Transactional analysis for better relationships

transactional analysis


1 a system of popular psychology based on the idea that one’s behaviour and social relationships reflect an interchange between parental (critical and nurturing), adult (rational), and childlike (intuitive and dependent) aspects of personality established early in life.

In the preface of the book that changed millions of lives since it first came out in the 1960’s, Dr Thomas A. Harris has this to say to those seeking solutions to their problems:

“This book is the product of a search to find answers for people who are looking for hard facts in answer to their questions about how the mind operates, why we do what we do, and how we can stop doing what we do if we wish. The answer lies in what I feel is one of the most promising breakthroughs in psychiatry in many years. It is called Transactional Analysis. It has given a new answer to people who want to change rather than to adjust, to people who want transformation rather than conformation. It is realistic in that it confronts the patient with the fact that he is responsible for what happens in the future no matter what has happened in the past. Moreover, it is enabling persons to change, to establish self-control and self-direction, and to discover the reality of a freedom of choice.”

Developed by Dr Eric Berne, Transactional Analysis has become a unified system of individual and social psychiatry that is comprehensive at the theoretical level and effective at the applied level. “It is a profoundly rewarding experience to see people begin to change from the first treatment hour, get well, grow, and move out of the tyranny of the past. We base our even greater hope on the affirmation that what has been can be again. If the relationship between two people can be made creative, fulfilling, and free of fear, then it follows that this can work for two relationships, or three or one hundred or, we are convinced, for relationships that affect entire social groups, even nations. The problems of the world – and they are chronicled daily in headlines of violence and despair – essentially are the problems of individuals. If individuals can change, the course of the world can change. This is a hope worth sustaining.”

According to Berne, humans generally assume three different types of roles (or mental states) that change and inter-change constantly. They are The Parent, The Adult and The Child. “Everything the child saw his parents do and everything he heard them say is recorded in the Parent. In other words, during the period between birth to 5 years of age, children are inputting what their parents said, did or expressed verbally or non-verbally, eg the thousands of “no’s” and “don’ts” that parents direct at their little toddlers. Whether or not these rules make sense to ty child, he or she just had to obey them. “It is a permanent recording. A person cannot erase it. It is available for replay throughout life.” Which is why some people hold on to belief systems that do not always make sense to the rest of the world, eg “Never trust a man” (given by a mother who felt betrayed by one) or “never trust a woman (from a man who was let down by a woman). But confusion arises in the child when parents practice double standards: Parents say “Don’t lie” but tell lies. They tell children that smoking is bad but smoke themselves. And so the child defends himself by “turning off the recording”.

“When we realise that thousands of these simple rules of living are recorded in the brain of every person, we begin to appreciate what a comprehensive, vast store of data the Parent includes.” And when the child grows up, these data that has been ingrained in his or her psyche will be retrieved and exported onto his or her spouse or children. Can you see the link now?

And the child who is the recipient of all these data, internalises them by feeling the emotions originally produced in him. “Thus, evoked recollection….is a reproduction of what the patient saw and heard and felt and understood.” And this is what defines the Child. The Child is constantly feeling the emotions (mainly negative) and gradually develops the “I’m Not OK” mindset. These experiences are collectively recorded in the brain and cannot be erased. “This permanent recording is the residue of having been a child. Any child. Even a child of kind, loving, well-meaning parents. It is the situation of childhood and not the intention of the parents which produces the problems.

But there is a bright side! In the Child there is also a vast store of positive data – creativity, curiosity, the desire to explore and to know…..these positive recordings act like emotional shields to protect against future depression states.

The Adult ego state is our way out of our emotional entrapment. And this can begin to occur as early as 10-months of age – when the child begins to be mobile and experiences the power of locomotion. He can manipulate objects and begins to move out, freeing himself from the prison of immobility. “The Adult is principally concerned with transforming stimuli into pieces of information, and processing and filing that information on the basis of previous experience. It is different from the Parent, which is ‘judgmental in an imitative way and seeks to enforce sets of borrowed standards, and from the Child, which tends to react more abruptly on the basis of prelogical thinking and poorly differentiated or distorted perceptions.’ Through the Adult the little person can begin to tell the difference between life as it was taught and demonstrated to him (Parent), and life as he figures it out by himself (Adult).” And herein lies the solution to the problem/s. “One of the important functions of the Adult is to examine the data in the Parent, to see whether or not it is true and still applicable today, and then to accept it or reject it; and to examine the Child to see whether or not the feelings there are appropriate to the present or are archaic and in response to archaic Parent data. The goal is not to do away with the Parent and Child but to be free to examine these bodies of data. The Adult, in the words of Emerson, ‘must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must examine if it be goodness’; or badness, for that matter, as in the early decision, “I’m not OK.”

So ultimately, to get out of past conditioning of our minds, and how we used to respond to them, we need to consciously bring our mental states to the Adult mind of “I’m OK You’re OK. But this will understandably take time and effort and a great deal of awareness. And lots of patience and faith.

Here are some videos that will help you see and understand TA better:

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