Transactional Analysis

What is Transactional Analysis, and how is it used in E-CENT counselling?

Four models from Transactional Analysis (TA) counselling, as used in Classic TA and in E-CENT counselling: (1) The ego-state theory and model; (2) Script theory; (3) The Drama Triangle; and (4) the OK Corral.  Quotes and video footage from Dr Eric Berne.

How to understand and apply Transactional Analysis (TA) in your life

by Dr Jim Byrne

12th September 2015. Updated 23rd March 2020

Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, 2009-2015/2016/2020

Introduction

Dr Jim's office2
Dr Jim Byrne incorporated elements of Transactional Analysis in the foundations of his system of Emotive-Cognitive Embodied Narrative Therapy (E-CENT)

Sigmund Freud created the insight that the human individual has three main components to their personality or being.  These are: (1) the part that was born (the body-mind, or the ‘it’); (2) The internalized others (mainly mother and father, etc; which he called the over-I); and (3) The socialized personality (which he called the I: which Anglicized psychoanalysis called ‘the ego’).

Freud’s system of psychoanalysis was slow and difficult, and involved trying to externalize the contents of the non-conscious part of the mind of the patient/client.

Eric Berne was an American medical doctor and trained psychiatrist, who, at the end of the Second World War, was interested in finding ways of making psychoanalysis more accessible to ordinary people, in a way that was quicker and more efficient than Freud’s approach.

Origins

Games_People_Play.jpgDr Eric Berne began to develop his popularized approach to psychotherapy somewhere in the 1940s when he was a US Army medical officer; but his first paper on Transactional Analysis (TA) proper did not appear until 1957 (according to Stewart, 1989)[1].  Much work was done in the 1950s and ‘60s, with Games People Play appearing in 1964; and What Do You Say After You Say Hello? appearing in 1972 (after Berne’s early death in 1970).

Transactional Analysis really began when Dr Berne was working with a successful lawyer as a therapy client.  This lawyer felt very much an adult in his work, but he had an occasional tendency to say; “I’m not really a lawyer.  I’m just a little boy!”[2]  Eventually Berne realized that the lawyer operated from ‘different places’, or ‘different states of the ego’ – different parts of his personality.  Berne and a group of collaborators began to investigate those ‘ego states’, listening to audio recordings of psychotherapy sessions, and identifying the ‘places’ that the patient and the therapist were ‘transacting’ from.  Out of this research/practice process came the insight that we humans operate from different ego states, depending on the external circumstances of our social encounters, and our personal life histories.

[1] Stewart, I. (1989) Transactional Analysis Counselling in Action.  London: Sage.

[2] Berne, E. (1947/1986) A Layman’s Guide to Psychiatry and Psychoanalysis.  Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.  Page 328 (Chapter Nine, Transactional Analysis, by John M. Dusay, MD).

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The Bamboo Paradox: The limits of human flexibility in a cruel world – and how to protect, defend and strengthen yourself

Finding the Golden Mean that leads to strength and viable flexibility, in order to be happy, healthy and realistically successful

A, Front cover-2By Dr Jim Byrne.

With contributed chapters by Renata Taylor-Byrne

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The Institute for E-CENT Publications: 2020

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Are human beings like bamboo?  Are we designed to withstand unlimited pressure, stress and strain? Is our destiny to be sacrificed on the altar of ‘flexible working arrangements’?

We live in a world in which there are dark forces that wish us to forget that we are fleshy bodies, with physical and mental needs; and physical and mental limitations; and to be willing to function like mere cogs in the wheels of somebody else’s financial or technological empire.

Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) has played into this narrative, and given it philosophical support, by promoting a form of Extreme Stoicism in the name of therapy and wisdom, which it patently is not. (General Cognitive Behaviour Therapy [CBT] also supports this agenda, but to a lesser degree, or in a less obvious way! And some forms of Extreme Buddhism also advocate ‘detachment’ from material concerns, such as the need for a balanced life!)

In this book, I review the research that we have done on the limits of human endurance, and the determinants of that endurance – as well as identifying a viable philosophy of life – which will help you to optimize your strength and flexibility, while at the same time taking care of your health and happiness.

If you want to take good care of yourself in the modern mad-market, you could benefit from studying this book. It will provide you with both a compass and a suit of armour which will support you with the challenges and battles you will inevitably face.

Click for more information.***

Paperback copy: £14.99 GBP***

Kindle eBook: £5.99 GBP.***

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Berne focused his system mainly on the ‘I’, or ‘ego’, and came up with the inspired insight that each individual begins life as a child, grows and develops (through a Little Professor stage, and then a more Adult stage), and they internalize experiences of their actual parents relating to them.  In the process, all of those stages of development, and experiences, are stored in the individual’s memory banks, so that we each have a Child part to our ego (or childlike-I); an Adult part to our ego (or adult-like-I); and a Parent part to our ego (or parent-like-I).

PAC_model1.jpgThe Adult part of us is partly a result of innate psychological development (as argued by Jean Piaget), and partly a result of our socialization (as argued by Lev Vygotsky).  It uses language-based logic and reason to ‘compute’ the world of experience.

The Parent part of us is copied from our parents, so that, when we are ‘in Parent ego state’ we are most often thinking, feeling and acting just like some parent figure from our family: mother, father, granny, etc.

This is how Berne described TA and his ego state model, back in 1979, in his book entitled, What do you say after you say hello? 

“The basic interest of transactional analysis is the study of ego states, which are coherent systems of thought and feeling manifested by corresponding patterns of behaviour.  Each human being exhibits three types of ego states.  (1) Those derived from parental figures, colloquially called the Parent.  In this state, s/he feels, thinks, acts, talks and responds just as one of his/her parents did when s/he was little. This ego state is active, for example, in raising his/her own children.  Even when s/he is not actually exhibiting this ego state, it influences his/her behaviour as the ‘parental influence’, performing the functions of a conscience.  (2) The ego state in which s/he appraises his/her environment objectively, and calculates its possibilities and probabilities on the basis of past experience, is called the Adult ego state, or the Adult.  The Adult functions like a computer.  (3) Each person carries within (themselves) a little boy or little girl, who feels, thinks, acts, talks and responds just the way he or she did when he or she was a child of a certain age.  This ego state is called the Child.  the Child is not regarded as ‘childish’ or ‘immature’, which are Parental words, but as childlike, meaning like a child of a certain age, and the important factor here is the age, which may be anywhere between two and five years in ordinary circumstances.  It is important for the individual to understand his/her Child, not only because it is going to be with him/her all their lifetime, but also because it is the most valuable part of his/her personality”. (Pages 11/12).

He further theorized that, to be optimally effective, an individual needs to learn to function mainly with their adult-like-I (or Adult ego state) in the driving seat of their life – or what he called having the Adult in the Executive Position, or running the show.

The Parent ego state was seen as having good and bad aspects, and so it was important to learn to distinguish between those ego states, and to mainly utilize the good (healthy and helpful) aspects of those ego states.

The Child ego state was also seen as having good and bad aspects, and the good (healthy and helpful) aspects were to be promoted, and the bad aspects controlled or regulated.

Thus it became possible for a psychoanalyst to talk to virtually any emotionally disturbed former soldier, demobbed from the US Army, about whether they were functioning in an appropriately Adult way, or an unhelpful Child or Parent way.

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How to Resolve Conflict and Unhappiness: Especially during Festive Celebrations:

Coping with and resolving frustrations, disappointments and interpersonal clashes at family celebrations like Christmas, Yuletide, Hanukkah, Eid, and Thanksgiving

Front cover 1Dr Jim Byrne (With Renata Taylor-Byrne)

This book is particularly relevant to the Coronavirus pandemic, because families have to increasingly self-isolate in cramped conditions; with too many people in too little space; for too long at a time!

Conflict can happen in families at any time of year.  It jut so happens that the first Monday after the Christmas & New Year annual holidays is called ‘Divorce Day’, because that is when the highest number of divorce petitions is issued. And it seems most likely that the other major family holiday times are the runners up in the divorce stakes.  However, what is hidden under these divorce statistics is the mountain of personal and social misery that precedes such drastic ‘solutions’ to repeated conflict, disappointments and interpersonal clashes.

But there is a better way to deal with these problems. Rather than letting the misery build up over time, you can take control of both your own mind, and the way you communicate within your family and society.  You can insulate your social relationships from constant or repeated misery and unhappiness; and learn to have a wonderful life with your family and friends.

The solutions have been assembled by Dr Jim Byrne in this book about how to re-think/re-feel/re-frame your encounters with your significant others; how to communicate so they will listen; how to listen so they can communicate with you; and how to manage your lifestyle for optimum peace, happiness and success in all your relationships.

