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What is Transactional Analysis?

Transactional Analysis, a popular psychological theory is a life-changing model by Eric Berne.

Dr. Paras
Dr. Paras
Sep 08, 2020
Transactional Analysis Theory by Dr. Paras

Transactional Analysis by Late Dr. Eric Berne is a highly effective and popular psychological theory developed in the 1970s. Understanding Transactional Analysis (also known as TA) is beneficial for every person. You could be a professional doing a regular job routine, an entrepreneur, a student, or a homemaker! 

You could be anyone looking to improve your communication with self and others using the TA model. Transactional Analysis elevates your thinking to a high level while raising awareness so you can understand your own difficult and dysfunctional behaviours and communication patterns to develop deeper connections with self and the world. Isn’t that truly life-changing? Imagine being in control of the results you want and having a deep understanding of people, and relationships! 

Let’s deep dive into the powerful world of What is Transactional Analysis Theory?

What is Transactional Analysis Theory?

Late Dr. Eric Berne created a strong theory that helps you understand your own methods of communication. The International Transactional Analysis Association defines TA as, “Transactional Analysis is a theory of personality and a systematic psychotherapy for personal growth and personal change.” 

Now, before you get flustered with the definition, we’ll simplify TA for you. This is a theory of personality which gives you in-depth information of why people behave the way they do. Ask yourself, “How many times have I repeated my behaviours which were not helping me?” For example, shouting at people in traffic or sulking during an argument. It could also be positive such as being able to face adversities with greater strength at every point in life. TA thus brings your attention to self - how you communicate with the world while being aware of how others communicate with you.

Transactional Analysis includes concepts of the Ego-State Model (Parent-Adult-Child model), Life Scripts, Strokes, Time Structuring, and more. You understand how you replay certain patterns as you grow-up to create results you may or may not approve. You learn to move away from undesirable behaviour.

Transactional Analysis is also useful in the treatment of psychological disorders, is an important part of counselling, and coaching. 

Key Concepts of Transactional Analysis

Transactional Analysis has its base on the Ego States or the Parent-Adult-Child (PAC) model.

1) Ego States or the Parent-Adult-Child (PAC) Model

Let’s understand a situation. Emily is married and is often demanding in her relationship. She is also known to throw a tantrum when things don’t go her way. Emily’s partner cannot understand her behaviour and has quietly put up with her tantrums. Over time, their relationship turns strained.

Emily here does not operate her thinking as an Adult, displays behaviours learned in her childhood to make things go her way. Let’s understand the complexity of human behaviour by knowing the PAC model. Let’s read more about the three ego states of PAC Model:

Parent Ego State

There are moments when you behave in your current state just the way your Parents would do. The Parent Ego-State is about the behaviours and feelings that were copied from your parents or from your early caregivers.

In the case of Emily, she would probably be copying her dominant behaviour and using it without consideration towards her partner.

Parents, when in their role, are quite critical in their behaviour towards the child. 

They give us a set of instructions which may often sound like -

“Don’t do this…”

“Always do this…”

“Be this…”

“Stop doing this…”

Their non-verbal communication may tend to be protective (gestures) or nurturing (hugs). 

A person in this Ego-State as an adult may tend to be highly critical, judgmental, often deciding for others, protective, nurturing, etc. 

Transactional Analysis is also useful in the treatment of psychological disorders, is an important part of counselling, and coaching 


Adult Ego-States

When a person is in the Adult Ego-State, he/she displays behaviours that are directly related to the here-and-now situation. The individual is free to choose their response without being influenced by any other Ego-State. He/she will look for solutions in the most effective and rational manner without being too emotional about a situation. 

A person in the Adult Ego-State is often straightforward in their approach, is interested in the conversation without being judgmental, and will know how to use logic in conflicting situations.

A person in this Ego-State tends to question different sides to a situation such as the what and why, where, and know what he/she sees versus what opinions they hold. 

Child Ego-State 

A person in this Ego-State displays behaviours, feelings or may think about situations while being influenced by their thoughts as replayed in childhood. Emily’s sulking would be influenced by her Child Ego-State wherein her reaction is influenced by emotions that are driven through past behaviour. 

If you had to ask Emily, “Does this situation resonate with something in your childhood?” Emily would have answered, “Yes, every time I wanted my mother’s attention, I used to throw my toys and sulk.”

A person in this Ego-State may display rebellion, delight, whining, sulking, panic, fear, or even a lot of laughter. 

A person is never consciously aware of their Three Ego-States. Every person re-experiences a part of the Parent Ego-State or the Child Ego-State to base their communication in the present situation. 

Had Emily to use her Adult Ego-State, she could have thought, “Oh! I must not get angry but work on finding a solution. What is truly making me angry though?” 

