The Impact of Transactional Analysis on My Life
[Composed on behalf of a Student Client]
Art Madsen, M.Ed.
It is fair to state that my social life is not as adequate as it might be. I seem to prefer the loneliness of forests and the openness of the desert to the cluttered company of cocktail parties and church socials. However, sooner of later, everyone must interact with others, whether in school, the workplace or in family settings. Understanding the psycho-dynamics of how and why people behave as they do is very important to establishing meaningful and successful relationships and to making them last over a lengthy period of time.
Eric Berne’s theoretical model, and his insightful explanation of it, constitute a valuable asset for anyone trying to put meaning into their friendships, family life and professional relationships. By delving into some of the ego states that motivate us on a superficial level, and then observing our feelings and behavior, we can learn to modify our thinking under most circumstances and then change our behavioral models and patterns of action.
Each of us, on an elementary level, Berne claims, incorporates within himself or herself, three primary components or ego-states. (Berne 1964) I have recognized within me, for example, Berne’s parental figure, his adult reality persona and his childish or fixated type of thinking. By being aware of the P-A-C paradigm within me, I can sometimes restrain impulsive behavior and shift toward realistic, adult-type interaction with others.
The second great benefit of knowing about the P-A-C structure is recognizing that others are acting and thinking in accordance with its principles, as well. When two or more people meet, their ego-states also interact. As a third party, I can watch what is happening between them and, either smile inwardly, or perhaps participate in their dialogue, feeling secure in grasping what is occurring.
When transactions between people occur, there can arise what are known as "crossed-transactions", the opposite of "complementary transactions." The crossed varieties of interaction are very dangerous to stable relationships. After an initial statement from one person (the stimulus), the response can be adult-adult (which is OK) or perhaps a parent-child clash (which causes conflict). These latter types of confrontations often require psychotherapeutic intervention. In my life, I consciously strive to avoid projecting fixated or regressive ego-states, Berne’s "child persona", onto others when conversing.
As I pursue my daily life as a Wildlife Major, thinking more often about the breeding habits of the soaring osprey and the endangered whooping crane, I often feel that I may be somewhat remote psycho-dynamically from Berne’s TA theory. In reality, however, I seem to be immersed in its effects in all of my day-to-day transactions with people -- here on campus or as a summer intern.
What is so intriguing about Berne’s model is that it is designed to show the actual behavioral patterns of real humans interacting. These relationships can be quite complex, as any contemporary American can readily attest, and yet TA takes them into consideration. Of course, there are aspects of behavior that must be inferred or guessed, such as in the "ulterior transactions" described in Games People Play. (1964)
These can involve deeper or hidden behaviors that so typify modern American life. The "duplex transaction", described by Berne as featuring interplay at both the social and psychological levels, is an excellent example of a simple game we all involve ourselves in, at times, when at school or at the office. The hidden messages we send each other in our daily contacts are almost perfectly mirrored in Berne’s transactional models. I have found myself interpreting what occurs to me daily in his terms.
The phenomenon or "fashion" of TA has long since faded from prominence in psychotherapeutic circles. Nevertheless, during the height of its popularity in the 1960s and 1970s, Berne’s postulations and discoveries, based partly on Freud, made a considerable impact on the world of counseling and psychotherapy. (Berne 1977) Today, there are still hundreds of thousands of professionals, and non-professionals, who espouse his system. I have discovered that, even in the 1990s, the value of understanding the "nature of intuition" and the interaction of our various ego states is considerable. By appreciating that the "intuitive mood is enhanced by an attitude of alertness without actively directed participation of the perceptive ego" (Berne 1977), we can dig deeper into ourselves and, pushing ego aside, truly see what is transpiring around us.