PAPERBACK AND eBOOK ON CONFLICT RESOLUTION…

Don’t let your relationships deteriorate. Get the solution today. Click this link for more.***

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A review of the ego-state model of TA

Revision is the key to sound learning.  We need to get the same information in various ways, with variations, in order to build up a three dimensional sense of the field.  Let us begin by reviewing the basic theory of ego states.  I want to do this by presenting two questions from TA Mini-paper No.6, which I completed in 2002 as part of my Diploma in Counselling Psychology and Psychotherapy.  (The full paper can then be downloaded by clicking the link below.

Q1. Exactly what is an ego state?

PAC_ES_model.jpgEgo states are patterns of thinking, feeling and behaviour – the main ones being Parent, Adult and Child – abbreviated to P, A and C.  Parent ego state is copied from actual parent figures from the past; Adult ego state is based on age-specific reality appraisal, which tends to be fairly logical and rational; and Child ego state is a relic of childhood, whereby we think, feel and act as we once did as a child.  This is how they are normally displayed graphically:

We tend to move around between ego states, depending upon the incoming stimulus; and we tend to have a set pattern of relating, which may be high on Parent; high on Child; or high on Adult; where ‘high on’ means that we spend a lot of time/energy in that particular ego state. When we communicate with each other, we operate from a specific ego state each time, and we also tend to address a specific ego state in the other person.  The possible combinations of potential transactions are shown in the next illustration:

All_transactions_PACs.gif

For most purposes, Adult-to-Adult interactions are best; but we need to use the (Good) Parent ego state when we are in parenting or supervising roles.  And our good manners mainly come from our Child ego state.

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Q2. Describe each of the following ego states:

(P) Parent: the Parent or extero-psychic ego state is a set of feelings, thoughts, attitudes and behaviours which resemble those of parent figures.  It contains controlling and nurturing aspects.

When I am ‘in Parent ego state’, I am thinking, feeling and acting just like some real parent figure from my past (my mother, father, grandparent, teacher, etc).

There are two main subdivisions of the Parent ego state: identified as the Nurturing Parent (NP) and the Controlling Parent (CP).

Both of these ego states can have positive and negative aspects, or sides, to them.  There is also the concept of the ‘Critical Parent’ ego state, which is seen as negative and destructive, perhaps being an aspect of the bad side of the Controlling Parent.

NP-vs-CP.jpg

(A) Adult: When in the Adult or neo-psychic ego state, the person (relatively) autonomously and (relatively) objectively appraises reality and makes judgements.  It functions like a partially self-programming probability computer.

When I am in my Adult ego state, I am functioning like a ‘computer’, by being relatively logical, rational and reasonable, in the here and now.

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Adult_to_Adult.jpg(C) Child: The Child or archaeo-psychic ego state is a set of feelings, thoughts, attitudes and behavioural patterns which are historical relics of an individual’s childhood.

When I am in my Child ego state, I am thinking, feeling and behaving just like I once did as a little boy.  I may be adapting to others (Adapted Child ego state), rebelling against them (Rebellious Child ego state), or operating more authentically and autonomously (Free or Natural Child ego state).  And each of those states can be either good or bad:

FC_AC_ESs.jpg

+FC = Positive Free Child ego state.

– FC = Negative Free Child ego state.

+AC = Positive Adapted Child ego state.

-AC = Negative Adapted Child ego state.

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In E-CENT, we emphasize that the Adult ego state is also split into a good side and a bad side – which has almost always been overlooked by the major TA theorists!

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To download TA Mini-paper No.6, please click the link that follows:

Click here to download Mini-paper No.6***

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How to Write a New Life for Yourself:

Narrative therapy and the writing solution.

Writing Theapy book cover
Cover design by Charles Saul

By Dr Jim Byrne, with Renata Taylor-Byrne

Prices: from £4.22 GBP (Kindle) to £13.27 (paperback)

Paperback and eBook versions.

Learn more.***

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We learn how to think and feel in our family of origins, and then we use those imperfect road-maps to guide us throughout our lives.  No wonder we often find ourselves in situations we strongly dislike. No wonder we often find we are living lives of quiet desperation.

This how-to book contains in excess of twenty exercises to help you to redesign your road-map through life; and to get more of what you want from your life.

You will become clearer about your goals; and how to work towards them intelligently.

Journal writing, and various forms of writing therapy and reflective writing are included, with specific exercises for specific purposes.

Why not write a new and better life for yourself?

Don’t miss this chance to live the life you would love to live! Paperback and eBook versions.

Click this linke to learn more.***

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Continuing Professional Development 

If you would like to earn a Continuing Professional Development (CPD) Certificate in Understanding TA and Human Communication, then please read the text above, including Mini Paper No.6, and pay the fee of £9.75 by clicking the PayPal Buy Now button that follows:

Continuing Professional Development (CPD) Certificate in Understanding TA and Human Communication

When you pay your £19.75 GBP fee at PayPal, you will be sent a question paper which contains a range of questions to be answered. Once your answers have been submitted, and accepted, you will be sent a Certificate of Continuing Professional Development (10 hours credit) in Transactional Analysis and Human Communication.

£19.75

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How to Have a Wonderful, Loving Relationship:

Helpful insights for couples and lovers

A, Front cover,1By Jim Byrne (with Renata Taylor-Byrne)

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Originally published with the title, Top secrets for Building a Successful Relationship, in 2018.  Reissued with a new title and minor changes in November 2019.

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Do you sometimes feel that you are just reliving your parents’ relationship? The unworkable, misery-inducing pattern that you witnessed in childhood?  If so, you are probably right. That is most often how relationships turn out, unless you wake up and begin to change your unconscious pattern of relating.

Most human beings long to be engaged in a loving relationship with another person who they like and admire, and who likes, admires, loves and respects them in turn.

But most people have no idea how to bring this about.

A few lucky people will automatically ‘know’ what to do, non-consciously, because they had parents who openly demonstrated their love for each other.

If your parents did not love, like, respect and/or care for each other; or they failed to demonstrate active love for you; then you are going to have to learn from scratch. But do not despair.  The answers to your problem can be found in this book…

PAPERBACK BOOK ON RELATIONSHIP AND COMMUNICATION SKILLS…

Find out how to reprogram yourself for a loving, joyful, peaceful relationship that enriches your life, instead of making you miserable and disappointed.  To find out some more about this process, please click this link.***

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Video overview of the ego-state model of TA 

Individuals vary in terms of their learning styles.  One of the main differences is that between visual, auditory and whole-body learning.  Because of the dominance of TV and video games, many individuals today find it most easy to learn from visual material.

Here is a little ten minute video introduction to TA, by Rory Lees-Oakes, outlining in particular the ego states.  It provides a good overview of the system. Please click the image that follows:

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One of the earliest signs of the blossoming of Emotive-Cognitive Embodied Narrative Therapy (E-CENT) was the integration of (REBT) with Transactional Analysis (TA), back in 1999.  It seemed obvious to me at times that only the TA model could help the client to see where their unreasonable demands were coming from.  Let me explain:

Eric-Berne1.jpgLet’s have another quick review.  (Reviews are important for consolidation of memories).

Transactional Analysis was developed by Dr Eric Berne between the end of the Second World War and the 1970s.  The outstanding features of TA were that it was quick and efficient.  It was also anti-elitist, and it expressed psychological terms and concepts in easy-to-understand, everyday language.  Instead of lengthy and frequent sessions of psychoanalysis, Berne helped his clients to see that they were either:

(1) Operating from an unhelpful part of their personality; or:

(2) Playing dysfunctional ‘psychological games’ based on not-OK positions: (e.g. “I’m not-OK”; or “You’re not-OK”; etc). Or:

(3) Following an unhealthy life script which they created when they were too young to know what they were doing or choosing.

As mentioned already above, Berne described three core aspects of the human personality, which he labelled with the common tags of: ParentAdult and Child “ego states”.  (He capitalized Parent,Adult and Child ego states to distinguish them from an actual parent, an individual adult person, and/or a real child).

Later he split the parent into Nurturing Parent and Controlling Parent; and Child into Natural Child and Adapted/Rebellious Child.  Subsequent writers on TA multiplied the number of ego states which are possible, but eventually they were pruned back to the basic five mentioned here.  Evidence has been found that those five ego states are commonly active in counselling clients.  However, we cannot say that individuals have just five ego states, and no more.  Some psychoanalysts work with the ‘Hurt Child’, or the ‘Abandoned Child’, in their clients. And Psychosynthesis works with a broad range of sub-personalities, which are essentially ego states.

