Unconscious Constraints to Freedom and Responsibility

by Fanita English, MSW, – TM.



Definitions of Freedom and Responsibility vary according to context, family, culture, and religion,

Our personal views and behaviors are also significantly affected by one or more of three UNCONSCIOUS MOTIVATORS that channel our emotional energy through our ego states. They are:-

1) The Survival Motivator (“Survia”) which operates primarily for personal survival, so we care about safety and physical and emotional nourishment (strokes).

2) The Passionate/Expressive Motivator (“Passia”) which urges activity for personal freedom, curiosity, exploration, sexuality, and self-expression, without regard for conventionality or strokes.

3) The Transcience/Quiescence Motivator (“Transcia”) which influences us to “let go” of every-day concerns, and to sleep.

Each Motivator has different characteristic attributes. They are the particular feelings, emotions, attitudes, thoughts and behaviors that may be engendered or stimulated within any one of our functional ego states by the corresponding Motivator. A list of some attributes for each Motivator is attached.

A person may experience many inner conflicts between the inner dictates of freedom loving Passia and what cautious Survia might advocate as responsible behavior. Such dilemmas can be multiplied in social relationships, as illustrated by examples.

Emotional balance is maintained by rotation among our Motivators, although we each tend to have a preferred Motivator that will affect us primarily for major decisions.





The late Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes was a staunch defender of freedom, yet he proclaimed: ” Liberty does not give you the license to scream ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre.” I suppose most of us would agree with the implication of this statement, which is that however much we value personal freedom, sometimes responsibility to others may have to curtail even freedom of speech, let alone behavior.


However, as soon as we try to define “others” more narrowly, we come up different definitions of freedom and responsibility, according to many different values:- those of our particular family, our culture, our religion, and/or our own conscience as defined either by our Parent, our Adult, or the felt needs of our Child. We may find much dissonance among different definitions, and experience some discomfort if we seek to reconcile ensuing contradictions in our own mind. This is because we are constantly being influenced unconsciously by three Motivators that operate our emotional energy in three divergent ways.


I have described these Motivators, (which I formerly called Forces or Drives) and how they interact with our functional ego states, in a videotape produced by ITAA (English, l998) and in a chapter in a book. (English, 2oo3). I suggested that we can visualize our Motivators as three Goddesses or Muses who influence us. Let me now also describe them here briefly before illustrating how the same person may define both personal freedom and responsibility very differently according to whichever Motivator is operative at a given time.


Our three unconscious Motivators and their priorities are:

1. The Survival Motivator; (“Survia” for short) – which operates to ensure our personal survival.

2. The Passionate/Expressive Motivator (“Passia”) which ensures the survival of our species both by sexual procreation and by inventions and creative discoveries without which our species would have become extinct through destruction by larger animals.

3. The Transcience/Quiescence Motivator (“Transcia”) which helps us transcend every-day reality and “let go” to quietude, including sleep.


Each Motivator influences us is by means of different characteristic attributes that can be experienced or manifested in any one of our three ego states. Attributes are the particular feelings, emotions, attitudes, thoughts, (and, sometimes, behaviors) that may be engendered or stimulated within any one of our functional ego states by a particular Motivator. For instance:

Hunger, an attribute of Survia, may motivate someone to get the nourishment needed to live. Fear, another attribute of Survia, motivates to self-protection.

The urge for free self-expression, an attribute of Passia, may lead to the creativity that has benefited our species. Recklessness, another attribute of Passia, may lead to exploration and discoveries.

Quietude, an attribute of Transcia, may help us sleep and relax. Sprituality, another attribute of Transcia, may help us soar beyond everyday reality.


Some additional attributes for each Motivator are listed at the end of this paper.. You will notice that any attribute can be seen as “positive” or “negative” according to different contexts, perspectives, or value systems. Sometimes an attribute can become counterproductive to the purposes of the Motivator which stimulates it. For instance fear is an important attribute for survival as it encourages taking appropriate safety measures. However fear can deteriorate into exaggerated anxiety and actually undermine survival . Note, also, that one Motivator may inspire certain attributes that are contradictory to attributes of another Motivator, although under certain circumstances certain attributes of two Motivators may combine quite well. For instance Passia encourages risk-taking and Survia encourages caution. A person may benefit from taking certain risks, but then again be prevented by Survia from overdoing it. All this makes for the enormous variety of attitudes and behaviors of human beings!


