transactional analysis (ta)

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    Berne TA is a way of explaining human behavior. It's a language. It was created by Eric Berne, a Canadian-born psychiatrist, in the middle of the 20th century. His theory was based on the ideas of Freud but were distinctly different. Freudian psychotherapists focused on talk therapy as a way of gaining insight to their patients' personalities. Berne believed that insight could be better discovered by analyzing patients' social transactions.

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    Ego States According to TA, we have three sides or 'ego-states' to our personality: the Parent, Adult and Child ego states. An ego state is a way of us experiencing the world. It is an entire system of thoughts, feelings, and behaviours from which we interact with one another (and even with ourselves in our internal conversations). Our thinking, feeling and behaviour when we are in each ego state is consistent. Each ego state is given a capital letter to denote the difference between ego states and actual parents, adults and children. The ego states are drawn in diagrammatical form as seen in the picture.

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    Transactions (Communications) Transactions refer to the communication exchanges between people. A transaction is an exchange of strokes (see next paragraph). At any one time, an individual will be transacting from one of his or her ego states. Communication works well, or is successful, when the activated ego states are complementary or sympathetic to each other. For example, to the question: "Hello, Mr. Smith. May I come in?" (Adult) the answer would be "Yes. How can I help you?" (Adult). On the other hand, communication is unsuccessful when the roles oppose each other and a "game" begins. So, to the question: "Hello, Mr. Smith. May I come in?" (Adult), the other person answers "Can't you see? I'm busy. Should I write it on my forehead?" (Critical Parent). It is easy to see that such an exchange can degenerate very quickly. Many of our problems come from transactions which are unsuccessful. Your TA Coach can help you recognize which ego states you are transacting from and to follow the transactional sequences so you can intervene and improve the quality and effectiveness of communication. There are three ways in which we transact or communicate with each other and each method has its own set of consequences. It is useful to understand what happens when we use each method, if we want to enjoy successful communication with others.

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    Strokes A stroke is a unit of recognition, when one person recognizes another person. It's the fundamental unit of social action. It can be physical, verbal or non-verbal. It can be a smile, a "Hello" or a dismissive wave of the hand. All of these acknowledge that the other person exists. Berne postulated that adults do need physical contact just like infants, but have learned to substitute other types of recognition for physical stimulation. So while an infant needs cuddling, an adult craves a smile, a wink, a hand gesture, or some other form of recognition. Berne defined this requirement of adults to receive strokes by the term "recognition-hunger" or "stroke-hunger". He said that we are all desperately seeking strokes from others and that a lot of what we do is in order to be stroked. Understanding how you give and receive both positive and negative strokes, and changing the unhealthy patterns of stroking are important aspects of the TA Coaching.

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    Games Berne defined certain socially dysfunctional behavioural patterns as "games." According to Berne, Games are sets of ulterior transactions, repetitive in nature, with a well-defined psychological payoff. These repetitive, devious transactions are principally intended to obtain strokes, but instead they reinforce negative feelings and self-concepts, and mask the direct expression of thoughts and emotions. Games involve us saying one thing and doing another in an attempt to achieve intimacy, but resulting in a reinforcement of a negative belief we have about ourselves. Berne wrote a formula for how this happens and he called it formula G: C + G = R > S > X > P

    It plays out as follows: An opening con (C), an invite from person A to person B into the game, has to hook person B's gimmick (G). When B responds (R) the game is on. With B hooked, person A can pull the switch (S) which sends person B into complete confusion or crossup (X). Once the crossup has happened then both parties can claim their payoff (P).

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    Life Positions There are four Life Positions. The I'm OK-You're OK position is known as the healthy position and is generally game-free. It is the belief that people have basic value, worth, and dignity as human beings. That people are OK is a statement of their essence, not necessarily their behaviour. This position is characterized by an attitude of trust and openness, a willingness to give and take, and an acceptance of others as they are. People are close to themselves and to others. There are no losers, only winners. The I'm OK-You're not OK is the position of people who project their problems onto others and blame them, put them down, and criticize them. The games that reinforce this position involve a self-styled superior or one-up (the "I'm OK") who projects anger, disgust, and scorn onto a designated inferior, or scapegoat (the "You're not OK'). This position is that of the person who needs an underdog to maintain his or her sense of "OKness." The I'm not OK-You're OK is known as the depressive or one-down position and is characterized by feeling powerless in comparison with others. Typically such people serve others' needs instead of their own and generally feel victimized. Games supporting this position include "Kick me" and "Martyr" - games that support the power of others and deny one's own. The I"m not OK-You're not OK is known as the position of hopelessness, futility and frustration. Operating from this place, people have lost interest in life and may see life as totally without promise. This self-destructive stance is characteristic of people who are unable to cope in the real world, and it may lead to extreme withdrawal, a return to infantile behaviour, or violent behaviour resulting in injury or death of themselves or others. In reality each of us has a favorite position we operate from under stress. The challenge is to become aware of how you are attempting to make life real through our basic life position and if necessary, create a healthy alternative.

