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 behavior.
Whether you’re in business, a parent, and social worker or interested in personal development, his transactional analysis theories, and those of his followers, will enrich your dealings with people, and your understanding of yourself (Strisik, 2010). 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 center 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 where 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 and child. These terms have different definitions than in normal language (Parrott, 2003). The parent represents 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 neighbors, aunts and uncles. 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. 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 (Parrott, 2003). 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. 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. 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 lays (Truax, 1971). At the core of Berne’s theory is the rule that effective transactions, successful communications for example, 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 (Truax, 1971). Some simple clues as to the ego state sending the signal.
It will be easy to see these clearly in others, and in yourself. The traits representing the Parent include physical characteristics such as anger or impatient body-language and expressions, finger-pointing, patronizing gestures. The verbal signs include always, never, for once and for all, judgmental words, critical words, patronizing language, posturing language For the Child physical traits include 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.
The 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, words to impress. Adult physical traits are attentive, interested, straight-forward, tilted head, no-n threatening and non-threatened. Verbal cues are why, what, how, who, where and when, how much, in what way, comparative expressions, reasoned statements, true, false, probably, possibly, I think, I realize, I see, I believe, in my opinion (Truax, 1971). It is also important to understand when trying to identify ego states that words are only part of the story.
To analyze a transaction you need to see and feel what is being said as well. Only 7 percent of words spoken reveal their true meaning, 38% of meaning is in the way words are being said, and 55 percent is in facial expression. There is no general rule as to the effectiveness of any ego state in any given situation some people get results by being domineering parent to child, or by having temper tantrums, child to Parent, but for a balanced approach to life, adult to adult is generally the best way to handle situations (Strisik, 2010).
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 maintain better relationships (Strisik, 2010).