Transactional Analysis – Communication
Transactional analysis Eric Berne’s Transactional Analysis – early TA history and theory Transactional Analysis is one of the most accessible theories of modern psychology. Transactional Analysis was founded by Eric Berne, and the famous ‘parent adult child’ theory is still being developed today. Transactional Analysis has wide applications in clinical, therapeutic, organizational and personal development, encompassing communications, management, personality, relationships and behaviour.
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Whether you’re in business, a parent, a social worker or interested in personal development, Eric Berne’s Transactional Analysis theories, and those of his followers, will enrich your dealings with people, and your understanding of yourself. This section covers the background to Transactional Analysis, and Transactional Analysis underpinning theory. See also the modern Transactional Analysis theory article. roots of transactional analysis Throughout history, and from all standpoints: philosophy, medical science, religion; people have believed that each man and woman has a multiple nature.
In the early 20th century, Sigmund Freud first established that the human psyche is multi-faceted, and that each of us has warring factions in our subconscious. Since then, new theories continue to be put forward, all concentrating on the essential conviction that each one of us has parts of our personality which surface and affect our behaviour according to different circumstances. In 1951 Dr Wilder Penfield began a series of scientific experiments.
Penfield proved, using conscious human subjects, by touching a part of the brain (the temporal cortex) with a weak electrical probe, that the brain could be caused to ‘play back’ certain past experiences, and the feelings associated with them. The patients ‘replayed’ these events and their feelings despite not normally being able to recall them using their conventional memories. Penfield’s experiments went on over several years, and resulted in wide acceptance of the following conclusions: •The human brain acts like a tape recorder, and whilst we may ‘forget’ experiences, the brain still has them recorded. Along with events the brain also records the associated feelings, and both feelings and events stay locked together. •It is possible for a person to exist in two states simultaneously (because patients replaying hidden events and feelings could talk about them objectively at the same time). •Hidden experiences when replayed are vivid, and affect how we feel at the time of replaying. •There is a certain connection between mind and body, i. e. the link between the biological and the psychological, eg a psychological fear of spiders and a biological feeling of nausea. arly transactional analysis theory and model In the 1950’s Eric Berne began to develop his theories of Transactional Analysis. He said that verbal communication, particularly face to face, is at the centre of human social relationships and psychoanalysis. His starting-point was that when two people encounter each other, one of them will speak to the other. This he called the Transaction Stimulus. The reaction from the other person he called the Transaction Response. The person sending the Stimulus is called the Agent. The person who responds is called the Respondent.
Transactional Analysis became the method of examining the transaction wherein: ‘I do something to you, and you do something back’. Berne also said that each person is made up of three alter ego states: Parent Adult Child These terms have different definitions than in normal language. Parent This is our ingrained voice of authority, absorbed conditioning, learning and attitudes from when we were young. We were conditioned by our real parents, teachers, older people, next door neighbours, aunts and uncles, Father Christmas and Jack Frost.
Our Parent is made up of a huge number of hidden and overt recorded playbacks. Typically embodied by phrases and attitudes starting with ‘how to’, ‘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 can change it, but this is easier said than done. Child Our internal reaction and feelings to external events form the ‘Child’. This is the seeing, hearing, feeling, and emotional body of data within each of us. When anger or despair dominates reason, the Child is in control.
Like our Parent we can change it, but it is no easier. Adult Our ‘Adult’ is our ability to think and determine action for ourselves, based on received data. The adult in us begins to form at around ten months old, and is the means by which we keep our Parent and Child under control. If we are to change our Parent or Child we must do so through our adult. In other words: •Parent is our ‘Taught’ concept of life •Adult is our ‘Thought’ concept of life •Child is our ‘Felt’ concept of life When we communicate we are doing so from one of our own alter ego states, our Parent, Adult or Child.
Our feelings at the time determine which one we use, and at any time something can trigger a shift from one state to another. When we respond, we are also doing this from one of the three states, and it is in the analysis of these stimuli and responses that the essence of Transactional Analysis lies. A wonderful analogy – ‘the person who had feelings’ story – explains how experiences and conditioning in early life affect behaviour in later life. See also the poem by Philip Larkin about how parental conditioning affects children and their behaviour into adulthood.