Let’s now present a brief review of the main ego states, in the following video clip by Theramin Trees:

What did you learn from this video clip?  About yourself?  About some other people in your life?  Perhaps you are too high on Controlling Parent yourself; or perhaps you are high on Child, and get bossed around by people who are high on Controlling Parent.

To find out more about your own ego states, you could complete a TA Quiz which can be found here: TA Questionnaire***

The value of TA questionnaires was brought home to me way back in 1984, when my wife and I completed them during marriage guidance counselling, with a TA therapist, and we discovered that, while I scored higher on Controlling Parent than I did on Adult, she scored higher on Adapted/Rebellious Child than she did on Adult.  This allowed us both to see that we would have to figure out how to become more Adult in our day to day functioning.

The aim of TA is to help you to get your Adult ego state in the Executive Position of your personality, which allows the Adult to control your decisions as to when it is appropriate and/or inappropriate to operate from Parent; and when it is appropriate and/or inappropriate to operate from Child ego state.  Also, to review your life position, and opt for the ‘I’m OK – you’re OK’ position (which is described further down this page).  The third major aim of TA is to help the client to ‘re-decide’ about any childhood decisions (or ‘scripts’) which are not serving them well as adults.

One way to grow your Adult ego state is to study Critical Thinking skills.

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Coming soon – in April 2020:

How to Reduce and Control Your Anxiety Level:

Using a whole body-brain-mind approach – And without using drugs, alcohol or escapism!

Front cover 1By Dr Jim Byrne

With Renata Taylor-Byrne

Anxiety is not a disease; not a mental illness. Anxiety is part of our normal, innate, mental signalling system which tells us what is happening to us, and what to do about it.  That is to say, it is part of our emotional wiring. Our emotional intelligence.

Trying to get rid of anxiety with drugs is like hanging two overcoats and a duvet over your burglar alarm when it goes off.  The burglar alarm is designed to give you helpful information, which you can then use to guide your action. Should you check to see if a burglar has got into your house? Or call the police? Or realize that you’d mismanaged your alarm system, and that you should therefore switch it off?

Once you understand anxiety correctly, it becomes as useful as a burglar alarm; and you can learn how to manage it correctly.

When you buy a burglar alarm, it comes with a little Instruction Book about how to set it; calibrate it; monitor it; reset it; and switch it on and off.

You should have got just such an Instruction Book about your anxiety alarm, from your parents, when you were very young – and some people did.  But if your alarm goes off at all times of day and night, in unhelpful ways, then I guess you were one of the unlucky ones who did not get your Instruction Book.  This book contains your Instruction Book, plus lots of other backup information, which will help to make you the master of your anxiety, instead of its quaking slave.

Don’t let your burglar alarm make your life a misery. Learn how to use it properly!

For more information about this book on anxiety:

Paperback copy:

Kindle eBook copy:

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Revision: 

The Parent ego state has two sub-divisions: the Nurturing Parent ego state, and the Controlling Parent ego state.  Both of these states has a positive and a negative side.  Nurturing Parent ego state can be helpful to others, but it can also come on as the ‘smother mother’ or the over-solicitous dad.  The Controlling Parent ego state is needed in parenting, in setting reasonable boundaries for children.  However, it can be overused in adult relationships, where it shows up as domination and lack of democratic sharing.

The Child ego state also has two subdivisions: the Natural (or Free) Child ego state, and the Adapted/Rebellious Child ego state.  Again, both of these states have a good and bad side.  The Free Child ego state is the source of play and creativity; but it is also capable of engendering risky behaviours which threaten the survival of the individual.  And the Adapted/Rebellious Child ego state has the positive tendency to be pro-social and cooperative, and the negative tendency to be too conformist and weak in relation to bullies.

In the video clip above, the narrator says that the Adult ego state is not split.  But in E-CENT we argue that the Adult ego state is as split as the Parent and Child.  For example, the Good Adult ego state might design a new approach to bridge building, and make bridges safer for public use; while the Bad Adult ego state might spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to break into the Bank of England to steal all the gold bullion stored there.  Both states might be equally logical and effective in their strategic thinking, but one is immoral and the other is moral.  (More below).

# Counselling and therapy all over the world.

# What is E-CENT counselling?

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Lifestyle Counselling and Coaching for the Whole Person:

Or how to integrate nutritional insights, exercise and sleep coaching into talk therapy.

The Lifestyle Counselling Book
Cover design by Charles Saul

By Dr Jim Byrne, with Renata Taylor-Byrne

This book has been found in practice to be very helpful to counsellors and psychotherapists who want to understand the role of lifestyle factors in human disturbance. Because diet, exercise and sleep are increasingly seen to be important determinants of mental health and emotional well-being, it is now necessary to rethink our models of counselling and therapy.

Paperback and eBook versions.

Learn more.***

This book shows counsellors how to incorporate lifestyle coaching and counselling into their system of talk therapy.  It will also help self-help enthusiasts to take better care of their own mental and physical health, and emotional well-being.

Prices: from £4.26 GBP (Kindle) to £12.64 (paperback)

Paperback and eBook versions.

Learn more.***

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TA in work 

Here is some further description of the three basic ego states of Transactional Analysis, applied to transactions in work situations.  This video clip shows a range of non-viable Parent>Child encounters; plus the ideal Adult-to-Adult option.

What did you learn from this video clip?  Which ego state do you “occupy” most or much of the time?  Is this working for you?  Do you over-use Parent or Child ego state?  How can you get you Adult ego state into the ‘executive position’ in your personality most of the time?

Further down this page, I will present a set of recommendations for ways in which you can strengthen your Adult ego state, and get it more and more into the executive position, so you can manage your life more autonomously, democratically, and enjoyably!

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Facing and Defeating your Emotional Dragons:

How to process old traumas, and eliminate undigested pain from your past experience

front cover, dragons
Cover design by Will Sutton

This self-help book presents two processes that are necessary for the digestion of old, traumatic or stress-inducing experiences.

The first looks at how to re-think or re-frame your traumatic memory; and the second is about how to digest it, so it can disappear.

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Prices from: £6.16p (Kindle) and £13.63 GBP (Paperback) 

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Paperback and eBook versions

Learn more.***

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This is how the PAC model looks so far:

Figure 1 – A simple structural model:

Basic-ego-state-model.jpg

The most effective place for and two individuals to operate from is Adult-to-Adult.  An exception would be in the case of a young child, or a person in need of comfort, when it might be more effective to operate from Nurturing Parent ego state to their Child ego state.  Another exception would be a case of health and safety, or supervision, when it would be appropriate for the person in the leadership role to operate from Controlling Parent to the Adapted Child ego state of the led individual.  (This all assumes that these ego states can only operate from a ‘good place’.  However, we will see later that there is a good and bad side to each of these ego states, and so it is important to outlaw Nurturing and Controlling behaviours (and Adult behaviours!) from the bad side of a person attempting to lead others).

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For a more detailed description of the work of Dr Eric Berne in developing his theory of Transactional Analysis, please check out some of the web pages available on the Internet, such as EricBerne.com, Internet-of-the mind.com, ChangingMinds.org, and others, such as Businessballs.com[1].  Or read Berne (1968), or Stewart and Joines (1987) – (For titles of books, see end of this page). Or take a look at some Rusland Diploma assignment questions and answers on TA, produced by Jim Byrne in 2002.

Counselling and therapy all over the world.

What is E-CENT counselling?

[1] www.ericberne.com/transactional_analysis_description.htm; and/or here: www.internet-of-the-mind.com/ego_states.html#TA.; and/or here: http://changingminds.org/explanations/behaviors/ta.htm

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Holistic Counselling in Practice:

An introduction to the theory and practice of Emotive-Cognitive Embodied-Narrative Therapy

front cover holistic couns reissued
Cover design by Will Sutton

By Jim Byrne DCoun FISPC

With Renata Taylor-Byrne BSc (Hons) Psychol

This book was the original introduction to Emotive-Cognitive Embodied Narrative Therapy (E-CENT), which was created by Dr Jim Byrne in the period 2009-2014, building upon earlier work from 2003.  It is of historic importance, but it has been superseded by Lifestyle Counselling and Coaching for the Whole Person, above.

Prices from: £5.83p GBP (Kindle) and £15.18p (Paperback)

Paperback and eBook versions

Learn more.***

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Revision Questions:

Recall a time when you were clearly operating from your Controlling Parent ego state.  What were you thinking, feeling and doing?  Describe the situation and the people involved, and the ego states of those other individuals.  What were the consequences for you of acting in that way?

Recall a time when you were clearly operating from your Adapted or Rebellious Child ego state.  What were you thinking, feeling and doing?  Describe the situation.  Who else was involved?  What ego states were they in?  What were the consequenes for you of acting from Child ego state?

