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  1. 1. home | about/terms | contact | index | site map Searchrelated materialsbody language - theory, signals, meaningsdavid groves clean language methodologyemotional intelligence (EQ)erik eriksons life-stage theoryfaciliating change and decision-makinglove and spirituality at workneuro-linguistic programming (nlp)personality theories, models and typesthe psychological contracttransactional analysis - advancedSee alphabetical index for more materials, ideas and resources.See subjects in categories.See archive of additions and updates.See the businessballs communityfor more materials, sharing, publishing, promoting, connecting, etc.home » self/personal development » transactional analysistransactional analysisEric Bernes Transactional Analysis - early TA history and theoryTransactional Analysis is one of the most accessible theories of modernpsychology. Transactional Analysis was founded by Eric Berne, and thefamous 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. Whether youre inbusiness, a parent, a social worker or interested in personal development,Eric Bernes Transactional Analysis theories, and those of his followers, willenrich your dealings with people, and your understanding of yourself. Thissection covers the background to Transactional Analysis, and TransactionalAnalysis underpinning theory. See also the modern Transactional Analysistheory article.
  2. 2. roots of transactional analysisThroughout history, and from all standpoints: philosophy, medical science,religion; people have believed that each man and woman has a multiplenature.In the early 20th century, Sigmund Freud first established that the humanpsyche is multi-faceted, and that each of us has warring factions in oursubconscious. Since then, new theories continue to be put forward, allconcentrating on the essential conviction that each one of us has parts ofour personality which surface and affect our behaviour according todifferent circumstances.In 1951 Dr Wilder Penfield began a series of scientific experiments.Penfield proved, using conscious human subjects, by touching a part of thebrain (the temporal cortex) with a weak electrical probe, that the braincould be caused to play back certain past experiences, and the feelingsassociated with them. The patients replayed these events and theirfeelings despite not normally being able to recall them using theirconventional memories.Penfields experiments went on over several years, and resulted in wideacceptance 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.early transactional analysis theory and model
  3. 3. In the 1950s Eric Berne began to develop his theories of TransactionalAnalysis. He said that verbal communication, particularly face to face, is atthe centre of human social relationships and psychoanalysis.His starting-point was that when two people encounter each other, one ofthem will speak to the other. This he called the Transaction Stimulus. Thereaction from the other person he called the Transaction Response.The person sending the Stimulus is called the Agent. The person whoresponds is called the Respondent.Transactional Analysis became the method of examining the transactionwherein: I do something to you, and you do something back.Berne also said that each person is made up of three alter ego states:ParentAdultChildThese terms have different definitions than in normal language.ParentThis is our ingrained voice of authority, absorbed conditioning, learning andattitudes from when we were young. We were conditioned by our realparents, teachers, older people, next door neighbours, aunts and uncles,Father Christmas and Jack Frost. Our Parent is made up of a huge numberof hidden and overt recorded playbacks. Typically embodied by phrasesand attitudes starting with how to, under no circumstances, always andnever forget, dont lie, cheat, steal, etc, etc. Our parent is formed byexternal events and influences upon us as we grow through earlychildhood. We can change it, but this is easier said than done.ChildOur internal reaction and feelings to external events form the Child. Thisis the seeing, hearing, feeling, and emotional body of data within each ofus. When anger or despair dominates reason, the Child is in control. Likeour Parent we can change it, but it is no easier.Adult
  4. 4. Our Adult is our ability to think and determine action for ourselves, basedon 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. Ifwe 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 lifeWhen we communicate we are doing so from one of our own alter egostates, our Parent, Adult or Child. Our feelings at the time determine whichone we use, and at any time something can trigger a shift from one stateto another. When we respond, we are also doing this from one of the threestates, and it is in the analysis of these stimuli and responses that theessence of Transactional Analysis lies. See the poem by Philip Larkin abouthow parental conditioning affects children and their behaviour intoadulthood. And for an uplifting antidote see the lovely Thich Nhat Hanhquote. These are all excellent illustrations of the effect and implications ofparental conditioning in the context of Transactional Analysis.At the core of Bernes theory is the rule that effective transactions (iesuccessful communications) must be complementary. They must go backfrom the receiving ego state to the sending ego state. For example, if thestimulus is Parent to Child, the response must be Child to Parent, or thetransaction is crossed, and there will be a problem between sender andreceiver.If a crossed transaction occurs, there is an ineffective communication.Worse still either or both parties will be upset. In order for the relationshipto continue smoothly the agent or the respondent must rescue thesituation with a complementary transaction.In serious break-downs, there is no chance of immediately resuming adiscussion about the original subject matter. Attention is focused on therelationship. The discussion can only continue constructively when and ifthe relationship is mended.Here are some simple clues as to the ego state sending the signal. You willbe able to see these clearly in others, and in yourself:ParentPhysical - angry or impatient body-language and expressions, finger-pointing, patronising gestures,
  5. 5. Verbal - always, never, for once and for all, judgmental words, criticalwords, patronising language, posturing language.N.B. beware of cultural differences in body-language or emphases thatappear Parental.ChildPhysical - emotionally sad expressions, despair, temper tantrums, whiningvoice, 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, Im gonna, I dont care, oh no,not again, things never go right for me, worst day of my life, bigger,biggest, best, many superlatives, words to impress.AdultPhysical - 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 onlypart of the story.To analyse a transaction you need to see and feel what is being said aswell. 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 anygiven situation (some people get results by being dictatorial (Parent toChild), or by having temper tantrums, (Child to Parent), but for a balancedapproach to life, Adult to Adult is generally recommended.Transactional Analysis is effectively a language within a language; alanguage of true meaning, feeling and motive. It can help you in everysituation, firstly through being able to understand more clearly what is
  6. 6. going on, and secondly, by virtue of this knowledge, we give ourselveschoices of what ego states to adopt, which signals to send, and where tosend them. This enables us to make the most of all our communicationsand therefore create, develop and maintain better relationships.modern transactional analysis theoryTransactional 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 behaviourTransactional Analysis developed significantly beyond these Bernes earlytheories, by Berne himself until his death in 1970, and since then by hisfollowers and many current writers and experts. Transactional Analysis hasbeen explored and enhanced in many different ways by these people,including: Ian Stewart and Vann Joines (their book TA Today is widelyregarded as a definitive modern interpretation); John Dusay, Aaron andJacqui Schiff, Robert and Mary Goulding, Pat Crossman, Taibi Kahler, AbeWagner, Ken Mellor and Eric Sigmund, Richard Erskine and MaritynZalcman, Muriel James, Pam Levin, Anita Mountain and Julie Hay(specialists in organizational applications), Susannah Temple, ClaudeSteiner, Franklin Ernst, S Woollams and M Brown, Fanita English, PClarkson, 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 1980sby Wagner, Joines and Mountain. This established Controlling andNurturing aspects of the Parent mode, each with positive and negativeaspects, and the Adapted and Free aspects of the Child mode, again eachwith positive an negative aspects, which essentially gives us the model towhich most TA practitioners refer today:parentParent is now commonly represented as a circle with four quadrants:Nurturing - Nurturing (positive) and Spoiling (negative).Controlling - Structuring (positive) and Critical (negative).