And for an uplifting antidote see the lovely Thich Nhat Hanh quote. These are all excellent illustrations of the effect and implications of parental conditioning in the context of Transactional Analysis. At the core of Berne’s theory is the rule that effective transactions (ie successful communications) must be complementary. They must go back from the receiving ego state to the sending ego state. For example, if the stimulus is Parent to Child, the response must be Child to Parent, or the transaction is ‘crossed’, and there will be a problem between sender and receiver.
If a crossed transaction occurs, there is an ineffective communication. Worse still either or both parties will be upset. In order for the relationship to continue smoothly the agent or the respondent must rescue the situation with a complementary transaction. In serious break-downs, there is no chance of immediately resuming a discussion about the original subject matter. Attention is focused on the relationship. The discussion can only continue constructively when and if the relationship is mended. Here are some simple clues as to the ego state sending the signal. You will be able to see these learly in others, and in yourself: Parent Physical – angry or impatient body-language and expressions, finger-pointing, patronising gestures, Verbal – always, never, for once and for all, judgmental words, critical words, patronising language, posturing language. N. B. beware of cultural differences in body-language or emphases that appear ‘Parental’. Child Physical – emotionally sad expressions, despair, temper tantrums, whining voice, rolling eyes, shrugging shoulders, teasing, delight, laughter, speaking behind hand, raising hand to speak, squirming and giggling.
Verbal – baby talk, I wish, I dunno, I want, I’m gonna, I don’t care, oh no, not again, things never go right for me, worst day of my life, bigger, biggest, best, many superlatives, words to impress. Adult Physical – attentive, interested, straight-forward, tilted head, non-threatening and non-threatened. Verbal – why, what, how, who, where and when, how much, in what way, comparative expressions, reasoned statements, true, false, probably, possibly, I think, I realise, I see, I believe, in my opinion. And remember, when you are trying to identify ego states: words are only part of the story.
To analyse a transaction you need to see and feel what is being said as well. •Only 7% of meaning is in the words spoken. •38% of meaning is paralinguistic (the way that the words are said). •55% is in facial expression. (source: Albert Mehrabian – more info) There is no general rule as to the effectiveness of any ego state in any given situation (some people get results by being dictatorial (Parent to Child), or by having temper tantrums, (Child to Parent), but for a balanced approach to life, Adult to Adult is generally recommended.
Transactional Analysis is effectively a language within a language; a language of true meaning, feeling and motive. It can help you in every situation, firstly through being able to understand more clearly what is going on, and secondly, by virtue of this knowledge, we give ourselves choices of what ego states to adopt, which signals to send, and where to send them. This enables us to make the most of all our communications and therefore create, develop and aintain better relationships. modern transactional analysis theory Transactional Analysis is a theory which operates as each of the following: •a theory of personality •a model of communication •a study of repetitive patterns of behaviour Transactional Analysis developed significantly beyond these Berne’s early theories, by Berne himself until his death in 1970, and since then by his followers and many current writers and experts.
Transactional Analysis has been explored and enhanced in many different ways by these people, including: Ian Stewart and Vann Joines (their book ‘TA Today’ is widely regarded as a definitive modern interpretation); John Dusay, Aaron and Jacqui Schiff, Robert and Mary Goulding, Pat Crossman, Taibi Kahler, Abe Wagner, Ken Mellor and Eric Sigmund, Richard Erskine and Marityn Zalcman, Muriel James, Pam Levin, Anita Mountain and Julie Hay (specialists in organizational applications), Susannah Temple, Claude Steiner, Franklin Ernst, S Woollams and M Brown, Fanita English, P Clarkson, M M Holloway, Stephen Karpman and others.