Recall a time when you were clearly operating from your Adult ego state.  What were you thinking, feeling and doing?  What was the situation; who else was involved; and did you benefit from being in Adult?

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Recall a time when somebody in work seemed to you to be operating from Child ego state.  What happened?  Was this because you were operating from your Parent with them?  How could you have switched to Adult, and invited an Adult response from them?

Recall a time when you seemed to be stuck in Child ego state with somebody in work.  What happened?  Was this because they were operating from Parent with you?  What could you have done to get out of Child ego state?

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‘Parent-stoppers’ as self-protection

In general, in order to get out of Parent or Child ego states, you need to ask yourself a question?

What am I doing here?  Why am I responding like this?  What would be a more Adult way to behave?

To block somebody who keeps coming at you from Parent, you can acknowledge their message by responding from your Adapted Child ego state (‘I got that’; or ‘I hear what you are saying’); then ask yourself a question, like: ‘How can I get them into Adult?’  This question will move you to Adult (because you can only think about the answer to a question when you are in Adult ego state); and from there you can figure out an Adult-to-Adult statement to make to them, thus escaping from the Child state in you, which they were addressing, and trying to ‘hook’.

Another way to block somebody who is in Critical Parent with you is to find something to agree with about what they are saying – e.g. ‘You might be right about that’.  Or: ‘Perhaps I could have done it better…’, or whatever. This process is called ‘fogging’. It can be reviewed and learned – along with several other important communication strategies, in Appendix C of the following title:

How to Have a Wonderful, Loving Relationship:

Helpful insights for couples and lovers

A, Front cover,1By Jim Byrne (with Renata Taylor-Byrne)

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Originally published with the title, Top secrets for Building a Successful Relationship, in 2018.  Reissued with a new title and minor changes in November 2019.

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Do you sometimes feel that you are just reliving your parents’ relationship? The unworkable, misery-inducing pattern that you witnessed in childhood?  If so, you are probably right. That is most often how relationships turn out, unless you wake up and begin to change your unconscious pattern of relating.

Most human beings long to be engaged in a loving relationship with another person who they like and admire, and who likes, admires, loves and respects them in turn.

But most people have no idea how to bring this about.

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~~~

Appendix B of that book is a detailed review of the core principles of Transactional Analysis, as follows:

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Appendix B: Transactional Analysis will help you to understand your relationship communication problems

By Dr Jim Byrne

Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, 2009-2018

B1(a) Prelude

A, Front cover,1If you have problems in your communication with your partner, it’s important to figure out where those problems are coming from, and how to begin the process of fixing them.  Using your ‘common sense’ is not likely to result in very much progress, because ‘common sense’ includes so many myths (as shown in Chapter 2, above).  For this reason, you need a more scientifically reliable model of human communication, against which you can measure your own communication style.

In terms of ‘common sense’, it often seems to most uninformed individuals as if we are ‘unified adults’, with ‘free will’, and a capacity to do no wrong.  Other people ‘show up’ for us as being wrong, but we are always right.  (Of course, some people have that in reverse, and they see themselves as always wrong, or always inferior, and other people as always right and/or superior).

In many scientific psychology studies of human beings, it seems we are not unified beings at all, but fragmented beings.  According to Robert Hobson (1985/2000), we (so-called ‘individuals) are actually communities of sub-personalities.  If you think about it, you are sometimes playful.  “Let’s get out to the seaside for the day!” you might declare excitedly, to your partner, on a bright, summer morning.  (This sounds and feels like a childlike expression of joy and fun).

On another occasion you may angrily wag your finger at your partner and say, “Stop disrupting my work.  I’ve got to get this finished by a strict deadline!” (This sounds more like a controlling parent).

And in yet another context, you may embrace your partner and murmur, “Never mind, darling.  It’ll all work out okay in the end” – to reassure them when they are feeling down or defeated by some serious problem.  (This sounds like a nurturing parent part of you).

Figure B1(a): The fragmented nature of our moods and emotions

In Figure B1(a) above I have presented four different positions (from a range of at least ten such positions) to show just how differently a person may perceive their partner form one day to another; or from one context to another.  Those four statements are in significant tension, or even outright contradiction with each other, and cannot be thought to come from a ‘unified individual’; but rather from a fragmented, or variable, individual.  If you witnessed the person in Figure B1(a) as they uttered those four statements above, you would also notice that their body language was different on each occasion; including their posture, facial expression, and hand gestures.  Also, their tone of voice would be significantly different from one statement to another.  This shows that the person is operating from clearly distinct parts of themselves – clearly distinct parts of their personality – or distinct states of their ‘ego’ or ‘self’.

In this current appendix, we will explore Transactional Analysis, which is a way of understanding positive and negative aspects of human personality; and helpful and helpful ways of relating to your partner. And then, in Appendix D, we explore five different styles of handling conflict in relationships.

One example of the way Transactional Analysis (or TA) helps us to understand relationship problems is as follows.  In many troubled or conflicted couples, we see the following pattern repeated over and over again:

One partner tends to control the other, for bad reasons; and the controlled partner adapts to this control for a while, and then rebels with some aggressive force.

In TA language, this is described as follows:

One partner tends to operate (too often, or too much) from what is called the ‘Critical Parent’ or ‘Bad Controlling Parent’ part of their personality; and this causes their partner to slip into operating from the ‘Adapted (or Conforming) Child’ part of their own personality.  But this does not last, and after a while, the one in ‘Adapted Child’ flips into ‘Rebellious Child’ and fights back in what is experienced as a stressful and unpleasant backlash!

If you study this system, you can learn, over time, to mainly operate from the more reasonable ‘Adult’ part of your personality, and to avoid ‘hooking’ (or triggering) the (volatile) ‘Rebellious Child’ part of your partner.

But ‘Permanent Adult’ functioning is relatively boring, for the other partner, so it is also important to know how to add in elements of ‘Good Nurturing Parent’ and the ‘Playful Child’ parts of your personality, to produce a more rounded, more loving, caring and fun personality profile.

In this appendix, I provide you with all the nuts and bolts you will need to build a more balanced personality profile for yourself, which has your ‘Adult’ part in the ‘executive position’, meaning the driving seat of your communication with your partner.

Your reward for studying this material will be that you will have a much happier, relatively conflict-free relationship! And it will help you to maintain the 5:1 ratio of positive to negative moments that your relationship needs in order to survive and thrive.

B1(b) Introduction

Sigmund Freud created the insight that the human individual has three main components to their being.  These are:

(1) The part that was born (the body-brain [which has an embryonic ‘mind’].  Freud called this phenomenon ‘the It’ [which anglicized psychoanalysis calls the ‘id’);

(2) The ‘internalized others’ (mainly memories of encountering mother and father, etc.; which Freud called the over-I [and which anglicized psychoanalysis calls the ‘superego’]); and:

(3) The ‘socialized personality’ – or the shape we take on because of how we are treated in our social encounters – (which Freud called ‘the I’, [and which anglicized psychoanalysis calls ‘the ego’).

Freud argued that part of every person was conscious and part was non-conscious; and that idea is no longer contested.  However, today, we think of the non-conscious part of the brain-mind as ‘the adaptive unconscious’, which allows us to process our encounters with our environment without having to take conscious thought, most of the time. (Gladwell, 2006).

Freud’s system of psychoanalysis was slow and difficult, and involved trying to externalize the contents of the non-conscious part of the mind of the patient/client. He also over-emphasized the role of our sexual development in the emergence of psychological difficulties; and failed to take account of the importance of the relationship of attachment between the mother and her child. But that relationship plays a crucial role in shaping the future personality and emotional stability of the child.

Then along came Dr Eric Berne. Berne was born in Canada, and moved to America at the age of twenty-five years, to pursue his medical internship. He became a medical doctor and trained psychiatrist, who, at the end of the Second World War, was interested in finding ways of making psychoanalysis more accessible to ordinary people, in a way that was simpler, quicker, more user-friendly and more efficient than Freud’s approach.

B2 Origins

Dr Eric Berne began to develop his popularized approach to psycho-therapy somewhere in the 1940s, when he was a US Army medical officer; but his first paper on Transactional Analysis (TA) proper did not appear until 1957 (according to Stewart, 1989)[i].  Much work was done in the 1950’s and ‘60’s, with his famous book, Games People Play, which appeared in 1964; and What Do You Say After You Say Hello? – which appeared in 1972 (after Berne’s early death in 1970).