It is curious that Berne disavowed any real belief in some of the more famous concepts of Freud and yet, at the same time, recognizes that the subconscious is a major player in our psychological make-up. He tends to see intuition in his own way, defining it in relation to a "reality situation." This de-emphasizes the concept of the subconscious and places Berne at some distance from Freud. (Berne 1977)
Intuition, because I assign a high degree of credibility to Berne’s perspective, occupies a fairly large portion of my thoughtful time. We confront reality every day and what can be "intuited" about this reality is crucial to our success. We can form judgments about people and events through intuition, and then couple that knowledge with our understanding of ego states. By using Berne’s P-A-C paradigm and combining it with "intuition", we come out ahead of many others. We have to exercise caution in forming judgments based on intuition, however, since there is an ‘exhaustion point’ which affects our intuitive abilities. Beyond this point, our judgments may become invalid, according to Berne. (1997)
During my summer internship in Washington State, I discovered a number of qualities within me of which I had not been previously aware. As I was forced to deal with my office mates, often under fairly tense conditions, I began to use what I had read earlier about interpersonal relations. My background in Eric Berne’s models had not been extensive at that point in time, but I had read excerpts from his best seller Games People Play. Looking back at my summer experience, I can see that I actually used some of the insights he provided in that valuable paperback. By remaining aware of my intuitive skills and of the ego states that sometimes characterized my behavior and moods, I was able to control impulsive outbursts or other negative actions that might have compromised my future career.
This is not to say that Berne’s approaches are designed to suppress behavior in the primitive sense. On the contrary, by being cognizant of the motivations of others and of their probably ego-driven needs, I was able to remain cool, calm and collected almost effortlessly.
Berne has always been interested in communication between or among individuals and has also focused some of his thinking on man’s interaction with artificial intelligence. In his early writings, he demonstrates a deep concern for the effect that cyber-communication may have on man, turning in particular to communication between man and machine. In his essay entitled "Concerning the Nature of Communication" (1953), Berne predicts the wave of interest in computers and postulates that our own minds, interfaced with the cyber-world, can not only be better understood, but can also develop their full potential through such interaction. By forcing us to grasp the nature of communicating with an artificial device, incapable of reason on its own, these machines can enhance our own abilities to think rationally as if to compensate for the device’s inadequacies, or to complement them.
As I view the last twenty years of my life, I perceive repetitive behavioral patterns developing which concern me. I would like to emerge from certain types of externalized behaviors, feeling renewed and refreshed by having eliminated them from my life. Berne’s TA paradigm describes, not only the P-A-C phenomenon and the interaction of our ego states, but builds further on this concept, incorporating everything we have discussed, including the dynamics of communication, and goes on to introduce the concept of scripting. These so-called scripts that ensnare many of us, often for huge chunks of our lives, paralyze our progress if they are negative scripts. After discussing that a "script" is repetition of a "transference drama", Berne hypothesizes that far more negative scripts typify our existences than positive. (1977). He seems to use his client-population as an indicator.
A good script, he notes, would actually result in a state of relative happiness, assuming the client was surrounded by people (fellow players) who handled themselves reasonably well. A negative script, however, can lead to repetition of the same destructive actions, ruining a life and often many lives around the central figure. By having a clear grasp of the concept of scripting, I may be able to effect change in my life. The externalized, repetitive and transferred behaviors (scripts) that trouble me, and others, can be overridden by applying some of the principles of TA. Perhaps I have "transferred" my particular behaviors from my father, or from my uncle, whose "dramas" I am repeating endlessly and to my disadvantage. If I seem addicted to fast driving, which is the case, and strive time and time again to conquer this tendency, and still fail, I am repeating the same script -- acquired from my uncle who died in a car crash -- and, simplistically put, might well follow in his tragic footsteps. TA may be able to help me overcome this possibly fatal flaw.
At this point in my life, at least, I am aware that I am a complex being with behaviors, emotions and ego states. Dr. Berne’s transactional analysis model, in all of its aspects, will certainly continue to serve a useful purpose in shaping my personal future.
Berne, E. "Concerning the Nature of Communication", The Psychiatric Quarterly, 1953, 27,185-197.
Berne, E. Games People Play, Random House, New York, N.Y., 1964.
Berne, E. Intuition and Ego States, Transactional Publications, San Francisco, CA., 1977.
Berne, E. The Mind in Action, Simon and Schuster, New York, N.Y., 1947.
Berne, E. Transactional Analysis in Psychotherapy, Grove Press, New York, N.Y., 1961.