Significantly, the original three Parent Adult Child components were sub-divided to form a new seven element model, principally during the 1980’s by Wagner, Joines and Mountain. This established Controlling and Nurturing aspects of the Parent mode, each with positive and negative aspects, and the Adapted and Free aspects of the Child mode, again each with positive an negative aspects, which essentially gives us the model to which most TA practitioners refer today: parent
Parent is now commonly represented as a circle with four quadrants: Nurturing – Nurturing (positive) and Spoiling (negative). Controlling – Structuring (positive) and Critical (negative). adult Adult remains as a single entity, representing an ‘accounting’ function or mode, which can draw on the resources of both Parent and Child. child Child is now commonly represented as circle with four quadrants: Adapted – Co-operative (positive) and Compliant/Resistant (negative). Free – Spontaneous (positive) and Immature (negative).
Where previously Transactional Analysis suggested that effective communications were complementary (response echoing the path of the stimulus), and better still complementary adult to adult, the modern interpretation suggests that effective communications and relationships are based on complementary transactions to and from positive quadrants, and also, still, adult to adult. Stimulii and responses can come from any (or some) of these seven ego states, to any or some of the respondent’s seven ego states.
Transactional analysis, commonly known as TA to its adherents, is an integrative approach to the theory of psychology and psychotherapy. Integrative because it has elements of psychoanalytic, Humanist and Cognitive approaches. It was developed by Canadian-born US psychiatrist Eric Berne during the late 1950s. TA outline TA is a theory of personality and a systematic psychotherapy for personal growth and personal change. 1. As a theory of personality, TA describes how people are structured psychologically. It uses what is perhaps its best known model, the ego-state (Parent-Adult-Child) model to do this.
This same model helps understand how people function and express themselves in their behaviors. 2. As a theory of communication it extends to a method of analysing systems and organisations. 3. It offers a theory for child development, where it ties in very neatly with the Freudian developmental stages -oral, anal, phallic. 4. It introduces the idea of a “Life (or Childhood) Script”, that is, a story one perceives about ones own life, to answer questions such as “What matters”, “How do I get along in life” and “What kind of person am I”.
This story, TA says, is often stuck to no matter the consequences, to “prove” one is right, even at the cost of pain, compulsion, self-defeating behaviour and other dysfunction. Thus TA offers a theory of a broad range of psychopathology. 5. In practical application, it can be used in the diagnosis and treatment of many types of psychological disorders, and provides a method of therapy for individuals, couples, families and groups. 6. Outside the therapeutic field, it has been used in education, to help teachers remain in clear communication at an appropriate level, in ounseling and consultancy, in management and communications training, and by other bodies. Key ideas of TA TA emphasizes a pragmatic approach, that is, it seeks to find “what works” in treating patients, and, where applicable, develop models to assist understanding of why certain treatments work. Thus, TA continually evolves. However some core models and concepts are part of TA as follows:  The Ego-State (or Parent-Adult-Child, PAC) model At any given time, a person experiences and manifests their personality through a mixture of behaviours, thoughts and feelings.
Typically, according to TA, there are three ego-states that people consistently use: •Parent (“exteropsychic”): a state in which people behave, feel, and think in response to an unconscious mimicking of how their parents (or other parental figures) acted, or how they interpreted their parent’s actions. For example, a person may shout at someone out of frustration because they learned from an influential figure in childhood the lesson that this seemed to be a way of relating that worked. Adult (“neopsychic”): a state in which people behave, feel, and think in response to what is going on in the “here-and-now,” using all of their resources as an adult human being with many years of life experience to guide them. This is the ideal ego state, and learning to strengthen the Adult is a goal of TA. While a person is in the Adult ego state, he/she is directed towards an objective appraisal of reality. •Child (“archaeopsychic”): a state in which people revert to behaving, feeling and thinking similarly to how they did in childhood.
For example, a person who receives a poor evaluation at work may respond as they did in their childhood, by looking at the floor, and feeling shame or anger, as they used to when scolded as a child. Berne differentiated his Parent, Adult, and Child ego states from actual adults, parents, and children, by using capital letters when describing them. These ego-states may or may not represent the relationships that they act out. For example, in the workplace, an adult supervisor may take on the Parent role, and scold an adult employee as though they were a Child.