Transactional Analysis (TA) really began when Dr Berne was working with a successful lawyer as a therapy client.  This lawyer felt very much like a competent adult in his work, but he had an occasional tendency to say; “I’m not really a lawyer.  I’m just a little boy!”[ii]

Eventually Berne realized that the lawyer operated from ‘different places’ within himself; or ‘different states of the ego’ – meaning different parts of his personality.

Berne and a group of collaborators began to investigate those ‘ego states’, listening to audio recordings of psychotherapy sessions, and identifying the ‘places’ that the patient and the therapist were ‘transacting’ from.

Out of this research/practice process came the insight that we humans operate from different ego states, depending on the external circumstances of our social encounters, and our personal life histories.

B3 The development of ego states over time

Berne focused his system mainly on the ‘I’, or ‘ego’, and came up with the inspired insight that each individual begins life as a child, grows and develops (through a Little Professor stage, and then a more Adult stage), and that we internalize experiences of our actual parents relating to us.

In the process, all of those stages of development, and all of those experiences, are stored in the individual’s memory banks, so that we each have

– a Child part to our ego (or childlike-I);

– an Adult part to our ego (or adult-like-I); and

– a Parent part to our ego (or parent-like-I).

And, in our encounters, or transactions with others, we operate from one such part of our personality, to another such part of the other person’s brain-mind: (See Figure B1(b) below.

The Adult part of us is partly a result of innate psychological development (as argued by Jean Piaget), and partly a result of our socialization (as argued by Lev Vygotsky).  It uses language-based logic and reason to ‘compute’ the world of experience (but it also uses intuition, and emotional information). And it is largely non-conscious, and capable of being conscious; but not conscious of everything which is stored non-consciously!

The Parent part of us is copied from our parents, so that, when we are ‘in Parent ego state’ we are most often thinking, feeling and acting just like some parent figure from our family: mother, father, granny, granddad, etc.

 

Figure B1(b): Adult-to-Adult functioning

This is how Berne described TA and his ego state model, back in 1975, in his book entitled, What do you say after you say hello? 

“The basic interest of transactional analysis is the study of ego states, which are coherent systems of thought and feeling manifested by corresponding patterns of behaviour.  Each human being exhibits three types of ego states.

“(1) Those derived from parental figures, colloquially called the Parent.  In this state, s/he feels, thinks, acts, talks and responds just as one of his/her parents did when s/he was little. This ego state is active, for example, in raising his/her own children.  Even when s/he is not actually exhibiting this ego state, it influences his/her behaviour as the ‘parental influence’, performing the functions of a conscience.

“(2) The ego state in which s/he appraises his/her environment objectively, and calculates its possibilities and probabilities on the basis of past experience, is called the Adult ego state, or the Adult.  The Adult functions like a computer”.  (But, remember, computers do not have feelings and emotions, and your Adult ego state does!)

“(3) Each person carries within (themselves) a little boy or little girl, who feels, thinks, acts, talks and responds just the way he or she did when he or she was a child of a certain age.  This ego state is called the Child.  The Child is not regarded as ‘childish’ or ‘immature’, which are Parental words, but as childlike, meaning like a child of a certain age, and the important factor here is the age, which may be anywhere between two and five years in ordinary circumstances.  It is important for the individual to understand his/her Child, not only because it is going to be with him/her all their lifetime, but also because it is the most valuable part of his/her personality”. (Pages 11/12, Berne 1975).

Berne further theorized that, to be optimally effective, an individual needs to learn to function mainly with their adult-like-I (or Adult ego state) in the driving seat of their life – or what he called having the Adult in the Executive Position, or running the show.

Figure B2: The basic PAC model

The Parent ego state was seen as having good and bad aspects, and so it was important to learn to distinguish between those aspects, and to mainly utilize the good (healthy and helpful) aspects of that ego state.

The Child ego state was also seen as having good and bad aspects, and the good (healthy and helpful) aspects were to be promoted, and the bad aspects controlled or regulated.

Thus it became possible for a psychoanalyst to talk to virtually any emotionally disturbed former soldier, demobbed from the US Army, about whether they were functioning in an appropriately Adult way, or an unhelpful Child or Parent way.

One of the things Berne overlooked was this: The Adult ego state can be used to set up a helpful charitable cause (which I call Good Adult), or to rob a bank (which I call Bad Adult)!  That is to say, the Adult ego state, just like Parent and Child, has a good side and bad side!

B4 A review of the ego-state model of TA

Revision is the key to sound learning.  We need to get the same information in various ways, with variations, in order to build up a three dimensional sense of the field we are studying.  Let us begin by reviewing the basic theory of ego states.  I want to do this by presenting two questions from TA Mini-paper No.6, which I completed in 2002 as part of my Diploma in Counselling Psychology and Psychotherapy.

B4.1 Exactly what is an ego state?

Ego states are patterns of thinking, feeling and behaviour – the main ones being Parent, Adult and Child – abbreviated to P, A and C.

8 P. The Parent ego state is normally shown as split between Controlling Parent (CP) and Nurturing Parent (NP).  But both CP and NP also have a good and bad side. (See Figure B3 on the next page).

Parent ego state is copied from actual parent figures from the past.

8 A. The Adult ego state is assumed to be based on age-specific ‘reality appraisal’, which tends to be fairly logical and rational (but underpinned by emotional evaluations, and cultural conditioning!) And again, split between a Good [pro-social, empathic] side and a Bad [antisocial, selfish] side);

And Finally:

8 C. The Child ego state is a relic of childhood, whereby we think, feel and act as we once did as a child.  (Sometimes we are in [good or Bad] Adapted Child [AC], and sometimes in [Good or Bad] Free Child [FC]).

Figure B3: Elaborated model of the ego states

We tend to move around between ego states, depending upon the incoming stimulus (or what is impinging upon our attention); and we tend to have a set pattern of relating in particular situations, which may be high on Parent; high on Child; or high on Adult; where ‘high on’ means that we spend a lot of time/energy in that particular ego state. When we communicate with each other, we operate from a specific ego state each time, and we also tend to address a specific ego state in the other person.

However, sometimes we may speak to another person, intending this to be an Adult-to-Adult communication, but they, for whatever reason, hear it as a Parent-to-Child communication, and either rebel (from RC) or adapt (from AC).

And it is also possible that the person you speak to (from your Adult ego state) is so locked into their Parent ego state, that they will reply from Parent, and try to (or tend to) hook our Child ego state.

The possible combinations of potential transactions are shown in the next illustration:

Figure B4: Potential transactions between ego states

Person A can speak or act from their Parent, Adult or Child ego states, to any of Person B’s ego states; and vice versa.  And, in practice, they can operate from any of the subdivisions of their ego states (for example Good Nurturing Parent to Bad Rebellious Child).

For most purposes, Adult-to-Adult interactions are best; but we need to use the (Good) Controlling Parent ego state when we are in parenting or supervising roles.  And our good manners mainly come from our (Good) Adapted Child ego state.  However, it is our aim to have our Adult ego state in the Executive Position of our personality, and to use the other good ego states under the general management of our Adult ego state.

~~~

B4.2 A more detailed description of the ego states

(P) Parent: The Parent or extero-psychic ego state is a set of feelings, thoughts, attitudes and behaviours which resemble those of parent figures.  It contains controlling and nurturing aspects.

When I am ‘in Parent ego state’, I am thinking, feeling and acting just like some real parent figure from my past (my mother, father, grandparent, teacher, etc.)

There are two main subdivisions of the Parent ego state: identified as the Nurturing Parent (NP) and the Controlling Parent (CP). Then there is something called the ‘Critical Parent’. In E-CENT counselling, we think of the Critical Parent as the Bad Controlling Parent.  It is negative, destructive criticism, or criticism which is not aimed at either the best interest of the child, nor at the best interests of society, but rather at some selfish, personal interest of the person doing the criticizing.  On the other hand, the Good Controlling Parent acts in the (ultimate) best interests of the child and the family/community/society; and the Good Controlling Parent tends to be assertive rather than aggressive.

(A) Adult: When in the Adult or neo-psychic ego state, the person (relatively) autonomously and (relatively) objectively appraises reality and makes judgements (but not without any emotional component!)  The Adult ego state functions like a partially self-programming probability computer, which computes on the basis of socially agreed rules of behaviour, social understandings, and well-regulated emotional appraisals.

When I am in my Adult ego state, I am functioning like a ‘fleshy, cool-emotional computer’, by being relatively logical, rational and reasonable, in the here and now.

Figure B5: Nurturing and critical parent ego states

Adult language involves the use of ‘I-Statements’: “I think…”; “It seems to me…”; “I am willing (or not willing)…”; etc.

Parent language, (and especially Controlling Parent, and Critical Parent), is based on ‘You-Statements’; for examples: “You should…”; “You must…”; “You have to…”; “You are wrong, and I am right about…”, etc.

Another way of saying the same things is this:

Adult language normally consists of making preferential statements: “I would prefer it if you would… (do X instead of Y, [for example])”.  An exception would be when it comes to defending your boundaries, in which case you would use a stronger I-statement, like this: “I am unhappy about that behaviour, and I will not go along with…(X)”.