Eric Berne outlines the presence of the Three Ego-States in daily life. A person will always find the use of traffic rules for instance as highly beneficial in life. These are derived from the Parent Ego-State. The Child Ego-State is beneficial to keep one’s creativity and intuitive skills active. 

An Adult Ego-State helps one to make decisions based in the present moment to resolve problems with greater accuracy without displaying any influenced behaviors from other Ego States.

Definition of Ego-States by Eric Berne:

A consistent pattern of feeling and experience directly related to a corresponding consistent pattern of behavior. 

2) Life Positions

Eric Berne highlighted that a person’s life and its results are pre-decided based on the first 5 years of a person’s life. You may wonder how can a person base their life story on something that happened way back in growing-up years?

Life Positions is thus an interesting theory that brings attention to our psychological patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving. Our decisions are based on the responses we receive from parents or parental figures. These form convictions about the self and the world. A child tends to make this decision early on based on messages which may be verbal on non-verbal that are received during the early years. 

However, Life Positions are not permanent and can be altered through counselling or therapy, helping a person free themselves from self-limiting beliefs to embrace a new life story for themselves.

The Life Convictions formed are as follows:

  1. I am OK
  2. I’m not OK
  3. You’re OK
  4. You’re not OK

Berne combined these to form 4 Life Positions as follows:
a) I’m Ok, you’re Ok

This is often defined as a winning Life Script. Here, a child is comfortable with self and the world. He/she knows they are lovable and will grow up to trust others, have long-lasting meaningful relationships. They have a good attitude and give and receive trust. 

b) I’m not Ok, you’re Ok

A child here often considers themselves on the losing end. They firmly believe in this and create life stories that bring more misery. An individual feels the need to please others while feeling victimized. They often show more support to other people’s strength instead of their own. 

c) I’m Ok, you’re not Ok

An infant grows up thinking he/she is above the others. Such a child becomes an adult focused on his own ‘wants’ while stepping over others. This adult may tend to project their problems on others, and play the blame-game. A person like this always makes others feel inferior while feeling ‘okay’ about themselves. 

d) I’m not OK, you’re not OK

When a child decides this Life Position, the child has an internal struggle with self and the world as well. They end up creating a life of misery while not believing in self and taking decisions that put them in the spot of being a victim. A person feels frustrated and hopeless. Such a person may withdraw or even injure themselves.

These positions represent a specific stance taken by an individual that is all about how he/she perceives self and others. 

The Philosophy of Transactional Analysis mentions: 

People are OK.

Everyone has the capacity to think.

People decide their own destiny, and these decisions can be changed.

3) Life Scripts 

Transactional Analysis outlines each person has already written their life story or a script based on many things such as the Life Positions. Berne highlights that this begins from the day one is born. Every individual has a beginning, a middle and an end - just the script you’d notice in a movie. Here, you are the Director and the scriptwriter and you define your ending without your conscious knowledge. 

First developed by Eric Berne and then worked upon by Claude Steiner, a Life Script is a plan that is influenced by the people one grows up with. A child observes and prepares this Life Plan based on external influences as well as what happens internally. A parent gives messages to a child such as, “The world is not safe.” A child grows up thinking, “ I shouldn’t trust anybody.” It’s important to note how two children may interpret the same messages through their own understanding. 

An infant or a child interprets certain parental messages in their own way. Being ignored by a mother in the early age may lead to the infant growing up to distrust women or people in general. A person may decide, “I am a loser” after being put down frequently by his class teacher.

Learning Transactional Analysis works to change your core limiting beliefs to modify and create a winning Life Script.

4) Transactions and Strokes 

Eric Berne referred to transactions as the ‘basic unit of social discourse.’

Transactions are of many types. 

For example, you greet a colleague with a ‘hello’ and get a ‘how are you’ as a response. When you continue a conversation, you receive a series of transactions. Transactions can be complementary, crossed, ulterior, and angular ulterior. They can occur between different Ego-states. 

An individual can observe their communication which includes verbal, non-verbal gestures and body language to identify problems in their transactions. A Transactional Analyst is able to rectify and modify a client’s approach to communication to create better results in life. 

Berne defined Strokes as a ‘unit of recognition.’ You exchange a stroke when you say a friendly greeting and receive one in response. However, a person who does not receive a stroke in return may feel deprived as mentioned by Berne. A person’s hunger for Strokes begins at an early age. For example, a baby longs to be held and in physical contact with their parents. However, a baby deprived of the same will grow up to experience emotional difficulties and problems. 

Strokes are defined as:

Verbal or non-verbal

Positive or negative

Conditional or unconditional

A simple example would be the constant need of sharing updates and selfies on social media. A person expects “Likes” which are nothing but seeking positive strokes from their friends and family. A child may often be made to experience he/she does not need strokes creating a hunger for strokes within. 

