Have you ever found yourself in a situation with someone where you seem to repeat the same uncomfortable or even destructive patterns with them every time you meet them? For instance, you might feel you’re never able to say no to a particular person, or that someone in your life always puts you the defensive with a constant stream of criticism. Maybe there’s someone who always relegates you to the role of listener, never taking an interest in what’s happening with you. And each time you might think, “never again, next time it’ll be different,” but it never is. Transactional analysis, or TA, is a theoretical framework used in therapy and counseling, which suggests that one of the overriding factors in the perpetuation of these situations is not the other person’s behavior, but our own state of mind. TA suggests we shift between three distinct ego states: Parent: This is a state in which you think, feel, and behave in ways based on how your parents and other authority figures acted. Adult: Here, you think, feel, and behave in response to the here and now, you’re able to draw on your full life experience, and generally, you’re geared to a realistic objective appraisal of your experiences. Child: In this state you think, feel, and behave, just like you did in your childhood. So there are the three ego states, but what might they look like if you saw them in action? For instance, what if you suddenly caught sight of someone sunbathing nude outside the window? In your parent ego state, if the attitude you had experienced from parent and authority figures towards nudity was hostile, you might feel disgusted and outraged. You might bang on the window, tell the person to get some clothes on or clear off. Alternatively, your parent ego state might express itself by showing concern for the sunbather, you might see the sunbathers getting a bit burned in places and start trying to push sun tan lotion on them. so here we have the two typical manifestations of the parent. We have the controlling parent, who judges and seeks to manipulate people to do what they say. Then we have the nurturing parent, who wants to look after people. Going back to the window, instead of moving to a parent state, we might move to child. As a child you might have been told that nudity was shameful, and trained to avert your eyes, to feel embarrassed or even guilty. If you felt and did these things, you’d be in your child state. Now there’s another site of the child state that doesn’t give a damn about what people think; it does exactly what it wants to do. This child might see the sunbather and think: “That looks fun, I’m going to rip off all my clothes and join them!” Whether the sunbather likes it or not. So again, there are two sides to this state, There’s the side where the child’s adapted itself to the demands of parents and other authority figures. And the free child, who just does what it likes. What does the adult state look like? Well, the adult state is the most open to information in the here-and-now. The adult enjoys its own spontaneous responses, not responses programmed into it by authority figures. Having no big judgments about nudity, the adult has no need to suppress it. The adult is aware that we all have bodies, and isn’t threatened or disgusted by their reality. Fundamentally, the adult respects the sunbather as an equal. The big buzz words here are respect and awareness. Unlike the parent and child states, the adult isn’t subdivided. That’s because it’s thought to have access to all information, and that’s one of the reasons that it’s often a goal of TA Therapy to strengthen the adult state. This isn’t to say the parent and child states are bad, (later in the series I’ll be looking at the positives they can give us, like structure and creativity) but because of their very limited awareness compared to the adult, the parent and child aren’t great ones to rely on. To illustrate why, let’s go back to the start of the video, where I spoke about finding yourself in endlessly repeated patterns of negative behavior with some people. What state would you say these folks are in? Well, it’s not going to be adult. Let’s look at why that is: We move between the ego states all the time, but not in a random way. we change states in response to the thoughts and events we experience. Events, thoughts, and memories that seem unfair might put us in our parent state, where we become judgmental, angry, or superior. Events, thoughts, or memories that embarrass us might put us in our child state, where we might feel ashamed and think we’re bad. We change states in response to people too. Here are a couple of examples of how that might happen: Bill is Jackie’s boss, Jackie comes in late and misses an important meeting. Bill: You’re USELESS! Jackie: I know… I’m sorry. Let’s look at what happened there. Bill had been in his adult state. seeing Jackie, he was angry and switched to parent, criticizing her harshly. Jackie had also been in her adult state, but in response to being shouted at, she moved to child, where she felt small and bad, and meekly apologized. Another example: Dan lives with Mike. Dan finds a spider in the shower. He has a fear of spiders. Dan: There’s a spider, I can’t go in there! Mike: Don’t worry, I’ll take of it. Again, let’s look at the ego states. Dan might have started out in adult deciding to have a shower. But then, seeing the spider, switches to child. Feeling scared and helpless. Mike was in his child state. But seeing Dan brought out his protective, nurturing parent. Notice what the arrows are doing in both cases. They’re aligned. These are said to