~~~

(C) Child: The Child or archaeo-psychic ego state is a set of feelings, thoughts, attitudes and behavioural patterns which are historical relics of an individual’s childhood.

When I am in my Child ego state, I am thinking, feeling and behaving just like I once did as a little boy.  I may be adapting to others (Adapted Child ego state), rebelling against them (Rebellious Child ego state), or operating more authentically and autonomously (Free or Natural Child ego state).  And each of those states can be either good or bad, as follows (where + means Good, and – means bad):

+FC = Good Free Child ego state.

– FC = Bad Free Child ego state.

+AC = Good Adapted Child ego state.

-AC = Bad Adapted Child ego state.

To quote an online description: “Child Ego State can be inferred from (i) the Physical state such as emotionally sad expressions, despair, temper tantrums, whining voice, rolling eyes, shrugging shoulders, teasing, delight, laughter, speaking behind hand, raising hand to speak, squirming and giggling and (ii) the Verbal cues such as baby talk, I wish, I don’t know, I want, I’m going to, I don’t care, oh no, not again, things never go right for me, worst day of my life, bigger, biggest, best, many superlatives, words to impress.” Source[iii].

Note: The Adult ego state should also be seen as split down the middle, between a Good side (or Good Wolf side) and a Bad side (or Bad Wolf side).

~~~

To find out more about your own ego states, you could complete a TA Quiz which can be found by searching on the Internet for this web address: https://tinyurl.com/he4f2sb

The value of TA questionnaires was brought home to me way back in 1984, when my wife (Renata) and I completed brief questionnaires during marriage guidance counselling, with a TA therapist, and we discovered that, while I scored higher on Controlling Parent than I did on Adult, Renata scored higher on Adapted/Rebellious Child than she did on Adult.  This allowed us both to see that we would have to figure out how to become more Adult in our day to day functioning.  Or as Renata wrote recently:

“In a strong marriage, there’s a transition from Child ego state, and Parent ego state, to Adult function. We have to keep the Adult ego state in the Executive Position, or in control of our interactions”.  Renata Taylor-Byrne

The aim of TA is to help you to get your Adult ego state in the Executive Position of your personality, which allows the Adult to control your decisions as to when it is appropriate and/or inappropriate to operate from Parent; and when it is appropriate and/or inappropriate to operate from Child ego state.  Also, to review your life position, and opt for the ‘I’m OK – you’re OK’ position (which is described further down this page).  The third major aim of TA is to help the client to ‘re-decide’ about any childhood decisions (or ‘scripts’) which are not serving them well as adults.

One way to grow your Adult ego state is to study the Six Windows Model of E-CENT counselling, and/or Critical Thinking skills.

~~~

B4.3 Revision:

The Parent ego state has two sub-divisions: the Nurturing Parent ego state, and the Controlling Parent ego state.  Both of these states has a positive and a negative side.

Nurturing Parent ego state can be helpful to others, and supportive, loving and caring; but it can also come on as the ‘smother mother’ or the over-solicitous, rescuing dad (and rescuing can be depowering to children seeking to achieve autonomy).

The Controlling Parent ego state is needed in parenting, in the process of setting reasonable boundaries for children; and teaching them a moral code.  However, it can be overused in adult relationships, where it shows up as domination and lack of democratic sharing.

The Child ego state also has two subdivisions: the Natural (or Free) Child ego state, and the Adapted/Rebellious Child ego state.  Again, both of these states have a good and bad side.

The Free Child ego state is the source of play and creativity; but it is also capable of engendering risky behaviours (fast driving, hard drugs, unprotected sex) which threaten the survival of the individual.

And the Adapted/ Rebellious Child ego state has the positive tendency to be pro-social and cooperative, and the negative tendency to be too conformist and weak in relation to bullies.

In E-CENT counselling theory, we argue that the Adult ego state is as split as the Parent and Child.  For example, the Good Adult ego state might design a new approach to bridge building, and make bridges safer for public use; while the Bad Adult ego state might spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to break into the Bank of England to steal all the gold bullion stored there.  Both states might be equally logical and effective in their strategic thinking, but one is immoral and the other is moral.  (More below).

~~~

B4.4 Revision exercises:

Recall a time when you were clearly operating from your Controlling Parent ego state.  What were you thinking, feeling and doing?  Describe the situation and the people involved, and the ego states of those other individuals.  What were the consequences for you of acting in that way?

Recall a time when you were clearly operating from your Adapted or Rebellious Child ego state.  What were you thinking, feeling and doing?  Describe the situation.  Who else was involved?  What ego states were they in?  What were the consequences for you of acting from Child ego state?

Recall a time when you were clearly operating from your Adult ego state.  What were you thinking, feeling and doing?  What was the situation; who else was involved; and did you benefit from being in Adult?

~~~

Recall a time when somebody, to whom you were related, was operating from Child ego state.  What happened?  Was this because you were operating from your Parent with them?  If so, how could you have switched to Adult, and invited an Adult response from them?

Recall a time when you seemed to be stuck in Child ego state with somebody to whom you were related.  What happened?  Was this because they were operating from Parent with you?  What could you have done to get out of Child ego state? (If you cannot think of any way to get out of Child when somebody is relating to you from Controlling Parent, read on).

~~~

B4.5 ‘Parent-stoppers’ as self-protection

In general, in order to get out of Parent or Child ego states, you need to ask yourself a question?

What am I doing here?  Why am I responding like this?  What would be a more Adult way to behave?

To block somebody who keeps coming at you from Parent, it is not a good idea to simply react against them.  That puts you in Rebellious Child ego state, and encourages them to keep trying to dominate you.  What you could do instead is:

(1) Acknowledge their message by responding from your Adapted Child ego state.  (You could say: ‘I got that’; or ‘I hear what you are saying’); then:

(2) Ask yourself a question, like this: ‘How can I get them into Adult?’  This question will move you to Adult (because you can only think about the answer to a question when you are in Adult ego state); and:

(3) From there you can figure out an Adult-to-Adult statement to make to them, thus escaping from the Child state in you, which they were (consciously nor non-consciously) addressing, and/or trying to ‘hook’.

Another way to block somebody who is in Critical Parent with you is to find something to agree with about what they are saying – e.g. ‘You might be right about that’.  Or: ‘Perhaps I could have done it better…’, or whatever. This process is called ‘fogging’.  (See Appendix C, below).

~~~ 

B4.6 Staying in Your Adult ego state

One of the challenges in life is to stay in your Adult ego state when somebody is trying to hook your Adapted Child ego state from their Controlling Parent ego state.  Using what you learned above, how would you respond (from Adult) to somebody who came at you like this:

Authoritarian statement 1. “Just look at the state of this room.  You should keep it much cleaner than this!”

Your response (from Adult):

~~~

Authoritarian statement 2. “What do you think you are doing (with that work task)?  You ought to know better than to do it like that!”

Your response (from Adult):

~~~

Authoritarian statement 3. “You don’t want to do it like that.  Do it like this!”

Your response (from Adult):

If you’re not sure how to respond, remember the skill of Fogging.  Remember how to cross a transaction.  (Crossed transactions come to a halt). Or use reflective listening: (for example: “You think I should do it your way!”.)

~~~

B4.7 What are games and how do people develop them?

A game (or psychological game), in TA, is a repetitive sequence of transactions in which both parties end up feeling a ‘racket feeling’ (or substitute feeling).  It always includes a switch[iv] and a payoff, and one or both parties end up feeling bad.

We develop games as young children when we notice in our family that certain feelings are encouraged while others are prohibited.  To get our strokes – or signs of acceptance/affection and/or recognition from significant others (like parents, etc.) – we may decide to feel only the permitted feelings, and to relate from the set piece positions of Victim, Persecutor, and/or Rescuer.  According to Stewart and Joines (1991): “People play games without being aware they are doing so”. (Page 6).

In his early book, ‘Games People Play’, Dr Eric Berne presented a long list of common psychological games that people play, with various degrees of intensity.  The most memorable of those games for me were:

# Now I’ve got you, you sonofabitch.

# Ain’t it awful.

# Wooden leg.

#Why don’t you…?  Yes, but…!

# Cops and robbers.

# Kick me.

And many, many others.  He presented an analysis of each game, including (sometimes!) its antidote.  But this all proved too complex for me.  I later discovered Claude Steiner’s model, whereby all psychological games can be understood as being played form one or other of the three dysfunctional quadrants of the OK corral, as follows:

# I’m OK – You’re Not-OK!

# I’m Not-OK – You are OK!

# I’m Not-OK – And you’re Not-OK!

Any sequence of moves, normally involving the identification of a Victim, Persecutor and/or Rescuer, which is clearly played from one of the three Not-OK positions, is by definition a dysfunctional psychological game.