  7. 7. adultAdult remains as a single entity, representing an accounting function ormode, which can draw on the resources of both Parent and Child.childChild 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 effectivecommunications were complementary (response echoing the path of thestimulus), and better still complementary adult to adult, the moderninterpretation suggests that effective communications and relationships arebased on complementary transactions to and from positive quadrants, andalso, still, adult to adult. Stimulii and responses can come from any (orsome) of these seven ego states, to any or some of the respondents sevenego states.modern transactional analysis - recent TA theoryand development heretransactional analysis booksRecommended transactional analysis books: TA Today - Ian Stewart & Vann Joines Im OK Youre OK - Thomas and Amy Harris Staying OK - Thomas and Amy Harris Games People Play - Eric Berne What Do You Say After You Say Hello - Eric Berne Scripts People Live - Claude Steiner The Total Handbook Of Transactional Analysis - Woollams & Brown
  8. 8. Transactional Analysis For Trainers - Julie Hay The Transactional Manager - Abe Wagnersee also Love and Spirituality in the Workplace - bringing compassion and humanity to work The Psychological Contract Eriksons Psychosocial Development Theory Assertiveness and building self-confidence Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) Motivation Facilitation theory and techniques Emotional Intelligence (EQ) principles The Four Agreements - Don Miguel Ruiz Johari Window model Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) Personality theories and types - Jung, Myers Briggs, Keirsey, Belbin, etc Reiki healing, therapy, training and history, and the seven chakras Stress causes and stress reliefsearch businessballs website Searche.g. swot analysis, change management, cv template, team building...browse categories business/selling amusement/stress relief sales, marketing, strategy, business management funny and inspirational stories, quotes, humour
  9. 9. glossaries/terminology personal development glossaries, dictionaries, acronyms, lists of terms personal development, self-discovery, self-help, life balance human resources leadership/management recruitment and selection, training, job interviews delegation, motivation, change management teambuilding/games writing/communicating activities, games, icebreakers, quizzes, puzzles cv templates, reference letters, resignation letters lifestyle/environment diagrams and tools climate change, sleeping aids, reiki free templates, samples, resources, tests and quizzesThe use of this material is free provided copyright (see below) is acknowledged and reference or linkis made to the www.businessballs.com website. This material may not be sold, or published in anyform. Disclaimer: Reliance on information, material, advice, or other linked or recommendedresources, received from Alan Chapman, shall be at your sole risk, and Alan Chapman assumes noresponsibility for any errors, omissions, or damages arising. Users of this website are encouraged toconfirm information received with other sources, and to seek local qualified advice if embarking onany actions that could carry personal or organisational liabilities. Managing people and relationshipsare sensitive activities; the free material and advice available via this website do not provide allnecessary safeguards and checks. Please retain this notice on all copies.© Alan Chapman 1995-2011. Transactional Analysis theory was developed by Dr Eric Berne in the1950s.Vol. 33, No. 1, January, 2003 15Transactional Analysis Theory: the BasicsCarol Solomon, Ph.D.AbstractThis article is written to acquaint readerswith basic transactional analysis theory andto provide a beginning understanding abouthow these concepts can be used in real life.I first learned about TransactionalAnalysis from Dr. Eric Berne when Istudied with him in Carmel, CA beginningin 1966. Quickly, I learned the value of thissimple language as I began to understand my
  10. 10. own life script. I became intrigued with mynewfound ability to see how I was interactingwith the people around me and how theyinteracted with me. I’ve been talking thelanguage of TA ever since. For those of youwho are not familiar with it, here are the basics.Ego StatesEach of our personalities is made up ofvarious parts: the Parent, the Adult, and theChild ego states. These ego states can bediagrammed as shown in Figure 1.The Parent ego state is a set of thoughts,feelings, and behaviors that are learned or“borrowed” from our parents or other caretakers. The Parent ego state can be divided intotwo functions. One part includes the nurturingside and can be soft, loving, and permissiongiving. This is called the Nurturing Parent egostate. It can also set limits in a healthy way.The other side of the Parentego state is calledthe Critical Parent. (It is also sometimes calledthe Prejudiced Parent.) This part of ourpersonality contains the prejudged thoughts,feelings, and beliefs that we learned from ourparents. Some of the messages that we hold inour Parent ego state can be helpful in livingwhile other Parent messages are not. It is usefulfor us to sort out what information we carry
  11. 11. around in our heads so we can keep the partthat helps us in our lives and change the partthat does not.The Adult ego state is our dataprocessing center. It is the part of ourpersonality that can process data accurately,that sees, hears, thinks, and can come up withsolutions to problems based on the facts and notsolely on our pre-judged thoughts or childlikeemotions.The Child ego state is the part of our personality that is the seat of emotions, thoughts, andParentAdultChildFigure 1Ego StatesPACCAROL SOLOMON16 Transactional Analysis Journalfeelings and all of the feeling state “memories”that we have of ourselves from childhood. Wecarry around in our Child ego states all of theexperiences we have had, and sometimes thesechildlike ways of being pop up in our grown-uplives. This can be fun when we are in a situation in which it is safe and right to play and enjoyourselves. It can be a problem when ourChild view of the world causes us to distort thefacts in a current situation and prevents ourAdult ego state from seeing things accurately.