be complementary interactions, or, transactions, they have an important property because in theory, being complimentary, they set up a reciprocal pattern in these situations that could be maintained indefinitely. But not all transactions are complimentary. Let’s go back to Bill and Jackie: Bill: You’re USELESS! Jackie: Don’t you DARE talk to me that way! Here, we have an initial parent statement that aimed at Jackie’s child [state]. But here, Jackie responds by moving to her parent feeling and expressing outrage. This is called a Crossed Interaction, reflecting the crossed arrows. Unlike complementary transactions, which are seen as stable and can go on indefinitely, cross transactions are highly unstable, and one of two things tends to happen: Either the transaction will stop, or there’ll be a shift of ego-state in one of the parties to create a new stable, complimentary transaction, like this: Bill: You’re USELESS! Jackie: Don’t you DARE talk to me that way! Bill: You’ve missed the meeting! Jackie: I don’t CARE what I’ve done. You don’t talk to people like that! Bill: But… Jackie: Now you can bloody-well apologize! Bill: I… Jackie: I’m waiting. BIll: I just meant that- Jackie: I said I’m waiting. Bill: Okay, I’m sorry. Jackie: I don’t think you mean it! Jackie: Right, that’s it – I’m reporting you for harassment! Bill: Look, I am! I’m really sorry. So what started out as Bill trying to put Jackie in a child state ended up with Bill firmly in the child state, and Jackie as parent. Now that the transaction shifted, it can stay like that with Bill perpetually submitting to Jackie. It’s not necessarily a comfortable state of affairs, particularly for Bill, but it can be psychologically stable. What about the other uncomfortable, but stable situations mentioned at the start, like constantly being spoken over by someone in your life? First, let’s look at you. How do you feel in that situation? Maybe you feel a little dominated. Maybe somehow less entitled than the other person. Maybe you were trained as a child to always listen when someone else was talking. How do you experience the other person? Maybe they seem like a bigger personality to you. Maybe the prospect of their anger or disapproval feels very aversive. Here, we have a child-parent relationship going on. You don’t necessarily need to be saying child and parent things, the other person doesn’t have to be telling you to shut up and listen, but psychologically, you’re relating to them as a child to a parent. The dotted line as opposed to the full line indicates the psychological relationship. Why wouldn’t this happen to the adult? Well as an adult, unlike the child, you don’t feel inferior or entitled to less, you feel equal. You might have been taught that it’s polite to listen when somebody else is talking, But as an adult, you’re aware that listening politely is a strategy that works in some, but not all contexts. As an adult you choose the most appropriate strategy for the situation. Other people don’t seem [to have] bigger personalities than you, You give them credit for being able to respond to you in an adult way, and if they can’t that’s because of their own shortcomings, not yours. Also, you don’t fear disapproval as an adult; you can hear disapproving comments and weigh for yourself whether or not they feel accurate. If they do feel accurate, unlike the child who can get lost in unproductive guilt or anxiety at this point, the adult can simply decide to change their behavior. If it doesn’t feel accurate the adult can simply reject the feedback. What about a situation where someone always gets you to do favors you don’t want to do? Maybe they seem to act small and helpless. They might use a whiny pleading voice – and what does that bring out in you? Maybe you feel responsible for their emotions. Maybe you feel like the bigger, more capable person. Here, we have a parent-child relationship going on. Again, psychologically, would this happen to an adult? Again, as an adult, you see yourself as equal. No more intrinsically capable than them. Where you are more capable at a particular thing, you know it’s because you worked at it yourself, so constantly doing that thing for someone else actually prevents them from becoming capable. You don’t feel responsible for others, but for yourself. You see others as equals, not as small and helpless. And following on from that, you feel comfortable saying no, partly because you give credit to the other person for being able to accept the word ‘no’ in an adult way and again, if they can’t do that, as an adult you are aware that it’s their shortcoming, not yours. So with the adult’s wider awareness and sense of equality and fairness, these uncomfortably unbalanced relationships don’t really gather any momentum People who took over them or tried to take advantage Will either have to change their behavior around the adult or go off and find other targets. As I’ve mentioned, TA Therapy’s goal is often to strengthen the adult state. If you’re interested in doing that, one starting point is to look at what events and people trigger your parent and child states. Do you assign responsibility equally? Do you have to be in control? Do you feel forced into taking control? Do you have a hard time making decisions and try to get others to make them for you? Do you feel, fundamentally, you’re not as good as others? And what might these things bring out in other people, perhaps in reaction to you? In this video I looked at Ego States and Basic Transactions. In the next video, I’ll be taking a closer look at conflict, manipulation, and psychological games.