In the course of a typical day, each one of us will probably have been influenced by all three Motivators in some form of rotation, sometimes by a combination of two, with the third one coming on later, alone or along with one of the two others. It is thanks to such rotation that we maintain emotional balance most of the time and have the ability to use our energy effectively according to our needs and wishes. However, sometimes two Motivators may combine for too long a time and prevent the third from taking a turn, causing an inner “traffic jam”. We may then feel blocked or confused or restless or exhausted until there is relatively smooth operation again. To illustrate, take a typical day for Ann:-


In the morning Survia awakens Ann from sleep. During the night Transcia kept her sleeping, sometimes in combination with Passia, who got Ann to dream. Now Survia takes priority, as Ann goes about washing, dressing, breakfasting, etc., and Transcia retreats. Passia may stay on to combine with Survia as Ann sings in the shower or puzzles over some ideas or fantasies, but then she retreats as Survia gets Ann to focus on being careful while driving to work. In the course of the day Passia may return if Ann becomes interested in her work, and Transcia may also come on later, demanding that she take a break and relax. Or perhaps Passia comes on as Ann daydreams about her own project rather than her job assignment, till Survia reminds her the supervisor is watching and she had better concentrate on her job. So far, Ann has functioned well. Her Motivators have relayed one another or combined quite smoothly. They have not caused Ann any inner conflicts or problems with others.


However, as indicated above, if one or two Motivators dominate so much or so long that the third one is left out, there can be trouble. For instance, if Ann daydreams at her desk all day, happily combining Transcia with Passia, she may get fired, and Survia may take over with a jolt, perhaps to urge Ann to look for another job or by overwhelming her with anxiety about survival in our competitive world. Here, Ann’s freedom to daydream and her supervisor’s view of her responsibility to the company that employs her have come into conflict. Emotional turmoil can also occur as a result of an inner tug-of-war between two Motivators at times of making decisions.


Even though, as illustrated with Ann, we maintain balance when all three Motivators influence us in turn at various moments of the day, for life-time patterns, or life scripts, if you will, most of us will tend to favor a particular Motivator, the attributes of which are most likely to represent our genetic tendencies combined with acquired values in our Parent and Adult. Thus, choices between Freedom and Responsibility can be weighted very differently by each of us, according to our preferred Motivator. Furthermore, when it comes to relationships and transactions, be they between parents and adolescent children, or husband and wife, and, yes, between the individual and the social norms of his/her culture, as well as between one political system and another, definitions and ensuing rights and obligations are going to be defined very differently, precisely according to which one of the three Motivators gets priority for each person or group.


Specifically, in regard to important decisions, someone who favors Survia is likely to choose duty (defined as responsibility – whether by Adapted Child, Parent, or Adult) over individual freedoms. A person who favors Passia may disregard personal responsibilities for the sake of personal freedom, or, like certain revolutionaries, may take on responsibility for the freedom of others, according to personal ideals, without necessarily checking out their wishes or caring about consequences. Someone who favors Transcia may avoid getting involved with any social issues – an attitude others may consider to be irresponsible. Thus major conflicts may occur within families or nations, or between them, as each maintains the point of view supported by his/her own principal Motivator.


For therapists and counselors it can be useful to keep such distinctions in mind, especially in working with families, just as we need to keep cultural differences in mind when one or another parties to a conflict rigidly or passionately defends a particular stance against an equally determined stance of another party.


Here is an amusing way to identify which Motivator is affecting someone at a given moment:- On taking leave, a person might use the Parent or Child to say what is often said to the self. So a person who prefers Survia might say: “Take care! Someone with Passia might urge: “Have fun!”, and someone with Transcia might suggest: “Take it easy!”


Here are examples of major choices made by individuals between personal freedom and responsibility, as defined by them. I leave it up to you to evaluate their choices according to your own standards, which may differ even from those of your colleagues or friends.


l. Motivated by Passia, (sometimes in combination with Transcia), Gauguin felt he must have the freedom to devote his life to art. Accordingly he reneged on his socially determined responsibility to support his wife and children and moved away to Tahiti to paint. There, (according to his letters), he found willing, undemanding, sexual partners among the beautiful Tahitian women he painted. He does not seem to have felt responsible for probably having infected them with his syphilis. Now, long after his death, many of us may benefit from the beauty of Gauguin’s paintings, without noting the cost.

