase game.

– Blame game – getting ourselves off the hook.

– ‘Clever me’ game – approval seeking.

– ‘Poor me’ game – looking for sympathy.

– ‘Look at Me’ game: boosting self confidence by seeking praise

– ‘Save me’ game – not taking responsibility for our own actions.

– ‘Stop me’ game – common in self-harm or addiction.

Very often, the main player plays these out in the Child mode. You probably recognize some of these, and most of us will admit to have been players at some time or other

TA assumes that people are basically OK, have the capacity to think and therefore, to change their destiny – but remember real change can only happen when you truly function as an Adult. Anyone for tennis?