Transactional Analysis Therapy (TA)

Transactions in life

According to Eric Berne, life is a series of interactions between humans. These interactions include some exchange of thought, emotion, ideas, energies, anything at all. The pattern on interaction is called a ‘stroke’. These can be positive or negative, verbal or action. There is always an exchange in the interaction. These are better understood as transactions. Each and every thing we do with anyone is a transaction. And at the end of it we land ourselves in spots that are called ‘life positions’. These determine satisfaction with ourselves and those we interact with. We want to be in the ‘best’ position, given a choice.

Ego states

Transactions occur between different ego states. There is a child ego state in each one of us: dependent and carefree, at the same time stubborn and non-agreeing. The parent can be one who is ever commanding and intimidating as well as at other times over protecting and nurturing. Eventually we have an adult in us who is realistic and makes rational choices after careful debate. The adult is comfortable and is ‘ideal’. When two people communicate, they can do best when they are in the same ego state. They stroke each other from one or the other ego states; the net result is truly what is called a transaction.

What happens really in relationships

People are always interacting with one another. They use positive strokes (understanding, love and sympathy) whereas occasionally these can be negative also (nagging, sarcasm, depreciating variety). The ego state and the stroke determine the outcome in the transaction. Frequently enough, people fail to realize their conflicting ego states and faulty strokes that impact the outcome in a disparaging manner. That is how people are let down and pained.

    • You have to listen to me; I say so (commanding parent)
    • You may be right but I wasn’t wrong (controlling parent)
    • I will not keep dancing to your whims (disobedient child)
    • I will obey you, albeit I don’t want to (conforming child)
    • You can’t leave me (passive aggressive but hateful child)

Insight into relationship dynamics can throw light on where and why things go wrong. When commanding parents are talking to aggressive children, there is going to be friction. Home, workplace, with friends or neighbors, or parent to child interactions; all seldom have positive outcomes. Concordant ego states (idealy) are required to attain ideal relationship outcomes.

Analysis of transactions

Analyzing transactions is a step towards attaining desirable positions. The ideal position to seek is ‘I am OK you are OK’. It’s not that difficult to be OK in today’s world. We become who we want to become. We get arrogant and we get defensive. We can do better; we know that too. Analyzing transactions is a step towards changing faulty patterns. If frequent positions are anything but ‘ideal’, there is definitive need to reappraise the communication to better the relationship. It is important to get to that point where we keep people OK and not rub them the wrong way to hurt them. At the same time we need to not hurt ourselves too.

Getting mindful of games

Mindfulness implies awareness of the senses, knowing the different ego states and identfying the appropriate frames of interaction. The combination of the states and their transactions are understood as games (according to Berne’s book Games People Play). These games generate conflict and impair relationships. Through the transactional analysis sessions, the therapist imparts an understanding of the different ego states, transactions, strokes and the net outcome of all of these together: games. The timed and structured sessions offer meaningful insight into the games that people play with each other and how they need to mend the transactions, use more positive strokes with each other in order to obtain favorable outcomes for themselves and those around them. This then facilitates positive relationships with everyone in the gamut of existence.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a life position?
We try our best to be happy and keep everyone else contented too. Sometimes we end up hurting others (partners or parents or employees, or friends); at other times we are miffed by them; and yet at others we see discontent within ourselves and everyone around. That is the worst position to be in. These different states we see ourselves in our life are understood in TA as life positions.

Order of Life Positions

These positions are in a specific order because this is the sequence of desirable ascent.

  • I am OK you are OK
  • I am OK you are not OK
  • I am not OK you are OK
  • I am not OK you are not OK

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a stroke?
A stroke is an acknowledgment, notice or responsiveness that one person gives another. In its literal sense it is a stimulus generated by one person that generates a response in the other. Everyone needs strokes: positive does not matter. If a mother fails to give attention to a child who wants her to listen to his poem, the child will break a vase in the living room to grab her attention. Everyone desires strokes.

Types of strokes

There are different modalities of interaction between people:

  • Positive: Gentle pat on the back
  • Negative: Criticizing someone
  • Verbal: Saying words of praise
  • Action: To slap someone in anger
  • External: Someone offering food
  • Internal: A desire to eat something
  • Ambivalent: You look different