  12. 12. The Child ego state can also be divided intotwo parts: the Free Child ego state (also referred to as the Natural Child) and the AdaptedChild ego state (which also contains the Rebellious Child ego state).The Free Child is the seat of spontaneousfeeling and behavior. It is the side of us that experiences the world in a direct and immediateway. Our Free Child ego state can be playful,authentic, expressive, and emotional. It, alongwith the Adult, is the seat of creativity. Havinggood contact with our own Free Child is an essential ingredient for having an intimate relationship.When we adapt in ways that make usless in touch with our true selves (our FreeChild), we decrease the amount of intimacy weare able to have in our lives.The Adapted Child is the part of our personality that has learned to comply with the parentalmessages we received growing up. We alladapt in one way or another. Sometimes whenwe are faced with parental messages that arerestricting, instead of complying with them, werebel against them. This becomes our Rebellious Child ego state. This can be seen as analternative to complying. It is still, however, aresponse to the parent messages, and so it is akind of adaptation all its own.Lets take a very simple example of a childplaying in the sand and look at how the different content develops in the different egostates:Nurturing Parent: Go ahead, play and havefun!Critical Parent: Now, dont you DARE get
  13. 13. yourself all messy!Adult: This sand looks really interesting. Ican make a castle.Free Child: WOW! Look how tall my castleis!!!!!Adapted Child: I better not get my clothesall dirty.Rebellious Child: I dont CARE if I do getdirty! (While dumping a bucket of sand onher head)Understanding ego states is the basis for understanding transactional analysis theory. In thefollowing section we will look at different waysof identifying what ego state you or someoneelse is using so you can become adept at recognizing these aspects of personality and behavior. Asyou watch people move from oneego state to another, you can literally see themchange right before your eyes!How to Tell What Ego State You Are UsingThere are several ways to tell what ego stateyou are (or some one else is) using. Pay attention to tone of voice, body posture, gestures,choice of words, and emotional state. If thetone of voice is soft and soothing, this is a signthat the speaker is using a Nurturing Parent egostate. If, on the other hand, the tone is harshand critical or threatening, then the speaker isprobably using a Critical Parent ego state. Aneven and clear tone of voice usually comesfrom an Adult ego state, while an especially
  14. 14. cheerful or emotion-laden tone of voice islikely to be coming from the Free Child. TheAdapted Child may sound either whiney or likea good girl (or boy) saying just what is expected of her or him.Similarly, there are gestures that signify thatsomeone is using Parent (the warning, waggingfinger), Adult (thoughtful expression, noddinghead), or Child (jumping up and down). Thereare also specific words that tend to come fromone ego state more than from the others. TheParent is most likely to use expressions such as“Pay attention now” or “You should always doit this way,” while language belonging to theAdult ego state is likely to sound evenhanded(“This information might be useful to you”) orsimply factual (“Will you tell me what time itis?”). The Child is most likely to use shortexpressive words like “WOW!” “Yeah!” or“Lets go!” When you pay attention to thesebehaviors and to how you feel, you will be ableto tell what ego state you or someone else isusing.TRANSACTIONAL ANALYSIS THEORY: THE BASICSVol. 33, No. 1, January, 2003 17Lets look at ways in which an understandingof ego states can help you in your current life.Suppose we take a common problem and applyknowledge of ego states to the solution. The
  15. 15. feeling of loneliness is a natural experience.Everyone feels lonely from time to time. Peopleask, “How can I connect with others? How canI make more friends?”You can use your knowledge of ego states ina social situation to maximize your chances ofmaking new connections. Let your NurturingParent take your Child to a party. Reassureyourself by saying things like, “This might befun. Lets see what interesting people we mightbe able to meet!” Leave your Critical Parent athome. Smile at people. When others talk toyou, use your Nurturing Parent to make supportive comments and to offer strokes. Use yourAdult to ask questions, showing the other person that you are interested in him or her. Allowyour Natural Child to be intuitive and to figurepeople out. Your Child ego state can connectwith others not only sharing in the pleasure ofjokes that are funny, but sometimes findinghumor in ordinary situations as well. You mightfind others opening up to you. We all needwarmth and positive strokes; if you offer someof them to others, it is likely that some willcome back your way. These elements of nurturance, support, a show of interest, andplayfulness are often how friendships begin.Change does not necessarily come quickly oreasily. Change takes practice. Your transactional analysis therapist can help you with this.But once you start making changes that move
  16. 16. your life in a positive direction, you can expectmore positive changes to follow.TransactionsAnother important transactional analysisconcept is that of transactions. Transactions areabout how people interact with each other,specifically, which ego state in me is talking towhich ego state in you. You may have noticedthat sometimes communication continues in astraightforward, easy way that seems to gosmoothly. But at other times, things seem to getall jumbled up, confusing, unclear, and unsatisfying. An understanding of transactionscan help you keep your communication withothers as clear as you would like it to be.Straight transactions (or complementarytransactions): We can diagram simple, straighttransactions as shown in Figure 2.PACPACPACP
  17. 17. ACAdult: “Will you tell me what time it is?”Adult: “Yes, it is four o’clock.”Parent: “You have to go to bed right now!”Child: “Please … Can’t I just finish thisshow?”Figure 2Straight TransactionsCAROL SOLOMON18 Transactional Analysis JournalThe first example is easy to understand. Inthe second example the two people are not inagreement, however the communication isclear. Both are examples of straight transactions; the arrows are straight or parallel. Whenpeople use straight (or complementary)transactions, communication can continueindefinitely. It is when people cross transactionsthat communication breaks down.Crossed transactions: We can diagram acrossed transaction as shown in Figure 3.Here we see two different examples in whichcommunication breaks down. In the first, therespondent comes from a Child ego state instead of Adult, thereby crossing the transaction.The speaker has two options. She can eitherstay in her Adult ego state and try again to hookthe Adult in the responder (“I didnt mean torush you. I really just wanted to know the
  18. 18. time”), or she can get hooked and move intoher Parent ego state and respond that way (e.g.,saying angrily, “Why do you have to be sosensitive?”). In the second example, the respondent comes from a Critical Parent ego state tocross the transaction, and this communicationbreaks down. There are many other ways tocross transactions.When we learn to recognize and differentiatebetween straight and crossed transactions weincrease our ability to communicate clearlywith others. Conversations made up of straighttransactions are more emotionally satisfyingand productive than conversations that havefrequent crossed transactions.Becoming an expert at recognizing ego statesand straight and crossed transactions takes time.In the beginning you will need to pay closeattention to what is going on both insideyourself and with others. With practice, identifying various ego states and different kinds oftransactions becomes second nature. Learningthese new skills can be interesting and helpful.It can also be fun!StrokesEric Berne defined a stroke as a “unit ofhuman recognition”. A stroke can be a look, anod, a smile, a spoken word, a touch. Any timeone human being does something to recognize
  19. 19. another human being, that is a stroke. Babiesneed strokes to survive.Strokes can be positive or negative. Most ofus like positive strokes better than negativeones. It feels better to hear “I love you” than toPACPACPACPACAdult: “Can you tell me what time it is?”Adapted Child: “Why are you alwaysrushing me?”Adult: “Can you tell me what time it is?”Critical Parent: “You’re always late, anyway,why would you even care?”Figure 3Crossed TransactionsTRANSACTIONAL ANALYSIS THEORY: THE BASICSVol. 33, No. 1, January, 2003 19hear “I hate you.” But when children are not
  20. 20. able to get positive strokes, they will make theirbest effort to get the negative ones, sincenegative strokes are better than no strokes atall. This is the reason that some people grow upbeing more comfortable with negative strokingpatterns. The kind of stroking patterns we develop tend to support our basic, existential lifeposition, a stance in life that reflects how wefeel about ourselves in relation to others.Strokes can also be unconditional or conditional. Unconditional strokes are those thatcome to us just for being. They are a very richkind of strokes. Babies who get lots of positive,unconditional strokes really thrive. And adultswho have a good base of positive unconditionalstroking thrive as well.Conditional strokes are given for what wedo, for what we accomplish, or for a particulartrait that we happen to possess. Thus, they arebased on some condition. Conditional strokescan fill important needs. If I sing well, or get agood grade, or do a good deed, and someonerecognizes me for that, they are giving me apositive conditional stroke. If people tell methat I am pretty or that they like my dress, theyare giving me a positive conditional stroke.These strokes can feel very good and they fillus up in different ways than do positiveunconditional strokes.
