Transactional Analysis: The Essentials in Brief

I mention transactional analysis in almost every article. This direction of psychotherapy has become close and dear to me. At the same time, the results of psychotherapy always exceed expectations and delight us with our Clients 🙂 Therefore, it is with great pleasure that I present you with an article on what transactional analysis is and how it works. 

So, in the 60s, one of the followers of the theory of psychoanalysis, Eric Berne, decided to go his own way and developed his own theory of personality. His theory ran counter to classical psychoanalysis only in that it could be explained in simple terms to most people. And this made the therapeutic relationship more trusting and effective.

In the structure of the article we will focus on two aspects:

  1. Personality structure
  2. How does therapy work?

Personality structure

Psychology begins with a theory of personality, like theater from a coat rack. Any theory is based on the structure of a person's personality. Transactional Analysis is no exception.
Personality structure is how a given direction sees a person and his psyche. There are 3 components in the structure, ego states:

  • P (parent). 
  • In (adult).
  • D (child). 

Each of them reflects the emotional experience of different periods of life, the memories and images of important people, or awareness in the present tense.

Parent Ego State

Psychology and psychotherapy is based on the fact that from birth (and in modern concepts even before it) to the end of our lives we gain certain knowledge about the world, people and ourselves. 

When we are born into the world, we still do not know anything about the world. Until the time we become able to be aware of ourselves and get our own experience (up to 3 years), the source of knowledge and experience are adults from the immediate environment. They should instill a basic sense of security, give us names for our feelings, give us starting points about "what's good and what's bad." 

This knowledge and ideas can be instilled both consciously and unconsciously. In addition, they can be broadcast both verbally and non-verbally - with facial expressions, gestures, even mood. Observing important adults during childhood creates a strong emotional image of these people. This is called an introject. In our subconscious mind, a lot of introjects are “recorded” as on tape (parents, guardians, teachers, family doctor, grandmothers, grandfathers ...). 

Why are these three paragraphs? To the fact that the ego-state of the Parent is exactly introjects and the experience that we received from adults in early childhood. Transactional analysis allows you to separate these other people's beliefs from your own and have a choice.

Inner parent can be in two forms:

1. Supervising Is an inner critic who devalues, scolds and punishes us in our minds. When the Controlling Parent (CR) is active in us, we can get angry at others, at their imperfection. In this structure, there are prohibitions and prescriptions, instructions about how it is necessary and how categorically impossible, as well as persistent ideas about what will be for "non-fulfillment". CR is a specific adult who controlled, punished and often did not explain the reasons. 

2. Caring Is a gentle, diplomatic, caring Parent. Also from childhood and also on the example of a real caring person. From this ego state, we rest despite the workload, eat when we are hungry, and support ourselves in difficult times. And we also take care of other people while in ZR. Recommendations, wishes, incentives and pedagogical punishments are "registered" here. But at the same time, a Caring Parent is more rational.

The Inner Parent is a very important part of us, so that everything is good with us and so that we can interact with other people. However, often the inner Parent dominates the personality structure. And then a person can live as if not his own life, being in a conflict between himself and his introjects. 

It is important to remember that the Parent is part of the person, but not part of our experience. This is the experience of other people who have lived their lives. They formed their own fears and beliefs. It is worth taking them into account, but this should be at the level of choice, not an automatic reaction. Transactional analysis allows you to learn to switch between ego states consciously.

Child's ego state

As I wrote earlier, we come to the world with a “clean slate." And already from the second trimester of pregnancy we get the first emotional experience. In this article I will not go into details, take a word here. Young children get this experience all the time, because everything is new to them. 

The most important emotional experience for the child is the experience of communicating with parents. In the reaction of the parents to the child, his future picture of the world is laid. It does not matter what the parent verbally broadcasts, it is important with what feelings he does it. Children do not have sufficiently developed rational thinking, but they perfectly feel the difference in emotional response. 

Child's ego state Is an emotionally significant experience in different periods of childhood. Previously, this included the experience from birth to 16 years, but today it also includes the experience of birth. 

If the Parent contains prohibitions and precepts about how to and how to not, then the Child lives feelings and needs, as well as an emotional response to them and their satisfaction. There are fears, hopes, dreams, desires. In the Parent, messages are contained in the form of introjects, and in the Child we live in the form of children of different ages in different states.

From the Child's ego state, we can behave as in a similar situation in the past. For example, we have a vivid memory of what happens if we get lost and when we find ourselves in such a situation, as adults, we react like a small child from that situation in the past. 