Or a child, using their Parent ego-state, could scold their actual parent as though the parent were a Child. Within each of these ego states are subdivisions. Thus Parental figures are often either nurturing (permission-giving, security-giving) or criticizing (comparing to family traditions and ideals in generally negative ways); Childhood behaviours are either natural (free) or adapted to others. These subdivision categorize individuals’ patterns of behaviour, feelings, and ways of thinking, that can be functional (beneficial or positive) or dysfunctional/counterproductive (negative).
Ego-states do not correspond directly to Sigmund Freud’s Ego, Superego and Id, although there are obvious parallels. Ego states are consistent for each person and are argued by TA practitioners as more readily observable than the pats in Freud’s hypothetical model. In other words, the particular ego state that a given person is communicating from is determinable by external observation and experience. There is no “universal” ego-state; each state is individually and visibly manifested for each person.
For example, each Child ego state is unique to the childhood experiences, mentality, intellect, and family of each individual; it is not a generalised childlike state. Ego states can become contaminated, for example, when a person mistakes Parental rules and slogans, for here-and-now Adult reality, and when beliefs are taken as facts. Or when a person “knows” that everyone is laughing at them because “they always laughed”. This would be an example of a childhood contamination, insofar as here-and-now reality is being overlaid with memories of previous historic incidents in childhood.
Ego states also do not correspond directly to thinking, feeling, and judging, as these behaviors are present in every ego state. Berne suspected that Parent, Adult, and Child ego states might be tied to specific areas of the human brain; an idea that has not been proved.  In more recent years the three ego state model has been questioned by a marginal TA group in Australia, who have devised a “two ego-state model” as a means of solving perceived theoretical problems: “The two ego-state model sought to correct inaccuracies in the three ego-state model Berne devised.
The two ego-state model says that there is a Child ego-state and a Parent ego-state, placing the Adult ego-state with the Parent ego-state. The information we learn at school is all Parent ego-state introjects. How we learn to speak, add up and learn how to think is all just copied from our teachers. Just as our morals and values are copied from our parents. There is no absolute truth where facts exist out side a person’s own belief system. Berne mistakenly concluded that there was and thus mistakenly put the Adult ego-state as separate from the Parent ego-state. For anyone interested in sourcing this deviation from mainstream TA Kinds of transaction  Reciprocal or Complementary Transactions A simple, reciprocal transaction occurs when both partners are addressing the ego state the other is in. These are also called complementary transactions. Example 1 A: “Have you been able to write the report? ” B: “Yes – I’m about to email it to you. ” —-(This exchange was Adult to Adult) Example 2 A: “Would you like to skip this meeting and go watch a film with me instead? ” B: “I’d love to – I don’t want to work anymore, what should we go see? (This exchange was Child to Child) Example 3 A: “You should have your room tidy by now! ” (Parent to Child) B: “Will you stop hassling me? I’ll do it eventually! ” (Child to Parent) Communication like this can continue indefinitely. (Clearly it will stop at some stage – but this psychologically balanced exchange of strokes can continue for some time).  Crossed Transactions Communication failures are typically caused by a ‘crossed transaction’ where partners address ego states other than that their partner is in. Consider the above examples jumbled up a bit. Example 1a: A: “Have you been able to write that report? (Adult to Adult) B: “Will you stop hassling me? I’ll do it eventually! ” (Child to Parent) is a crossed transaction likely to produce problems in the workplace. “A” may respond with a Parent to Child transaction. For instance: A: “If you don’t change your attitude, you’ll get fired. ” Example 2a: A: “Is your room tidy yet? ” (Parent to Child) B: “I’m just going to do it, actually. ” (Adult to Adult) is a more positive crossed transaction. However there is the risk that “A” will feel aggrieved that “B” is acting responsibly and not playing their role, and the conversation will develop into: A: “I can never trust you to do things! (Parent to Child) B: “Why don’t you believe anything I say? ” (Adult to Adult) which can continue indefinitely. Duplex or Covert transactions Another class of transaction is the ‘duplex’ or ‘covert’ transactions, where the explicit social conversation occurs in parallel with an implicit psychological transaction. For instance, A: “I need you to stay late at the office with me. ” (Adult words) body language indicates sexual intent (flirtatious Child) B: “Of course. ” (Adult response to Adult statement). winking or grinning (Child accepts the hidden motive).