  21. 21. But there are ways that conditional strokescan be limiting, too. If we relate to others orthey relate to us in ways that show us that weare only OK in their eyes when we behave incertain ways, this cuts down on the spontaneityin the relationship. In the long run, this canlimit pleasure, intimacy, and creativity.Pay attention to the kind of strokes you mostlike to get and learn ways to ask for them. Yes,it is OK to ask for strokes, and asking does notdiminish the value of the stroke you get!Usually the more you give, the more you get!The most harmful kind of stroke is the unconditional negative stroke. These strokes convey to usthat we are not OK. And there is nocondition that this is based on. The unconditional negative stroke says that the core ofwho we are is just not OK. This kind of message and stroking pattern early in life canseriously impact a persons view of himself orherself; it can be damaging to the persons selfesteem and even impact his or her will or desireto live.When negative strokes are conditional, theyare a bit less harmful than the unconditionalnegative ones. At least the person can believethat there is something good about himself orherself, since the negative strokes are limited tocertain specific characteristics or behaviors. “Ihate when you yell like that” is more limited inits negative impact than “I hate you!”It is interesting to look at how different
  22. 22. stroking patterns affect how people feel in relationships. Following are two examples ofrelationships with very different stroking patterns.The first is an example of a relationship withnegative and conditional stroking patterns; thesecond an example of a relationship in whichpositive and unconditional strokes abound.Lisa and Ben had been married for about tenyears. Ben had never been able to fully acceptLisa for who she is. Ben wanted a partner whocould join him in his many athletic endeavors.The only time Lisa received positive strokesfrom Ben was when she joined him in joggingor mountain biking. But because he was a muchbetter athlete than she, these activities were notmuch fun for her. Lisa enjoyed putting on elaborate dinner parties and playing the piano. ButBen discounted Lisas strengths looking throughhis lens of athletics. He would comment on heraccomplishments saying, “Yeah, but all youever want to do is eat and sit around.” Lisareceived positive conditional strokes from Benonly when she complied with his wishes. Shelonged for the unconditional positive strokes (“Ilove you, honey”) and the conditional positivestrokes (“What a great cook you are!”), butthose rarely came. She found it difficult as wellto stroke Ben in positive ways. It is easy tounderstand why Lisa and Ben felt some relief,in addition to their anger and grief, when they
  23. 23. decided to end their relationship.Margaret and Claire had been together formore than 20 years. They had much in commonhaving met in graduate school when they wereboth working on PhDs in sociology. Margaretand Claire loved everything about each other.They loved how smart the other was, theyCAROL SOLOMON20 Transactional Analysis Journalappreciated each others gentle loving ways,and they shared the same values. Where therewere differences, they saw those as strengthsthat were complementary to each other. Margaret was extremely outgoing while Claire wasquite shy. Instead of fighting about these differences, they saw them as “balancing things out”in their relationship. Margaret and Claire exchanged many positive strokes in their relationship, boththe conditional (“She is so smart”)and the unconditional kind (“I love her with allmy heart”). They used straight transactionswhen they argued, fighting fairly and gettingproblems resolved.Life Scripts and Early DecisionsA life script is an unconscious life plan basedon decisions made in early childhood aboutourselves, others, and our lives. These decisions made sense when we were young andoften helped us adapt in the world of our childhood. They do not always make sense when weare adults, but until we discover what our earlydecisions were, we often repeat the patterns thatprove those early decisions to be true.For example, I met Kathleen when she was
  24. 24. 27, a bright, beautiful, creative young womanwho was ruining her life with alcohol and debt.She had been a successful ballerina in her teenage years, and I wondered about her seeminglack of success now. “Life sucks” she told methrough her tears. “People say Im smart andpretty and have so much going for me, but I feellike a total failure.” How did this come to be, Iwondered? As we explored her past wediscovered that the success she experienced as ayoung girl hardly felt like success at all. Whenshe was the thinnest girl in the ballet company,her teacher wanted her to be thinner. When shecould do a double pirouette, her teacher wantedher to do a triple. There were many examples ofher not being “perfect enough” over a period ofmany years. Kathleen decided, “I’m never goodenough. I’ll never be successful enough. I giveup.” And when she quit dancing, she stuck toher decision of “I give up” and never reachedfor any more success in her life. It was yearslater that I met her, drinking and despairing ofever being able to feel good about herself andbadly in debt. This is an example of how a lifescript takes hold and how it can influence ourlives until we are able to see our own earlydecisions clearly and understand how theymade sense at the time they were made.
  25. 25. We all receive many messages from our parents and other caretakers as we are growing up.While parents are usually our main caretakers,many people are raised and tremendously influenced by grandparents, older siblings, hirednannies, and others. These messages comefrom all the ego states of our caregivers, andthey come to us in many different forms. Messages are conveyed through touching and holding orhitting and neglect. They can be sent verbally, either gently with interest or gruffly withdisgust. And we hear and interpret these messages and make decisions about ourselves andour lives based on what we experience.As children, we try to make sense of ourworld (and our first world is really the world ofour family), and we try to figure out how to bestfit in with the people around us. We are allborn with an innate need to be connected toother human beings. Without our ability tobond with our caretakers and their desire tobond with us as infants, we would not survive.We each have an inborn set of personality characteristics that make some of us more sensitiveand some of us more bold. Some of us tend tobe more fearful, meek, or shy, while others arebraver and bounce back more quickly. Theseinborn variables have a lot to do with how weare able to respond to the people and events ofour childhood.The early decision (or sets of early decisions)is the most important part of our life script. Wereceived certain messages (both directly and indirectly) from our parents and other caretakersabout how we should be to obtain strokes from
  26. 26. them. As we get older we receive even moremessages from a wider circle of people who areimportant in our lives, including grandparents,siblings, and teachers. It is what we do withthese messages that is so important. We makedecisions about ourselves and our lives thatallow us to adapt as best we can to theparticular situation in which we find ourselves.Children who are well loved and clearlywanted will be able to make positive scriptTRANSACTIONAL ANALYSIS THEORY: THE BASICSVol. 33, No. 1, January, 2003 21decisions on which to base the rest of theirlives. Those decisions might be, at the earlieststages, a sense that “I’m good” and “I’m lovable” and later, based on mother’s or fathersacknowledgment of a job well done, “I’msmart” or “I’m competent.” These are the kindsof early life decisions that are the buildingblocks of a healthy and satisfying life script.Other children receive negative or mixedmessages and may decide that there is something wrong with them. Although these decisions maymake sense to the child at the time,they will not serve him or her well in the future.For example, if a father who is angry at hisyoung son over some small mishap yells, “Icant believe you could be that stupid!” thatchild might decide “I’m dumb” or “I’ll never doanything right.” And this decision can be thebasis for an unhappy (or limiting) life script.
