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  • Writer's pictureSusan Stubbings

Transactional Analysis An Introduction! Part 1

Updated: Jun 16, 2018

“In the early 20th century, Sigmund Freud first established that the human psyche is multi-faceted, and that each of us has a multiple nature in our subconscious i.e. Id, Ego and Superego.

Since then, new theories continue to be put forward, all concentrating on the essential conviction that each one of us has parts of our personality which surface and affect our behaviour according to different circumstances.

One of those theories is from Eric Berne the founder of Transactional Analysis who also believed our personality is divided into three parts in as much the same way as Freud, he named the different parts ‘Parent’, ‘Adult’ and ‘Child’. Our ‘Parent’ and ‘Child’ has a further split, which he called Nurturing and Critical Parent, Free and Adaptive Child; the Parent and Child are both ‘archaic’ and in that recognition are full of ‘Recordings’ from our childhood. Berne uses capital letters for each ego state to distinguish from our life phases of child, parent and adult. Each part of our personality has a high survival and living value and as such equally deserving of respect, rightful place in living a productive, fulfilling and whole life which is full of potential.

The human brain acts like a computer hard drive, and whilst we may 'forget' experiences, the brain still has them recorded. Along with events the brain also records the associated feelings, and both feelings and events stay locked together. It is possible for a person to exist in two states simultaneously because Persons’ replaying hidden events and feelings could talk about them objectively at the same time. Hidden experiences when replayed are vivid, and affect how we feel at the time of replaying. There is a certain connection between mind and body, i.e. the link between the biological and the psychological, e.g. psychological fear of spiders and a biological feeling of nausea.

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 centre of human social relationships and psychoanalysis. He thought each part of our personality has recognisable personal characteristics.

‘Parent’ our ‘taught’ concept of life - this is 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 neighbours, aunts and uncles, Father Christmas and Jack Frost. 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, 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.

Adult' our ‘thought’ concept of life - 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.

'Child' our ‘felt’ concept of life 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.

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 lies. A wonderful analogy – “the person who had feelings" story - explains how experiences and conditioning in early life affect behaviour in later life.

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