~~~

The main clues that we are stuck in playing a game, based on the definition above, include:

  1. The fact that it is repetitive.  It happens to us over and over again, often with different partners.
  2. It is predictable.  Anyone watching would be able to predict the sequence of events and the outcome (the payoff).
  3. It involves ulterior (or hidden) transactions, as well as the visible, social-level transactions.  We know we are not saying what is really going on.
  4. There is a switch.  At a certain point the communication shifts and the ulterior element is revealed.
  5. One or both parties involved get a negative payoff.  We feel bad feelings (of being not-OK.)

~~~

Games are fundamentally unhealthy (psychologically), but they are played for certain unhealthy advantages they provide.  Essentially, negative strokes are better than no strokes at all.  And so the ‘advantage’ of the game is that at least you get a negative stroke. But it is far better if we can learn to operate from the “I’m-OK/You’re-OK” position; and to aim for intimacy with others – which means revealing who we are, and relating honestly to the other person.

~~~

The quickest and easiest way to get out of playing psychological games with others is to operate from the life position which says ‘I’m OK’ (or acceptable to myself), and ‘You’re OK’ (or acceptable to me), exactly the (imperfect) way we both happen to be right now.  (More below – when we talk about the OK Corral).

If you can learn to operate from intimacy with the people in your life, you can have a much happier and healthier life than if you play psychological games.

~~~

According to Claude Steiner, psychological game playing is the essence of how we keep our ‘life script’ going.  Our life script is a story we made up when we were very young, about who we are, and how our life will unfold, and what our ultimate destination in life is going to be.  Abstracting the elements which have been targeted by Teachworth (1999), we could say that your life script, in the area of relationships, is some version of the story of what you saw going on between your parents when you were very young.  And the games you play with your partner today are building blocks to make that script a reality in your relationship today. For examples, two popular games are: “Now I’ve got you, you sonofabitch!”; followed by “Poor me!”

Karpman (1968) narrowed the roles played in those nasty psychological games to the three mentioned above: Victim, Persecutor, and Rescuer.

You might be sceptical of the role of scripts and games in shaping human behaviour, because they are invisible.  But remember, the strings of ones and zeroes – which are mediating between the keys I am striking on this keyboard and the words that appear on the screen in front of me (and the page in front of you) – are also invisible.  And there is lots of research which suggests that our emotions are ‘narrative emplotments’, or stories.  (See Sarbin, 1989 and 2001).

Corey (2001) makes a similar point – summarizing the Narrative Therapy position developed by Epston and White (1990):

“…individuals construct the meaning of life in interpretive stories, which are then treated as ‘truth’.  The construction of meaning can happen monologically (by oneself) or dialogically (with others), with the latter having the greater power in our lives because we are social beings.  In this sense, an individual is most often a socially constructed narrative system”.

Although we normally are strongly influenced by socially constructed narrative schemas (or scripts, stories, frames, etc.), which means that we live inside of individually constructed and socially constructed stories in our heads and bodies, we also live in a real world – a concrete reality – and our negative or depowering stories produce negative and depowering consequences for us in our lived experience.  Or as Corey (2001) puts it: “The process of living our story is not simply metaphorical; it is very real, with real effects and real consequences in family and societal systems.  Families are small social systems with communal narratives that express their values and meanings, which are embedded in larger systems, such as culture and society”.  (Page 431).

See also Byrne (2018b) on scripts and stories.

(Section B4.9.2 below provides a good definition of a life script.  See also section B4.9.2 below, on how to analyze your life for evidence of scripting.  Then, section B4.9.4, on how to break out of a negative life script.  And then section B4.9.3 on the importance of writing stories about aspect of your life, in order to process your negative experiences, and to get a better life script, and thereby a better future.)

Games, as such, are not well researched, because of lack of interest in the field of psychology in general.  However, it is intuitively obvious that some people approach others from the position of trying to Rescue them; some try to Persecute others; and some people come on like perpetual Victims.  And working on the writing of our life stories, in the form of writing therapy, very reliably changes human behaviour.

A minority of people seem to be able to get to the position of thinking of themselves and others as being basically OK, or acceptable.  Most people find that very difficult.

We promote the idea that everybody is born basically equal; that some become more unequal materially; or academically; or in terms of social capital; but we retain a basic equality given by our humanity.  We accept others as OK, so long as they are basically moral and acting in accordance with reasonable legal systems.

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B4.8 TA in E-CENT counselling

This is a brief overview of the elements of TA that we teach in E-CENT counselling:

(1) It is important for each client to ‘grow their Adult ego state’; to shrink their Good Controlling Parent; and to exclude their Bad Controlling Parent ego states. It is also important to shrink their Good Adapted/Rebellious Child ego states, and to exclude their Bad Adapted/Rebellious Child ego states. They also need to eliminate their Bad Nurturing Parent (smother mother; rescuing dad; and other versions of ‘nurturing’ for bad motives, or with bad effects!)

(2) That one of the best ways to grow the Adult ego state is to learn the Six Windows Model of E-CENT. Another is to study Critical Thinking skills (e.g. Bowell and Kemp, 2003)*.

(*Bowell, T. and Kemp, G. [2005] Critical Thinking: A concise guide.  Second edition.  London: Routledge.)

(3) It is important to ‘filter’ Nurturing Parent behaviour through the Adult ego state (to make sure it is appropriate, and not some form of self-defeating or other-defeating Rescuer behaviour); and to keep the Adult ego state in the ‘executive position’ at all times.

(4) It is important to ‘play’ (or engage in recreational relating), from Natural (or Free) Child ego state, but again this should be ‘filtered’ through the Adult ego state, which should monitor the appropriacy/riskiness of particular acts of play.

(5) It’s important to operate from a life position that ‘I’m OK (or acceptable to myself), and You’re OK (or acceptable to me)’, exactly the way we both are at the moment – even if we both could benefit from some improvements in our behaviour.  (See the OK Corral below). However, unlike person centred (Rogerian) counsellors, and Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapists, we in E-CENT do not accept ourselves or other people unconditionally.  We teach the importance of moral behaviour, and we teach that a person does indeed become ‘a bad person’ if and when they cross a particular line in terms of ‘growing their Bad Wolf’, and neglecting the influence of their ‘Good wolf’ side. (See Appendix F).

(6) In keeping with the concept of the “innate Good and Bad wolf” aspect of each individual, which is central to E-CENT, we also teach that the TA model should be subdivided as follows, between the ‘good side’ and the ‘bad side’ of each of the five ego states:

Figure B6: The good and bad sides of human functioning

Every ego state, including Nurturing Parent and Adult, can be operated from the good or bad side of the individual, with good or bad motives, and with good or bad consequences.

There is an objective case that can be made that each of us has to learn how to become a ‘good citizen’, a ‘good character’, in order to facilitate the smooth running of our family, local community and work environment.

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The other aspect of the TA model that we use in E-CENT is the OK-corral, which has four ‘life positions’, as follows:

Figure B7 – The OK-corral showing the four life positions

Of the four positions that an individual can adopt towards themselves and others, only that shown in box 1 is emotionally healthy.  That is the “I’m OK – You’re OK” life position, which leads to good human relations.

All of the others lead to poor human relations outcomes.

Operating from Box 2 can lead to exploiting and abusing others, or being angry or dismissive towards them.

Operating from Box 3 can result in the individual becoming a ‘door mat’ for others, by being too passive and compliant.

And operating from Box 4 is a dark, nihilistic place which is likely to be found among sociopaths and suicides and very angry, self-loathing depressives.

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Learning how to operate from the I’m OK- You’re OK position is the quickest and easiest way to avoid engaging in ‘psychological games’.  Games are a nasty form of interaction which are played on the Drama Triangle, which involves three players, or two players playing three roles.  Those roles are Victim, Persecutor and Rescuer.

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So, in E-CENT counselling and therapy, we teach at least four aspects of TA:

– The ego state model (or 10-part PAC model shown in Figures 3 and 6 above);

– The OK-corral (or Four Life Positions);

– Script theory (or self-narratives); and:

– The Drama Triangle.

We do this to some degree via work in sessions; but also by the use of educational pamphlets and handouts, and follow-up discussion.  We also use the chair-work approach developed in Impact Therapy, where we use three chairs to represent the Parent, Adult and Child, and teach the client to reflect on this question: “Which chair am I on right now, and how can I get back to the Adult chair?”

We teach the “I’m OK – You’re OK” position, by getting the client involved in enactive exercises with others to unlearn their “habitual box (or Life Position [Ok, Not-OK])” and to learn how to get into and stay in Box 1, above – the “I’m OK – You’re OK” position.