  27. 27. Usually the decisions that we make are basednot on a single message or event, but on thecontinual repetition of that message during ourgrowing up years. The repeated messages support our belief in the early decision we havemade.What makes some people able to withstandnegative script messages and turn out prettymuch OK while other people are so drasticallyaffected by similar messages? There are twothings that affect how we react to our childhoodsituations. One is the constitution and personality with which we are born. A sunny, resilient,outgoing child will be able to withstandnegative parenting better than a depressed orwithdrawn child. The other is a matter of howmuch support a child has from others. Thechild who is yelled at by father will be betterable to withstand that assault if mother is thereto mitigate the effect of those harsh words(“Dont you listen to him, you are a really smartboy!)As children we are amazingly resilient andseek out the healthy parenting we need. Thelittle boy just described, for instance, mightshow his grandfather a homework paper andbask in grandfathers praise, or he might soakup his teachers admiration when he raises hishand in class. He thus finds ways to gainexperiences that balance the negative messages
  28. 28. from his father and allow him to grow upfeeling good about himself when all is said anddone.Existential PositionsBased on the messages received and the decisions made, a young child develops a basiclife position. We call these “existential positions” because they influence how we view ourown and others existence. There are four basiclife positions. These are:Im OK, Youre OKIm OK, Youre Not OKIm Not OK, Youre OKIm Not OK, Youre Not OKMost babies are born in the position of feeling OK about themselves and OK about others.If things go well they will be able to maintainthat position throughout their life. This helpsform the basis for a healthy life script.If a child is treated badly or abused, this mayresult in his or her feeling helpless, powerless,and angry, and he or she may move into aposition of believing “Im OK, Youre Not OK.”Such an individual may build a life on this angry position and continually prove to himself orherself that others are not OK. This positioninvolves a lack of trust in others and makes itdifficult for the person to form and maintain intimate friendships or relationships.If a child is not well cared for and receivesscript messages that decrease his or her sense ofself-worth, that child might move into the
  29. 29. position of feeling like he or she is not OKwhile others are OK. This position also leavesthe person with difficulty feeling good abouthimself or herself both in the work arena and informing trusting and lasting relationships.When things really go wrong during childhood, a person might end up in the existentialposition of “Im Not OK, Youre Not OK.” Thisis the life position of despair. The person in thisposition has great difficulty seeing the good inanyone and has trouble having any hope for thefuture.However, even people in this position canchange. They can grow to understand the lifeexperiences that led them to have this view andcan learn ways to change those early decisionsthat support these negatives beliefs. Since weare almost all born in the position of “I’m OK,CAROL SOLOMON22 Transactional Analysis JournalYoure OK,” we can get back to that belief evenif our life experiences have led us to feeldifferently. It is worth searching to understandhow you have been influenced by the events inyour own life so that you can come back to aplace of knowing that both you and otherpeople are OK.Transactional Analysis in Your LifeUnderstanding transactional analysis can
  30. 30. help you understand yourself better. It can alsohelp you see more clearly how you interact withothers. One of the things that sets transacttionalanalysis therapy apart from some othertherapies is the belief that we are each responsible for our own future, regardless of whathappened to us in the past.If you see things in yourself that you do notlike or that do not serve you well, transactionalanalysis provides some tools to help youchange. You can begin to change by deciding,for example, what kind of Parent ego state youwould like to have and then practice using anddeveloping that part of yourself. You can decide what ego state you would like to use moreof and which one you might want to use less of.Would you like to use your Adult ego statemore often? Or perhaps you use your Adult almost all the time and would like to practice using yourplayful Child ego state. You can practice giving certain kinds of strokes and askingfor the kind of strokes you want to receive. Bypaying attention to different kinds of transacttions, you can exert some control in conversations tomake sure that communication proceedsin an honest, uncomplicated, straightforwardway.Many people use transactional analysis intherapy because they want help in changingpatterns in their lives that feel bad or are notproductive. These are usually script patternsbased on early decisions made during childhood. A therapist who uses transactional analysis canhelp you discover elements of your lifescript and can help you change your patterns.
  31. 31. Those early decisions that you made when youwere young made a lot of sense at the time, butthey may not really make sense at all anymore.You can change them now and make choicesthat allow you to live the life you want to live.That is what transactional analysis is all about.This article is a brief overview designed togive beginning readers a basic understanding ofthe building blocks of transactional analysis.Those who are interested in knowing more, andunderstanding this theory in greater depth, areencouraged to read some of the books described in the annotated bibliography at the endof this journal.Carol Solomon, PhD., is a Teaching andSupervising Transactional Analyst (clinical)and a psychologist in private practice in SanFrancisco. In addition to her psychotherapypractice, she is at work on a book about theending of intimate relationships. Please sendreprint requests to her at 3610 Sacramento St.,San Francisco, CA 94118, USA; email:drcsol@pacbell.net . Vol. 33, No. 1, January, 2003 15Transactional Analysis Theory: the BasicsCarol Solomon, Ph.D.AbstractThis article is written to acquaint readerswith basic transactional analysis theory and
  32. 32. to provide a beginning understanding abouthow these concepts can be used in real life.I first learned about TransactionalAnalysis from Dr. Eric Berne when Istudied with him in Carmel, CA beginningin 1966. Quickly, I learned the value of thissimple language as I began to understand myown life script. I became intrigued with mynewfound ability to see how I was interactingwith the people around me and how theyinteracted with me. I’ve been talking thelanguage of TA ever since. For those of youwho are not familiar with it, here are the basics.Ego StatesEach of our personalities is made up ofvarious parts: the Parent, the Adult, and theChild ego states. These ego states can bediagrammed as shown in Figure 1.The Parent ego state is a set of thoughts,feelings, and behaviors that are learned or“borrowed” from our parents or other caretakers. The Parent ego state can be divided intotwo functions. One part includes the nurturingside and can be soft, loving, and permissiongiving. This is called the Nurturing Parent egostate. It can also set limits in a healthy way.The other side of the Parentego state is calledthe Critical Parent. (It is also sometimes called
