TRANSACTIONAL ANALYSIS - ERIC BERNE
Transactional Analysis was invented and developed by the psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Eric Berne in San Francisco towards the end of the 1950s. Transactional Analysis (TA) offers a systematic theory of the personality and social dynamics, which derives from clinical practice and experience, an active, ‘rational’ form of psychotherapy and provides a theory of human communication. TA is based on the analysis of ‘transactions’, i.e., on the observation of external manifestations of social relations.
An ego-state can be described as a compact system of emotions and thoughts referring to a subject, which motivate corresponding models of behaviour. In other words, it is a set of thoughts, emotions and behaviour organised in a coherent manner, which reflects the experiences of its past or present. For example, the set of feelings, attitudes and models of behaviour adopted by a subject, similar to those of his/her parental figures (i.e., real parents and/or other figures that were significant points of reference during infancy and childhood), identify his/her Parent ego-state. The set of feelings, attitudes and models of behaviour that can be traced back to his/her ‘individual childhood’ (i.e., how the person behaved as a child during the first 4/5 years of life) form his/her Child ego-state. An autonomous set of feelings, attitudes and models of behaviour which are coherent and adapted to present reality reflect his/her Adult ego-state.
TA posits the presence in every human being of three ego-states: the Parent, Adult and Child. Starting from this premise,
it is known that:
-every adult individual was once a child;
-every human being who possesses a sufficient quantity of brain tissue is potentially capable of an adequate degree of consciousness of reality (reality testing);
-every individual surviving in adult life has had functioning parents or caregivers who took the place of the parents.
We may thus hypothesize that:
-vestigial remains of infancy and childhood survive in later life as complete ego-states (Child);
-reality testing can be considered a specific function of an ego-state and not an isolated 'faculty' (Adult);
-the control of behaviour can be assumed by an ego-state of an external individual in the manner in which it is perceived (Parent).
With a little practice, by observing an individual, one may easily identify the presence of the ego-states by reflecting on and ‘reading’ a person’s posture, look, gestures, tone of voice and vocabulary.
The Parent ego-state of the severe kind can be characterised by details such as: hands at the sides, serious look, indications of an attitude that would tend to forbid certain actions or a sense of order, a hard tone of voice and vocabulary that expresses a desire to give orders or be judgemental. Inversely, a loving Parent would be indicated by such signs as: a maternal appearance with a slight flexion of the neck to one side, a look expressing affection, arms open in a welcoming attitude, a comforting tone of voice and words of encouragement.
The Adult stands upright and shows such signs as: a relaxed, soft posture, a thoughtful look with an indication of an ‘operative’ and careful approach to others, a stable (almost monotonous) and precise manner of speaking, and a vocabulary expressing evaluation.
The Child of the serene and spontaneous type would show signs such as: smiling and relaxed, uninhibited and happy, with a strong, energetic tone of voice and a rather exaggerated vocabulary. Inversely, the Child type may be shy, reserved, hiding in his/her shell, fearful, sullen, tearful and demanding, with a vocabulary highlighting his/her perceived incapacity (No, I can’t …, I hope that …, I would like to …).
Once learned, use of the ego-states model leads to an increased awareness of one’s personality traits and, if necessary, allows one to adapt them to external requirements and reality with the intent of promoting responsible and congruous management of one’s thoughts, emotions and behaviour. Such an awareness also allows one to ‘read’ social transactions, starting from the awareness of the characteristics of the individuals involved. It thus increases an individual’s capacity to manage communication, rendering the communication more effective with respect to pre-established goals.