Like the Parent, the Child has several "types":

  1. Adaptive, in the structure of which the Rebel is also distinguished. This is Our experience from the time when we were under the influence of a real Controlling Parent (aggressive father, abusive teacher). There is a lot of fear and suppression in this state. The Adaptive Child does not argue, allows himself to assume any responsibility and is afraid. The main fear in this ego state is the fear of rejection. The Adaptive Child is established from a very early age and is strengthened over the years. This explains the inability to quickly return to normal self-esteem. Besides fear, there is a lot of guilt, shame, and resentment.
  2. Rebel Child - this is Adaptive, which is tired of. A prime example of an active Rebel Child is the informal teenager. By the way, if you look closely, informals are the children of suppressive and overcontrolling parents. For a long time these are excellent students and "grandmother's joy", but at the age of 14-16 they break off like a chain, and now my mother's clever girl puts on a leather mini-skirt and goes to drink cheap wine. There is a lot of anger, fear, and desire to belong in the Rebel Child. This protest is usually formed at the age of 3 years (myself), adolescence and crisis age periods (every 10 years).
  3. Free Child Is a special Child. The ego state of SR is formed in families where the child can do everything that is not dangerous. This is the creative, feeling, thirsty and very living part from which we rejoice, have fun and come up with all sorts of cool ideas. SR is a spontaneous trip to another city, a combination of business with pleasure, unexpectedly good mood and a creative approach to ideas.

Being in an active Child, we, as in the case of an active Parent, do not remain in contact with reality. We react like “there and then”, as if living “those” situations anew.

Adult Ego State

I won't write much about this ego state. This is a state of awareness, devoid of Childish feelings and spontaneity and not subject to Parental attitudes. In the Adult, we are aware of ourselves here and now, and we react from the current age, adequately to the situation. There are practically no emotions in the Adult. However, our Inner Adult is able to “hear” both Parent and Child and make an informed decision. Transactional Analysis strengthens the Adult ego state.

This condition is formed from the year when the first awareness appears and the baby begins to separate himself from his mother, highlighting among the world. There, the Adult is still very unstable, but he already is.

Each of us periodically “jumps” between all ego states and this is normal. An adult is most of the time in an adult state. But in stressful situations or in situations similar to significant episodes of the past, even the most rational of us can “fall out” of reality and this is normal. 

Problems arise when the Parent or Child ego state dominates, or when an internal conflict between them is constantly present.

How does therapy work?

Transactional analysis is based on the fact that we interact with ego states. Moreover, we interact both in the external world - with other people, and in the internal - the so-called internal dialogue. 

The internal dialogue very often takes the form of a conflict (RD; DR, RR, DD). If this conflict is long and intense, we will encounter very difficult feelings, we will not be able to make a decision, or the decision we make will not lead to a positive result. A vivid example is the “I want” and “I need” conflict. 

What happens at the consultation of a psychologist? 

A difficult or controversial situation can lead you to a consultation. Typically, a request sounds like “help make a decision” or “can't figure it out.” 

In the office, we will analyze a specific situation and separate your wishes and needs from the attitudes and edifications of the Parental part. Then we activate your adult, which allows you to make an actual decision. 

It sounds simple and clear, and after a couple of consultations in your office you will be able to do it yourself. But the catch is that without the help of a psychologist it is very difficult to separate the ego states. Then there is the temptation to call the reasoning of your Inner Child the arguments of the Adult, or to take for the Adult the teachings of the Parent. 

When is psychotherapy needed? 

People rarely come purposefully to psychotherapy. Usually you make this decision when you realize that troubles and difficulties happen to you regularly and in a circle. And whatever you do, the circle remains a circle and everything repeats. Another reason for therapy can be a traumatic situation of any prescription.

During therapy, we analyze your introjects, get rid of their negative influence, in other words, we will give you a choice. In parallel, there is a study of your children's experience, the Children's part. As we explore, we will heal old wounds and thus get rid of toxic feelings - resentment, jealousy, shame and guilt. 

The Inner Child learns to hear himself and talk about his needs, and the Inner Parent learns to hear the Child and takes care of him, the person is restored and healed. Often, after therapy, the Client's life changes dramatically. 

Of course, this is not a universal scheme. After several consultations, the therapist develops an individual therapy regimen, since each of you is unique and his problem is different. However, I hope the overall picture is a little clearer.

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