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    Frame of Reference The Frame of Reference is defined as the structure of associated responses which integrates the various ego states in response to specific stimuli. It provides the individual with an overall perceptual, conceptual, affective and action set, which is used to define self, people and the world. It can be thought of as a filter on reality. It is like a "skin" that surrounds the ego states binding them together. As you perceive the world according to your unique frame of reference, you make your own unique set of ego state responses to that perceived world. It is in this way that the frame of reference integrates the various ego states.

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    Drivers Our 'Driver' behaviours are ways in which we respond to challenge or stress. Learnt in our formative years, these were unconscious strategies that we adapted to survive and thrive. Drivers are unconscious attempts by us to behave in ways that will gain us the recognition we need from other people. Used in awareness with moderation our Driver behaviours can guide us towards successful living and working. However when we are under stress we may go too far in our efforts to obey the Driver, which results in us being more stressed and not solving the problem. By identifying and overcoming unconscious Driver behaviour, you can significantly improve your wellbeing as well as your effectiveness, creativity, communication and relationships.

    We each have a 'default' Driver (or possibly two or more) that we operate from. Each of the five Drivers have positive merits but when they go into overdrive when we are busy and tired, they bring with them some negative behaviours.

    TRY HARD: Puts a lot of effort into new projects. Well motivated, enthusiastic, creative. Can look at all sides of a problem. Goes off on a tangent. Doesn't stick to the agenda. Butterfly mind and may drown people with their ideas. Try Hard is ruled by the motto that it is the effort that matters. People with this Driver feel 'OK' when they work very hard, whether they actually accomplish something or not. At least they tried. They have a tendency to make things complicated and to lose themselves in detail instead of seeing the broad outlines. The classic message from school would have been 'needs to Try Harder next time.'

    PLEASE PEOPLE: Good team members who encourage harmony in the team. Has empathy and understanding and helps quieter members within the team. Agrees with everyone, even with both sides of a disagreement. Can be reluctant to offer an opinion of their own. A person that is in an active Please People Driver often cares more about other peoples needs than about themselves. The internal message is that you're only 'OK' when you take care of others and that doing so will make others appreciate you. People with this Driver tend to see themselves as responsible for how other people feel.

    BE PERFECT: Has a quest for perfection and a reputation for producing accurate reliable work. They check facts, prepare well and pays attention to detail. Can get bogged down with detail. Wants to record everything and uses long words and long sentences. This Driver makes a person seek perfection in one or several ways. Often in terms of maintaining a completely flawless exterior or maybe in trying to achieve perfect speech, perfect arrangements, perfect presentation, etc. The internal message is "You ought to be better". You are not good enough if a mistake happens. Instead a person with this Driver will constantly try to improve themselves hoping to one day become accepted. By whom? We do not know!

    BE STRONG: Stays clam under pressure. Feels energised in a crisis. Thinks logically when other panic. Can stay emotionally detached. Logical thinker. Talks in monotone. Appears to be like a poker player with no emotion. Attempt to solve problems by being strong and carrying heavy loads both physically and mentally. The internal message that a person with a Be Strong Driver has is that you should not let others think that you are weak.

    HURRY UP: Can work fast and achieves a lot in a short space of time. Responds well to short deadlines. Likes having a lot of things to do. Talks very fast, gets impatient, interrupts and finishes other peoples sentences, fidgets and may drum fingers on table. This Driver can lead to rushing things when it is not necessary and sometimes even when it would be better to take time. The internal message that people with a Hurry Up Driver gives themselves is that they will be late for something. A feeling of not being good enough if not in a hurry.

    Once we can start to notice the root cause, we have more flexibility and choice about how we get this need met rather than using old (possibly out dated) behaviours.


    UK Association for Transactional Analysis

    United States of America Transactional Analysis Association

    Eric Berne

    Stephen Karpman Drama Triangle

    Claude Steiner

    Fanita English

    Transactional Analysis Student

    Process Communication Model by Taibi Kahler