  33. 33. the Prejudiced Parent.) This part of ourpersonality contains the prejudged thoughts,feelings, and beliefs that we learned from ourparents. Some of the messages that we hold inour Parent ego state can be helpful in livingwhile other Parent messages are not. It is usefulfor us to sort out what information we carryaround in our heads so we can keep the partthat helps us in our lives and change the partthat does not.The Adult ego state is our dataprocessing center. It is the part of ourpersonality that can process data accurately,that sees, hears, thinks, and can come up withsolutions to problems based on the facts and notsolely on our pre-judged thoughts or childlikeemotions.The Child ego state is the part of our personality that is the seat of emotions, thoughts, andParentAdultChildFigure 1Ego StatesPACCAROL SOLOMON16 Transactional Analysis Journalfeelings and all of the feeling state “memories”that we have of ourselves from childhood. We
  34. 34. carry around in our Child ego states all of theexperiences we have had, and sometimes thesechildlike ways of being pop up in our grown-uplives. This can be fun when we are in a situation in which it is safe and right to play and enjoyourselves. It can be a problem when ourChild view of the world causes us to distort thefacts in a current situation and prevents ourAdult ego state from seeing things accurately.The Child ego state can also be divided intotwo parts: the Free Child ego state (also referred to as the Natural Child) and the AdaptedChild ego state (which also contains the Rebellious Child ego state).The Free Child is the seat of spontaneousfeeling and behavior. It is the side of us that experiences the world in a direct and immediateway. Our Free Child ego state can be playful,authentic, expressive, and emotional. It, alongwith the Adult, is the seat of creativity. Havinggood contact with our own Free Child is an essential ingredient for having an intimate relationship.When we adapt in ways that make usless in touch with our true selves (our FreeChild), we decrease the amount of intimacy weare able to have in our lives.The Adapted Child is the part of our personality that has learned to comply with the parentalmessages we received growing up. We alladapt in one way or another. Sometimes whenwe are faced with parental messages that arerestricting, instead of complying with them, werebel against them. This becomes our Rebellious Child ego state. This can be seen as analternative to complying. It is still, however, aresponse to the parent messages, and so it is a
  35. 35. kind of adaptation all its own.Lets take a very simple example of a childplaying in the sand and look at how the different content develops in the different egostates:Nurturing Parent: Go ahead, play and havefun!Critical Parent: Now, dont you DARE getyourself all messy!Adult: This sand looks really interesting. Ican make a castle.Free Child: WOW! Look how tall my castleis!!!!!Adapted Child: I better not get my clothesall dirty.Rebellious Child: I dont CARE if I do getdirty! (While dumping a bucket of sand onher head)Understanding ego states is the basis for understanding transactional analysis theory. In thefollowing section we will look at different waysof identifying what ego state you or someoneelse is using so you can become adept at recognizing these aspects of personality and behavior. Asyou watch people move from oneego state to another, you can literally see themchange right before your eyes!How to Tell What Ego State You Are UsingThere are several ways to tell what ego stateyou are (or some one else is) using. Pay attention to tone of voice, body posture, gestures,choice of words, and emotional state. If the
  36. 36. tone of voice is soft and soothing, this is a signthat the speaker is using a Nurturing Parent egostate. If, on the other hand, the tone is harshand critical or threatening, then the speaker isprobably using a Critical Parent ego state. Aneven and clear tone of voice usually comesfrom an Adult ego state, while an especiallycheerful or emotion-laden tone of voice islikely to be coming from the Free Child. TheAdapted Child may sound either whiney or likea good girl (or boy) saying just what is expected of her or him.Similarly, there are gestures that signify thatsomeone is using Parent (the warning, waggingfinger), Adult (thoughtful expression, noddinghead), or Child (jumping up and down). Thereare also specific words that tend to come fromone ego state more than from the others. TheParent is most likely to use expressions such as“Pay attention now” or “You should always doit this way,” while language belonging to theAdult ego state is likely to sound evenhanded(“This information might be useful to you”) orsimply factual (“Will you tell me what time itis?”). The Child is most likely to use shortexpressive words like “WOW!” “Yeah!” or“Lets go!” When you pay attention to thesebehaviors and to how you feel, you will be able
  37. 37. to tell what ego state you or someone else isusing.TRANSACTIONAL ANALYSIS THEORY: THE BASICSVol. 33, No. 1, January, 2003 17Lets look at ways in which an understandingof ego states can help you in your current life.Suppose we take a common problem and applyknowledge of ego states to the solution. Thefeeling of loneliness is a natural experience.Everyone feels lonely from time to time. Peopleask, “How can I connect with others? How canI make more friends?”You can use your knowledge of ego states ina social situation to maximize your chances ofmaking new connections. Let your NurturingParent take your Child to a party. Reassureyourself by saying things like, “This might befun. Lets see what interesting people we mightbe able to meet!” Leave your Critical Parent athome. Smile at people. When others talk toyou, use your Nurturing Parent to make supportive comments and to offer strokes. Use yourAdult to ask questions, showing the other person that you are interested in him or her. Allowyour Natural Child to be intuitive and to figurepeople out. Your Child ego state can connectwith others not only sharing in the pleasure ofjokes that are funny, but sometimes findinghumor in ordinary situations as well. You mightfind others opening up to you. We all need
  38. 38. warmth and positive strokes; if you offer someof them to others, it is likely that some willcome back your way. These elements of nurturance, support, a show of interest, andplayfulness are often how friendships begin.Change does not necessarily come quickly oreasily. Change takes practice. Your transactional analysis therapist can help you with this.But once you start making changes that moveyour life in a positive direction, you can expectmore positive changes to follow.TransactionsAnother important transactional analysisconcept is that of transactions. Transactions areabout how people interact with each other,specifically, which ego state in me is talking towhich ego state in you. You may have noticedthat sometimes communication continues in astraightforward, easy way that seems to gosmoothly. But at other times, things seem to getall jumbled up, confusing, unclear, and unsatisfying. An understanding of transactionscan help you keep your communication withothers as clear as you would like it to be.Straight transactions (or complementarytransactions): We can diagram simple, straighttransactions as shown in Figure 2.PAC
  39. 39. PACPACPACAdult: “Will you tell me what time it is?”Adult: “Yes, it is four o’clock.”Parent: “You have to go to bed right now!”Child: “Please … Can’t I just finish thisshow?”Figure 2Straight TransactionsCAROL SOLOMON18 Transactional Analysis JournalThe first example is easy to understand. Inthe second example the two people are not inagreement, however the communication isclear. Both are examples of straight transactions; the arrows are straight or parallel. Whenpeople use straight (or complementary)transactions, communication can continueindefinitely. It is when people cross transactionsthat communication breaks down.Crossed transactions: We can diagram acrossed transaction as shown in Figure 3.
