Transactional Analysis: Learning to be OK

Transactional Analyisis (TA) can be described as a simple way of understanding how people think, feel and behave. Even though I am not a therapist but a LifeLine Counsellor, I have found that TA helped me not only in my own life, but to better understand my clients.

TA notes that there are four ways that we operate in our lives.  I’m OK  – You’re OK, I’m OK and you’re not OK, I’m not OK and you are OK, I’m not OK and you’re not OK.

The core philosophy is that people are OK and that everyone has the capacity to think and thereby they decide their own destiny and that their decisions can be changed.

The bottom line is that we are responsible for our own feelings, behaviours and thoughts and no one can make us do anything unless we choose to do as they say. By becoming aware of this we can decide to change our feelings,  behaviours and thoughts and therefore change is possible for us – if we want it.

The basic structure of TA is our ego state – the way we interact with the world. An ego state is a pattern of feeling and experience directly related to our behaviour – that means our thoughts, feelings and behaviour consistently occur together.

TA identifies three key ego states: Parent, Adult and Child. We can behave in any one of these states and our actions can be affected by the way someone else behaves.

The Parent ego state is when we either nurture or criticise others. We have picked up this behaviour from our parents.  Do you remember how your parents behaved, and does that resonate with your behaviour sometimes?

The Adult is the part of us which is reality-oriented, it is factual, logical and problem solving.

The Child is our emotional self. It has three parts – the Natural Child who expresses basic feelings of anger, joy, sadness and fear. The Adapted Child is the part of us which expresses feelings we have learned as we have grown up, some of which are confusion, guilt and inadequacy. The Rebellious Child is the part which does the exact opposite of what people would like us to do.

TA analyses interactions between people. Normally when everything is going OK we talk to someone else from the same ego state. However, when things go wrong, we talk to someone in different ego states – for example if you are angry (Child) and the person you are talking to criticises you (Parent). Obviously, we would get on better if we both talked from our Adult egos.

So when we think about where we are and identify where the person we are talking to is, we can assess what the best way to effectively communicate with them is.

People talk to others to gain “strokes”.  We need stimulus from touch, recognition and structure. Often when we don’t get the strokes we need, we play games. We do this because we need something and we don’t know how to ask, or we are afraid of asking. Examples of playing games: being a victim, always being in trouble and needing help, and lastly it’s never your fault.

Another example is being a Persecutor, always attacking others or putting them down. Finally, you can aslo be a Rescuer who tries to make things OK, even when it’s not wanted! And you can go from one role to the other. Examples of this behaviour: always say “yes…. but” whenever a suggestion is made. Or we say “I’m only trying to help” when we are interfering. TA also defines what the script is for our lives. This is a life plan made in childhood decided by our good and bad experiences as a child. However, we are not aware of this script.

The script works in adulthood when we behave in a way which is not appropriate to the here-and-now.  We are in our Parent or Child ego state and we are responding as though we are in a time and place which we experienced earlier in our lives. We repeat the early behaviour in the hope that this time things will turn out better and we will get the love and attention we might not have received as a child. This is the source of most of life’s problems and occurs mostly when we are under stress, or when the present resembles a stressful situation similar to one we experienced in childhood.

The aim of Transactional Analysis is autonomy which Eric Berne defined as the recovery of three human capacities: spontaneity, awareness and intimacy.

If you want to know more about TA go to www.sataa.org.za.

Written by Janet King

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