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B4.9 Scripts and stories

We also teach our clients that they “live inside of stories” about who they are, where they are, who the other players are, and how life will or must proceed. This has a lot in common with the TA concept of ‘script decisions’.  Just as in E-CENT, in TA scripts are seen as decisions made in early childhood about who I am, what my life is like, and how my life is going to unfold.  These scripts or stories are stored below the level of conscious awareness – as part of the ‘adaptive unconscious’ – which effectively puts them in the driving seat of our lives.  Elements of the script come from parental injunctions, and some from observational learning, or modelling ourselves on people inside and outside the family home.  Those social learning elements interact with innate, genetic elements of drives, urges and predilections.

B4.9.1 What is a script?

A script, in TA, is an unconscious life plan or life story based on a decision made in childhood, reinforced by the parents, justified by subsequent experiences, and culminating in a chosen life course or destiny.  Our scripts (non-consciously) control our approach to relationships and to tasks.  They are based on childhood illusions or delusions which may persist throughout life.  They include parental programming and individual decisions in response to parental programming.

According to Stewart and Joines (1991): “By the time you were four years old, you had decided on the essentials of the plot”. (Page 99).  You continue to revise it through the milestones of reaching the age of seven, with greater ability to reason; and on through puberty into the teenage years, when we (or many of us) reach the stage of ‘formal operations’ (to use Piaget’s term) when we become more adult in our reasoning.  But the non-conscious script may still contain a lot of illogical and delusional aspects which were decided upon by the individual during the emotionally turbulent experiences of infancy.  And, at the very least, our earliest life decisions colour and shape our later life decisions.

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B4.9.2 Script analysis

The classic TA approach to script analysis consists of finding out the answers to various questions which help the therapist to reconstruct the original ‘script matrix’ – comprising the sources of the client’s script.  A classical TA therapist might use some questions like these:

  1. Think back to when you were a child, at home with your mother.

What did she say to you about the ways in which you made her happy?

 

 

 

What did she say about the ways in which you made her unhappy?

 

 

 

Are you still conforming to what she wanted from you in the way of ‘good behaviour’?

 

  1. Think back to when you were a child, and spending time with your father.

What did he say to you about the ways in which you made him happy?

 

 

 

What did he say about the ways in which you made him unhappy?

 

 

 

Are you still conforming to what he wanted from you in the way of ‘good behaviour’?

 

 

  1. Was your mother upset or scared by any of your childhood behaviours?

 

Did her fear or upset influence your behaviour?

  1. When your mother disapproved of any of your behaviours, how did you feel?

 

Do you still try to avoid feeling those feelings today?

 

  1. Was your father upset or scared by any of your childhood behaviours?

Did his fear or upset influence your behaviour?

 

  1. When your father disapproved of any of your behaviours, how did you feel?

 

Do you still try to avoid feeling those feelings today?

 

 

  1. Who was your main childhood hero?

 

 

What kind of life would you have to live to be like your hero?

 

 

 

Are you still living your life as if you were your hero, and how well is that serving you?

 

 

  1. If a Martian (or perhaps Agatha Christie’s detective, Hercule Poirot) looked at the journey you have been on through life, what might they infer about the ‘life plan’ that is guiding your life?

 

 

 

The purpose of these questions is to identify dysfunctional beliefs about life and how to best live it, so you can reflect upon, and re-decide about, the details of your life plan.

Reflective assignment: Try asking those 8 questions of yourself, and write down your answers.  What do your answers tell you about your own life script?

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B4.9.3 Writing key developmental stories

I encourage some of my clients (as appropriate) to write

(1) Their Story of Origins: (Key questions include the following):

– Where were you born?

– What were your early years like?

– Were there any childhood traumas? 

And:

(2) Their Story of Early Relationships:

– How did you get along with your mother?  Do you feel securely attached to her?

– How well did you relate to your father? Do you feel securely attached to him?

– Who else were you close to?

I promote the writing of these stories in order to discover any traumatic events during which my client may have made unhelpful decisions, and to get them to re-decide about that trauma in the here and now.  This works well, because now they are grown up, and are less vulnerable than when they were children, and thus they are able to make more sensible decisions about the meaning of their childhood experiences.

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Parents not only give us injunctions to follow, but they also tend to make attributions regarding who they see us as being, who they think we are, how they think we will grow and develop.  Those attributions act like forms of hypnotic suggestion to us, in shaping our own self-concept.  Parents can also discount our concerns, our actions or our attributes.  We tend to be able to integrate only those things which our parents allow – and to dump those aspects of our thinking, feeling, behaving that they discount.

What aspects of your childhood conditioning are you still carrying around in your head and your heart, which may be negatively affecting your current relationship?

The scripts you made up when you are a child may be still running your life, and destroying your chance of a happy relationship today!

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It is commonly held in some TA circles that scripts can be identified by a core belief, which shapes the individual’s life journey.  Ten common examples are:

I must not exist;

I must not be me;

I must not be a child;

I must not grow up;

I must not make it in life;

I must not do anything;

I must not be important;

I must not belong;

I must not be close to others;

I must not be well (physically or mentally).

The way to identify whether you or another person has any of those beliefs driving your life is to ask yourself: Is this the result I am repeatedly getting, despite consciously wanting a different outcome?

If so, then it may well be that you have such a script driver operating at non-conscious levels of mind.

B4.9.4 How to break out of a negative script

To break out of any script, you need to take these steps:

  1. Identify the ways in which your life is not working;
  2. Identify the potential sources of apparent script beliefs in your early childhood;
  3. Re-decide regarding the kind of life you want to live: to be OK; to treat others as OK;
  4. Work hard to change your dysfunctional behaviours, so you are clearly operating from healthy goals and beliefs.

None of this is easy.  It will take time.  It might require one-to-one counselling or psychotherapy.  It might require some group therapy.  It might require active learning from reading.  It might require extensive writing therapy.

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Another way to unearth your script is this:

Imagine your life is a drama, which was authored by you when you were a very young child.  Ask yourself these questions:

  1. What is it called?
  2. Is it a tragedy or a comedy; or a soap opera; or a romance; a thriller; a black farce?
  3. Where is it set?
  4. Imagine you have just been born.  Who is present?  How do they feel about you?  How do you feel about them?
  5. Now move to your school days.  Who are the key actors?  How do they relate to you?  How do you relate to them?  How do you feel?  What are your dominant thoughts and actions?
  6. Now move up to the present day.  What is the scene at the core of your life?  Who are the important actors or key players?  Who dominates the action?  What is the main action?  What do you think, feel and do in this situation?
  7. Now project into the future.  What is the journey from here to there?  Have the characters changed?  Who are the leading characters?  How happy or unhappy are you in this future scene?  What is the main action?  How do you think, feel and act in relation to the main action?
  8. Now move to the final scene.  You are on your deathbed.  Who is there with you? Or are you alone?  How do others relate to your impending death, and to you?  And what are your last words?
  9. As the play ends, and the audience gets up to leave, what do they say to each other about you and your life?

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If you do not like the shape of this drama, then you can redesign the future and the outcome.  You cannot change the past – although you can change your impressions and interpretations of the past.  To change your future, you need to commit to changes in your thinking, feeling and behaviour.

Assignment: If you do not like the drama of your life, as explored above, then please write a new script for your (improved) future life.

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[i] Stewart, I. (1989) Transactional Analysis Counselling in Action.  London: Sage.

[ii] Berne, E. (1947/1986) A Layman’s Guide to Psychiatry and Psycho-analysis.  Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.  Page 328 (Chapter Nine, Transactional Analysis, by John M. Dusay, MD).

[iii] Verma, D. (2018) 3 Types of Ego States and Transactional Interactions between Each… Available online: http://www.shareyouressays.com/knowledge/3-types-of-ego-states-and-transactional-interactions-between-each-personalities/100117.  Accessed: 5th November 2018.

[iv] Stewart and Joines (1991) define ‘switch’ like this: “… a moment when the (game) players experience that something unexpected and uncomfortable has happened”. ((Page 6).  Stewart, I. and Joines, V. (1001)TA Today: A new introduction to transactional analysis.  Nottingham: Lifespace Publishing.