  40. 40. Here we see two different examples in whichcommunication breaks down. In the first, therespondent comes from a Child ego state instead of Adult, thereby crossing the transaction.The speaker has two options. She can eitherstay in her Adult ego state and try again to hookthe Adult in the responder (“I didnt mean torush you. I really just wanted to know thetime”), or she can get hooked and move intoher Parent ego state and respond that way (e.g.,saying angrily, “Why do you have to be sosensitive?”). In the second example, the respondent comes from a Critical Parent ego state tocross the transaction, and this communicationbreaks down. There are many other ways tocross transactions.When we learn to recognize and differentiatebetween straight and crossed transactions weincrease our ability to communicate clearlywith others. Conversations made up of straighttransactions are more emotionally satisfyingand productive than conversations that havefrequent crossed transactions.Becoming an expert at recognizing ego statesand straight and crossed transactions takes time.In the beginning you will need to pay closeattention to what is going on both insideyourself and with others. With practice, identifying various ego states and different kinds oftransactions becomes second nature. Learning
  41. 41. these new skills can be interesting and helpful.It can also be fun!StrokesEric Berne defined a stroke as a “unit ofhuman recognition”. A stroke can be a look, anod, a smile, a spoken word, a touch. Any timeone human being does something to recognizeanother human being, that is a stroke. Babiesneed strokes to survive.Strokes can be positive or negative. Most ofus like positive strokes better than negativeones. It feels better to hear “I love you” than toPACPACPACPACAdult: “Can you tell me what time it is?”Adapted Child: “Why are you alwaysrushing me?”
  42. 42. Adult: “Can you tell me what time it is?”Critical Parent: “You’re always late, anyway,why would you even care?”Figure 3Crossed TransactionsTRANSACTIONAL ANALYSIS THEORY: THE BASICSVol. 33, No. 1, January, 2003 19hear “I hate you.” But when children are notable to get positive strokes, they will make theirbest effort to get the negative ones, sincenegative strokes are better than no strokes atall. This is the reason that some people grow upbeing more comfortable with negative strokingpatterns. The kind of stroking patterns we develop tend to support our basic, existential lifeposition, a stance in life that reflects how wefeel about ourselves in relation to others.Strokes can also be unconditional or conditional. Unconditional strokes are those thatcome to us just for being. They are a very richkind of strokes. Babies who get lots of positive,unconditional strokes really thrive. And adultswho have a good base of positive unconditionalstroking thrive as well.Conditional strokes are given for what wedo, for what we accomplish, or for a particulartrait that we happen to possess. Thus, they arebased on some condition. Conditional strokescan fill important needs. If I sing well, or get agood grade, or do a good deed, and someone
  43. 43. recognizes me for that, they are giving me apositive conditional stroke. If people tell methat I am pretty or that they like my dress, theyare giving me a positive conditional stroke.These strokes can feel very good and they fillus up in different ways than do positiveunconditional strokes.But there are ways that conditional strokescan be limiting, too. If we relate to others orthey relate to us in ways that show us that weare only OK in their eyes when we behave incertain ways, this cuts down on the spontaneityin the relationship. In the long run, this canlimit pleasure, intimacy, and creativity.Pay attention to the kind of strokes you mostlike to get and learn ways to ask for them. Yes,it is OK to ask for strokes, and asking does notdiminish the value of the stroke you get!Usually the more you give, the more you get!The most harmful kind of stroke is the unconditional negative stroke. These strokes convey to usthat we are not OK. And there is nocondition that this is based on. The unconditional negative stroke says that the core ofwho we are is just not OK. This kind of message and stroking pattern early in life canseriously impact a persons view of himself orherself; it can be damaging to the persons selfesteem and even impact his or her will or desireto live.When negative strokes are conditional, theyare a bit less harmful than the unconditional
  44. 44. negative ones. At least the person can believethat there is something good about himself orherself, since the negative strokes are limited tocertain specific characteristics or behaviors. “Ihate when you yell like that” is more limited inits negative impact than “I hate you!”It is interesting to look at how differentstroking patterns affect how people feel in relationships. Following are two examples ofrelationships with very different stroking patterns.The first is an example of a relationship withnegative and conditional stroking patterns; thesecond an example of a relationship in whichpositive and unconditional strokes abound.Lisa and Ben had been married for about tenyears. Ben had never been able to fully acceptLisa for who she is. Ben wanted a partner whocould join him in his many athletic endeavors.The only time Lisa received positive strokesfrom Ben was when she joined him in joggingor mountain biking. But because he was a muchbetter athlete than she, these activities were notmuch fun for her. Lisa enjoyed putting on elaborate dinner parties and playing the piano. ButBen discounted Lisas strengths looking throughhis lens of athletics. He would comment on heraccomplishments saying, “Yeah, but all youever want to do is eat and sit around.” Lisareceived positive conditional strokes from Benonly when she complied with his wishes. She
  45. 45. longed for the unconditional positive strokes (“Ilove you, honey”) and the conditional positivestrokes (“What a great cook you are!”), butthose rarely came. She found it difficult as wellto stroke Ben in positive ways. It is easy tounderstand why Lisa and Ben felt some relief,in addition to their anger and grief, when theydecided to end their relationship.Margaret and Claire had been together formore than 20 years. They had much in commonhaving met in graduate school when they wereboth working on PhDs in sociology. Margaretand Claire loved everything about each other.They loved how smart the other was, theyCAROL SOLOMON20 Transactional Analysis Journalappreciated each others gentle loving ways,and they shared the same values. Where therewere differences, they saw those as strengthsthat were complementary to each other. Margaret was extremely outgoing while Claire wasquite shy. Instead of fighting about these differences, they saw them as “balancing things out”in their relationship. Margaret and Claire exchanged many positive strokes in their relationship, boththe conditional (“She is so smart”)and the unconditional kind (“I love her with allmy heart”). They used straight transactionswhen they argued, fighting fairly and gettingproblems resolved.Life Scripts and Early DecisionsA life script is an unconscious life plan based
  46. 46. on decisions made in early childhood aboutourselves, others, and our lives. These decisions made sense when we were young andoften helped us adapt in the world of our childhood. They do not always make sense when weare adults, but until we discover what our earlydecisions were, we often repeat the patterns thatprove those early decisions to be true.For example, I met Kathleen when she was27, a bright, beautiful, creative young womanwho was ruining her life with alcohol and debt.She had been a successful ballerina in her teenage years, and I wondered about her seeminglack of success now. “Life sucks” she told methrough her tears. “People say Im smart andpretty and have so much going for me, but I feellike a total failure.” How did this come to be, Iwondered? As we explored her past wediscovered that the success she experienced as ayoung girl hardly felt like success at all. Whenshe was the thinnest girl in the ballet company,her teacher wanted her to be thinner. When shecould do a double pirouette, her teacher wantedher to do a triple. There were many examples ofher not being “perfect enough” over a period ofmany years. Kathleen decided, “I’m never goodenough. I’ll never be successful enough. I giveup.” And when she quit dancing, she stuck toher decision of “I give up” and never reachedfor any more success in her life. It was years
