Transactional Analysis

Transactional Analysis is a social psychology, a talk therapy.

Transactions refer to the communication exchange between people. Therefore, Transactional Analysis seeks to understand the interactions of people and improve the human social environment. It will enrich your dealings with people, and your understanding of yourself.

Transactional Analysis can be best described in 2 key ideas:

1-   “I’m OK – You’re OK” is probably the best-known expression of the purpose of transactional analysis: to establish and reinforce the position that recognizes the value and worth of every person. Transactional analysts regard people as innately OK and thus capable of change, growth, and healthy interactions.

THE EXISTENTIAL POSITION. In the process of developing an identity for themselves, early in life, some people decide they are either OK and are going to have a good life; or that they are not OK and will fail in some way. That expectation based on a decision of how life will be is their “existential position”. People can feel good or not good about themselves and others, so there are four main existential positions that we assume depending on the situation we are in:

“I’m OK you’re not OK”, often referred to as the judge or rescuer

“I’m not OK you’re OK”, often referred to as the victim

I’m OK, you’re OK”, often referred to as the adult.

And finally Hopelessness: “I’m not OK you’re not OK.”

Since we are all born OK, it stands to reason that with sufficient help we can return to our original OK position. We all have the capacity to be OK as long as we are ready to release our prohibitions of our beliefs conditioned into us since birth. Transactional analysts know that by analyzing people’s transactions and powerfully giving people permission to change and protecting them from their fears, it is possible for everyone to have a chance to become happy, loving, productive, capable of change and establishing healthy relationships.

2- The identification of the “ego states” behind each and every transaction. Dr. Eric Berne (creator of TA) defined an ego state as “a consistent pattern of feeling and experience directly related to a corresponding consistent pattern of behavior.

“Each of us is really three people.”  What transactional analysts mean when they say this is that people are able to act in three different ways – as their Parent, as their Adult, and as their Child, depending on the situation. These three behavior modes, each important in its own right, are called ego states.  3 Entire systems of thoughts and feelings from which we interact with each other.


Parent (The taught concept) – The parent represents a massive collection of recordings in the brain of external events experienced or perceived in approximately the first five years of life. Since, in most cases, the majority of external events experienced by a child are actions of the parents, the ego state was appropriately called Parent.

Examples of these recordings are:

  • “Never talk to strangers”
  •  “Always chew with your mouth closed”
  • “Look both ways before you cross the street”

The Parent ego state is like a tape recorder. It’s a collection of pre-recorded, pre-judged, biased codes for living. When a person is in the Parent ego state he thinks, feels and behaves like one of his parents. The Parent decides, without reasoning, how to react to situations, what is good or bad, and how people should live. The Parent uses old “tapes” to solve problems, and is therefore at least 25 years behind the times (though it may be 250 or as much as 2,500 years behind the times). The Parent can either be over-controlling and oppressive or life giving, supportive and tender. When the Parent is overly critical it is called the Critical Parent. The Nurturing Parent is the defender of the Natural Child against its enemy, The Critical Parent.

It is worth noting that, while recording these events, the young child has no way to filter the data; the child’s conscious mind has not yet been formed, and as such, the events are recorded without question and without analysis. One can consider that these events are imposed on the child.

Child (Felt concept) – In contrast to the Parent, the Child represents the recordings in the brain of internal events associated with external events the child perceives. Stated another way, stored in the Child are the emotions or feelings that accompanied external events. Like the Parent, recordings in the Child occur from childbirth all the way up to the age of approximately 5 years old.

Examples of recordings in the Child include:

  • “When I saw the monster’s face, I felt really scared”
  • “The clown at the birthday party was really funny!

Everyone knows that we sometimes act like children. When we are in the Child ego state we aren’t just putting on an act, we are really being children. We think, feel, see and react as a child. We are three or five or eight years old and only our muscles and bones are those
of a grown-up.  When the Child is hateful or loving, impulsive, spontaneous or playful it is called the Natural Child. When it is thoughtful, creative or imaginative it is called the Intuitive Child. When it is fearful, guilty or ashamed it is called the Adapted Child. The Child has all the feelings: fear, love, anger, joy, sadness, shame and so on. The Child is often blamed for being the source of people’s troubles because it is self-centered, emotional, powerful and resists the suppression that comes with growing up. The Child is seen as the source from which the best in human beings comes – the only possible source for creativity, recreation and procreation; the only source of renewal in life. The Child can be observed in children for extended periods of time, but also in grownups in situations where people have permission to let the Child out, like at football games or parties.

Adult (Learned Concept) – The Adult is the last ego state. Close to one year of age, a child begins to exhibit gross motor activity. The child learns that he or she can control a cup from which to drink, that he or she can grab a toy.

This is the beginning of the Adult in the small child. Adult data grows out of the child’s ability to see what is different than what he or she observed (Parent) or felt (Child). In other words, the Adult allows the young person to evaluate and validate Child and Parental data. Berne describes the Adult as being “principally concerned with transforming stimuli into pieces of information, and processing and filing that information on the basis of previous experience.” Stated another way, the adult can be considered as a human computer. It operates on data fed into it, which it stores or uses to make computations according to a logic-based program. The Adult has no emotions. People who hear this and who think that the Adult is supposed to be the best ego state may conclude that emotions are not good. But this only means that in order to be logical we need to be able to separate ourselves from our emotions. It doesn’t mean that to be logical is the best way to be at all times. Being a mature human being or grownup is not the same as being in the Adult ego state. Little children can be
in their Adult state and happy grown-ups use their Parent and Child all the time.

When people communicate with each other, their egos are interacting. Complementary transactions occurs when a person in a certain ego state sends a message to another person and gets an answer from the same ego state. In this way, communication can continue without interruption. However, communication becomes difficult when people feel the need to defend themselves from one another. This happens when an individual sends a message to another person and gets an answer from a different ego state. This is referred to as Crossed Transactions. Some people get stuck in a single ego state making it difficult to interact with people who can respond only with their dominant state. The more you can recognize your own tendencies towards a particular ego state, you can correct and prevent mis-communication and inappropriate behavior.

Example: Crossed vs Complementary Transactions:









Question: What time is it?

Complementary Answer: 12:00
Crossed Answer: I’m fed up of you asking, why don’t you buy a watch!

Question: Do you know where that damn report is? (Angrily kicking the desk)

Complementary Answer: I’ve spent an hour looking for the blasted thing too, it’s annoying.
Crossed Answer: It’s on the desk. (Neutral tone and behavior)

The key to improving communication is to activate the nurturing parent, adult and natural child and deactivate the ineffective ego states critical parent and adapted child

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: