Transactional Analysis

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Transactional Analysis (TA) is a psychological theory, developed by Eric Berne in the 1960s, that helps explain why we think, act and feel the way we do.

  • We all have three ‘ego states’ (Parent, Adult, and Child)
  • We all have transactions (with other people, or internally with ourselves)
  • We all (unconsciously) activate our ego states in our transactions, which can lead to conflict, negative emotions, pain, etc.

The opening communication is called stimulus and the reply is called response.Transaction is a transactional stimulus plus a transactional response. In the analysis of transactions, we use ego state models to help explain what goes on during this process of communication.

Ego states: Parent, Adult & Child

These ego states are being activated all the time, whether we’re aware of it or not:

Parent (rooted in the past) — Contains the attitudes, feelings, and behaviour incorporated from our parents (or any primary caregiver). It involves responding as one of our parents would have: saying what they would have said, feeling what they would have felt, behaving how they would have behaved.

When you were a kid how do you remember your parents behaving? Were they critical? Distrustful of others? Overly cautious? Reckless? What were their beliefs about the world, money, people, etc.

  • nurturing parent: caring, loving, helping
  • controlling parent: criticising, reprimanding, censoring, punishing, etc.

Adult (rooted in the present) — Our ability to think and act based on what’s happening in the here and now. These are straightforward, without a lot of emotional triggers.

Your questions/comments are inspired by compassion and curiosity, or the desire to blame, criticise or prove a point is a good way to know, if your Adult ego state is activated.

Child (rooted in the past) — Contains the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that we experienced as a child.

When you were a kid what do you remember feeling? What was a theme in your interaction with your parents? Were you always fighting for their attention? Did you feel unconditional love? Did you feel that you needed to prove yourself?

  • Natural child: vulnerable, creative, open, loving, un-self aware.
  • Little Professor : Curious, exploring , always trying new stuff (often much to their Controlling Parent’s annoyance). Together with the Natural Child they make up the Free Child.
  • Adaptive child: guilty, afraid, depressed, anxious, envious, prideful, trying to please everyone

By adaptive child Dr.Berne meant the most troublesome parts of our personality. It developed as we learned to change (adapt) our feelings and behaviour in response to the world around us.

The summary is as follows:

Parent – taught concept
Child – felt concept
Adult – learned concept

Every person’s Parent and Child ego states are different. In some people when child ego state is activated they become quieter, they don’t talk to anybody. Other people’s Child may get defensive or lash out. It all depends on the patterns you picked up as a child.

One of the tools used by a Transactional Analysis practitioner is a structural diagram. A structural diagram represents the complete personality of any individual. •Transactional Analysts will then construct a diagram showing the ego states involved in a particular transaction. •The transaction to the right shows a Parent – Child transaction, with the Child ego state providing the transactional stimulus, and the Adult responding with the transactional response.

Complementary Transaction


Complementary transaction is the one in which the transactional vectors are parallel and the ego state addressed is the one which responds.

Adult to Adult

A: “It’s lovely weather for this time of year.”
B: “Yes, isn’t it nice to see the sun.”

Child to Parent

A: “Ow! I’ve hurt myself”
B: “Oh dear, come here and let me give you first aid”.

Child to Child

A: ‘Would you like to skip this office meeting today and go watch a film with me instead?’ (Child to Child)
B: ‘I’d love to – I am also tired, working on the same report since morning. What should we go and see?’ (Child to Child)

These transactions are healthy and represent normal human interactions. According to Dr.Berne “communication will proceed as long as transactions are complementary

Crossed Transaction

A crossed transaction is one in which the transactional vectors are not parallel, or in which the ego state addressed is not the one which responds.

A: “Can you tell me where are my keys?” (Adult)
B: “Why are you always rushing me?” (Adapted Child)

A: “Can you tell me where are my keys?” (Adult)
B: “You are so careless. When will you learn ?” (Critical Parent)

A: ‘Have you made that presentation?’ (Adult to Adult)
B: “Will you stop bothering me? I’ll send it, once it is done (Child to Parent)
A: “If you don’t change your attitude, you’ll get fired.” (Parent to Child)

When a transaction is crossed, a break in communication results and one or both individuals will need to shift ego states in order for communication to be re-established.

Ulterior Transaction

Two messages are conveyed at the same time. One of these is an overt or social level message. The other is a covert or psychological level message. Most often, the social level content is Adult-Adult. The psychological level messages are usually either Parent –Child or Child –Parent.

Duplex ulterior transaction : is one in which there is more than one level of communication. There is the social message – what we say, and the psychological message – what we mean.In the case of an ulterior transaction the explicit social conversation occurs in parallel with an implicit psychological transaction; for example:


A: “Would you like to have a cup of coffee with me , after office hours.” (Adult words), body language indicates intent (flirtatious Child)
B: “Of course, anything for a cup of coffee” (Adult response to Adult statement), winking or grinning (Child accepts the hidden motive).

The complex transactions which take place at two levels simultaneously are complementary because if there is a crossed transaction, the communication will stop in one way or another as in case of sarcasm.When someone is sarcastic, what they say is the opposite of what they mean. The person who they are being sarcastic to picks up the psychological message rather than the social message. When this happens the transaction is said to be ulterior.

Angular Ulterior transaction is described as one in which one person gives an open message accompanied by a hidden message, and the second person gives an open message which is a response to the hidden message.

A(Sales Person): “This one is better, but you can’t afford it” (Adult-Adult angled at Adult-Child) B (House wife:) “That’s the one I will take”. I’ll show that arrogant guy I’m as good as any of his customers (Child-Adult)

Internal transaction: is a way of describing what a person may do inside his or her head. Each person can shift ego states and hold a conversation between parent, adult and child inside the self.

Bulls Eye Transaction : when a stimulus from one person appeals to all the ego states (Parent, Adult and child) of the other person simultaneously. It is direct and short. For example-” I know, you can do it.”

Carom Transaction is three handed.One person speaks to another while hoping to influence the third one who can overhear it. For example, a man may be too fearful to speak directly to is boss, so says something to a co – worker, hoping the boss will get the message.

Diluted Transaction :These are often half hostile, half affectionate. •The message is buried in some form of kidding. • For example, one student may say to another, “Hey genius, are you scoring 100% in exams ?.” The other one replies “ What about you, will you stay in the same class ?”

Weak Transaction : are those that are superficial, perfunctory and lack feeling of intensity. Such is the case if a wife says to husband, “I wonder if we should go out for dinner tonight”, and he responds “ I don’t care dear. Whatever you say, dear.”

Gallow Transaction :Any smiling response to a  person’s misfortune may serve as a gallows transaction. This inappropriate smile or laugh is described by Claude Steiner as the gallows transaction. The smile serves to tighten the noose and destructive behaviour is reinforced.

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