  47. 47. later that I met her, drinking and despairing ofever being able to feel good about herself andbadly in debt. This is an example of how a lifescript takes hold and how it can influence ourlives until we are able to see our own earlydecisions clearly and understand how theymade sense at the time they were made.We all receive many messages from our parents and other caretakers as we are growing up.While parents are usually our main caretakers,many people are raised and tremendously influenced by grandparents, older siblings, hirednannies, and others. These messages comefrom all the ego states of our caregivers, andthey come to us in many different forms. Messages are conveyed through touching and holding orhitting and neglect. They can be sent verbally, either gently with interest or gruffly withdisgust. And we hear and interpret these messages and make decisions about ourselves andour lives based on what we experience.As children, we try to make sense of ourworld (and our first world is really the world ofour family), and we try to figure out how to bestfit in with the people around us. We are allborn with an innate need to be connected toother human beings. Without our ability tobond with our caretakers and their desire tobond with us as infants, we would not survive.We each have an inborn set of personality characteristics that make some of us more sensitiveand some of us more bold. Some of us tend tobe more fearful, meek, or shy, while others arebraver and bounce back more quickly. These
  48. 48. inborn variables have a lot to do with how weare able to respond to the people and events ofour childhood.The early decision (or sets of early decisions)is the most important part of our life script. Wereceived certain messages (both directly and indirectly) from our parents and other caretakersabout how we should be to obtain strokes fromthem. As we get older we receive even moremessages from a wider circle of people who areimportant in our lives, including grandparents,siblings, and teachers. It is what we do withthese messages that is so important. We makedecisions about ourselves and our lives thatallow us to adapt as best we can to theparticular situation in which we find ourselves.Children who are well loved and clearlywanted will be able to make positive scriptTRANSACTIONAL ANALYSIS THEORY: THE BASICSVol. 33, No. 1, January, 2003 21decisions on which to base the rest of theirlives. Those decisions might be, at the earlieststages, a sense that “I’m good” and “I’m lovable” and later, based on mother’s or fathersacknowledgment of a job well done, “I’msmart” or “I’m competent.” These are the kindsof early life decisions that are the buildingblocks of a healthy and satisfying life script.Other children receive negative or mixedmessages and may decide that there is something wrong with them. Although these decisions maymake sense to the child at the time,
  49. 49. they will not serve him or her well in the future.For example, if a father who is angry at hisyoung son over some small mishap yells, “Icant believe you could be that stupid!” thatchild might decide “I’m dumb” or “I’ll never doanything right.” And this decision can be thebasis for an unhappy (or limiting) life script.Usually the decisions that we make are basednot on a single message or event, but on thecontinual repetition of that message during ourgrowing up years. The repeated messages support our belief in the early decision we havemade.What makes some people able to withstandnegative script messages and turn out prettymuch OK while other people are so drasticallyaffected by similar messages? There are twothings that affect how we react to our childhoodsituations. One is the constitution and personality with which we are born. A sunny, resilient,outgoing child will be able to withstandnegative parenting better than a depressed orwithdrawn child. The other is a matter of howmuch support a child has from others. Thechild who is yelled at by father will be betterable to withstand that assault if mother is thereto mitigate the effect of those harsh words(“Dont you listen to him, you are a really smartboy!)As children we are amazingly resilient and
  50. 50. seek out the healthy parenting we need. Thelittle boy just described, for instance, mightshow his grandfather a homework paper andbask in grandfathers praise, or he might soakup his teachers admiration when he raises hishand in class. He thus finds ways to gainexperiences that balance the negative messagesfrom his father and allow him to grow upfeeling good about himself when all is said anddone.Existential PositionsBased on the messages received and the decisions made, a young child develops a basiclife position. We call these “existential positions” because they influence how we view ourown and others existence. There are four basiclife positions. These are:Im OK, Youre OKIm OK, Youre Not OKIm Not OK, Youre OKIm Not OK, Youre Not OKMost babies are born in the position of feeling OK about themselves and OK about others.If things go well they will be able to maintainthat position throughout their life. This helpsform the basis for a healthy life script.If a child is treated badly or abused, this mayresult in his or her feeling helpless, powerless,and angry, and he or she may move into aposition of believing “Im OK, Youre Not OK.”
  51. 51. Such an individual may build a life on this angry position and continually prove to himself orherself that others are not OK. This positioninvolves a lack of trust in others and makes itdifficult for the person to form and maintain intimate friendships or relationships.If a child is not well cared for and receivesscript messages that decrease his or her sense ofself-worth, that child might move into theposition of feeling like he or she is not OKwhile others are OK. This position also leavesthe person with difficulty feeling good abouthimself or herself both in the work arena and informing trusting and lasting relationships.When things really go wrong during childhood, a person might end up in the existentialposition of “Im Not OK, Youre Not OK.” Thisis the life position of despair. The person in thisposition has great difficulty seeing the good inanyone and has trouble having any hope for thefuture.However, even people in this position canchange. They can grow to understand the lifeexperiences that led them to have this view andcan learn ways to change those early decisionsthat support these negatives beliefs. Since weare almost all born in the position of “I’m OK,CAROL SOLOMON22 Transactional Analysis JournalYoure OK,” we can get back to that belief evenif our life experiences have led us to feel
  52. 52. differently. It is worth searching to understandhow you have been influenced by the events inyour own life so that you can come back to aplace of knowing that both you and otherpeople are OK.Transactional Analysis in Your LifeUnderstanding transactional analysis canhelp you understand yourself better. It can alsohelp you see more clearly how you interact withothers. One of the things that sets transacttionalanalysis therapy apart from some othertherapies is the belief that we are each responsible for our own future, regardless of whathappened to us in the past.If you see things in yourself that you do notlike or that do not serve you well, transactionalanalysis provides some tools to help youchange. You can begin to change by deciding,for example, what kind of Parent ego state youwould like to have and then practice using anddeveloping that part of yourself. You can decide what ego state you would like to use moreof and which one you might want to use less of.Would you like to use your Adult ego statemore often? Or perhaps you use your Adult almost all the time and would like to practice using yourplayful Child ego state. You can practice giving certain kinds of strokes and askingfor the kind of strokes you want to receive. Bypaying attention to different kinds of transacttions, you can exert some control in conversations tomake sure that communication proceedsin an honest, uncomplicated, straightforward
  53. 53. way.Many people use transactional analysis intherapy because they want help in changingpatterns in their lives that feel bad or are notproductive. These are usually script patternsbased on early decisions made during childhood. A therapist who uses transactional analysis canhelp you discover elements of your lifescript and can help you change your patterns.Those early decisions that you made when youwere young made a lot of sense at the time, butthey may not really make sense at all anymore.You can change them now and make choicesthat allow you to live the life you want to live.That is what transactional analysis is all about.This article is a brief overview designed togive beginning readers a basic understanding ofthe building blocks of transactional analysis.Those who are interested in knowing more, andunderstanding this theory in greater depth, areencouraged to read some of the books described in the annotated bibliography at the endof this journal.Carol Solomon, PhD., is a Teaching andSupervising Transactional Analyst (clinical)and a psychologist in private practice in SanFrancisco. In addition to her psychotherapypractice, she is at work on a book about theending of intimate relationships. Please sendreprint requests to her at 3610 Sacramento St.,
  54. 54. San Francisco, CA 94118, USA; email:drcsol@pacbell.net .

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