However, strokes are available in plenty, and it’s advisable to indulge in self-stroking in moderate ways to feel better about yourself. 

Eric Berne highlighted that a person’s life and its results are pre-decided based on the first 5 years of a person’s life.

5) Games

If you’ve felt like a victim in life and find yourself saying, “Why does this happen to me?,” welcome to the psychological Games that we play with ourselves and the world. Transactional Analysis outlines a collection of Games that people play. These are often out of unconscious behaviour. 

Games are defined as an ongoing series of ulterior transactions that lead to a predictable outcome. 

For example, a person may think he is not good at communication. He applies for many jobs, gets selected, but he often declines the interview process. A friend says, “You should join classes to improve communication and get over your fear.” He says, “Oh, no, I don’t have the time.” The friend says, “You can manage your time better.” He says, “Yes, but I have to manage my house.” The person has managed to avoid all the friend’s suggestions. 

This game is labelled as “Yes, But…” A Game analysis helps to understand the Games people play.

TA outlines Games to have certain features -

  • These are repetitive - a person display same patterns and creates same results
  • They are played without the Adult awareness
  • A person always ends up experiencing racket feelings
  • There is an exchange of ulterior transactions
  • They always include feelings of being surprised or complete confusion

Examples of Games:

a) I’m only trying to help you - a person offers help but desires to control behavior.

b) Blemish - a person finds faults in people. The actual game is to create a distraction from self and avoid looking at one’s own mistakes.

c) Courtroom - a person proves how often they are right while others are wrong. They seek support and sympathy from people.

d) Poor me- a person often displays themselves as completely helpless. They want to seek sympathy.

A deeper study of Transactional Analysis helps to understand Games while being aware of the patterns we display.

Transactional Analysis also includes the study of Functional Analysis of Ego-States, Time Structuring, Script Messages, Injunctions, Drivers, Discounting, Frame of Reference, Symbiosis, Rackets, Stamps, and much more.

We know you have many questions related to Transactional Analysis theory. We’ve answered a few here. 

How does Transactional Analysis Theory help an individual? 

  1. Self-reliance - capable of taking their own decisions in life
  2. Identifying areas of improvement in communication with self and others
  3. Knowing where to modify behaviours
  4. Understand messages that influenced behaviour, remove limiting beliefs
  5. Develop a better understanding of people
  6. Raise self-awareness towards situations, respond before reacting
  7. Develop the capacity to view situations from Adult state
  8. Work upon own Life Script, make the changes to achieve goals

Transactional Analysis is beneficial for -

Personal Development - it creates people who are highly self-aware and responsible in life, brings focus on personal and professional goals

Jobs - TA is beneficial at work as you learn techniques to manager interpersonal communications, encourage team building, and more

Business - A businessperson learns to manage situations through self-awareness, make decisions based on the here-and-now

Transactional Analysis is also useful for any industry - medicine, coaching, education, media, art, and more.

Can Transactional Analysis be used as a form of Psychotherapy?

TA is used extensively as a form of psychotherapy to accelerate an internal change in people. A counsellor is able to explore the client’s personality and their experiences which are shaped by their decisions. An understanding of the personality gives many answers to the problems faced by the client. 

A counsellor can use a number of techniques to question and listen to the client. TA is useful to resolve many problems wherein a person is guided towards a reflective practice. TA is useful to eliminate unhelpful thoughts and feelings to raise awareness of actions. People learn to be responsible without blaming situations or others. 

Is Transactional Analysis beneficial for effective communication?

Yes. Transactional analysis is beneficial for effective communication, as a person understands their communication with self while identifying the personality of another. A deeper understanding of personality and behaviours allows one to improve communication that is designed to create the best outcomes.

Goal of Transactional Analysis Theory

  1. Be a highly self-aware individual
  2. Understand own behaviour, modify patterns
  3. Examine own thoughts, behaviours, actions
  4. Be present in the Adult Ego-State

Loved Reading about What is Transactional Analysis Theory? You can learn it too! 

Meet Dr. Paras, practicing Transactional Analysis and Life Leadership Coach. Dr. Paras, Founder at Matrrix, holds prestigious awards on a global level. His extensive experience in the areas of coaching, training, mentoring, and counselling have garnered him numerous fans across the globe. 

Matrrix offers Certified Programs for professionals seeking to excel in life. Dr. Paras offers courses accredited with International centres with an aim to provide authentic certification for all. As a contribution to society, Dr.Paras also runs Tava-Mitram, a not-for-profit that offers free group coaching to the less fortunate. Questions about Transactional Analysis Theory? Write to drparas@matrrix.in 

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