2. Motivated by Survia, perhaps combined with Passia, Jessica Lynch enlisted in the U.S. army to earn money for college tuition, hoping a degree might free her from getting stuck with a dull low-paid job. This was before the Iraq conflict. She had to accept responsibility for the contract she had signed, and thus did not have the freedom to refuse to be sent to Iraq . Thus her survival motivation turned out to be counterproductive and endangered her. Indeed, she was severely wounded in the legs and the very freedom for the future that she had enlisted for was severely curtailed even after discharge.


3. Due to the Chinese invasion of Tibet, the Dalai Lama had to determine what were his responsibilities under those new circumstances. Motivated by Transcia, (perhaps also Survia), he decided that rather than fight the invaders (as Passia might have urged him to do, even to the death), it was his responsibility to leave Tibet and move to India in order to have the freedom to continue to represent the spiritual legacy of Tibetan Buddhism.

Of course even when one Motivator is clearly the principal one in a person’s life, some people manage to maintain good balance among their Motivators much of the time in the course of their lives except regarding rucial decisions. Maria, (later, Madame Curie) was such an example. Obviously,, Passia was her principal Motivator. She was determined to become a scientist, and overcame numerous difficulties to come to France from her native Poland , study physics and gain the exceptional opportunity to work in a research laboratory. Yet she did not completely exclude other Motivators. She married fellow-scientist Pierre Curie, and, regardless of her scientific passion, managed to be a responsible wife and mother. However, once her daughters were grown and independent, she was free to operate again primarily according to her passion. It had become obvious that if she continued with her work on radium there would be fatal consequences to her health. However, now only Passia determined her choice: – she would continue. Regardless of numerous warnings, she proceeded with her research on the properties of radium, and died of cancer as a consequence of her excessive exposure to radioactivity.


For the sake of self-knowledge it can be interesting to identify one’s preferred Motivator, with the advantages and disadvantages each entails for personal fulfillment or one’s role in life. Exercises can be developed in the course of a workshop with the help of a moderator. Otherwise, the reader might want to look again at the list at the end of this article, and, perhaps together with one or more friends, ascertain which attributes seem particularly attractive or repulsive. Remember that often a repulsive attribute is the exaggeration or distortion of an attractive one; for instance greed is an exaggeration of a healthy appetite; cruelty is a distortion of essential curiosity; indifference is an exaggeration of peacefulness, and so on. Principally, notice which Motivator seems most attractive in its totality rather than getting too involved with the details of attributes. Do compare and discuss with friends, if you can. This can lead to new insights about your tendencies and priorities as well as your personal definitions of freedom and responsibility for situations where they may conflict with one another.


I want to add that sometimes one Motivator will take priority over a period of years, then be replaced as the principal Motivator by another Motivator at another stage of life, and there can be yet another major change at another stage – sometimes stimulated by new circumstances and new relationships.


References :


English, F. (l998) – Videotape, “The Forces within Us” – available through ITAA.

English, F. (2003) – How are you? And how am I? pp. 55-71 in:C. Sills & H. Hargarden (ed) Ego States – Key Concepts in Transactional Analysis: Contemporary Views. London, Worth publishing, Ltd.









All bodily feelings that signal essential survival needs for nourishment and elimination, for shelter, clothing, protection, safety and strokes. Thus: – Hunger, thirst, need to urinate or defecate, pain, feeling cold, hot, sweaty, etc.

Needs for security, for physical and symbolic strokes and respect; thus also greed, competitiveness, gluttony, covetousness, envy, defensiveness, arrogance, subservience, humility, defensiveness, efforts for power and control (of self and others) Quest for rules and order, and for material success and recognition.


Needs for self expression, self determination, freedom, and all opportunities that may lead to discovery, creativity, invention and procreation (physical or symbolic). Disregard of strokes from others.

Thus: Curiosity, interest in exploration, playfulness, pleasure, excitement, enthusiasm, idealism, risk-taking, recklessness, stimulus hunger, interest in new paradigms, adventure, experimentation (sexual and otherwise) imagination, involvement with a project to the point of obsessive ness without concern about worldly success, impracticality, disdain of conventionality but concern about progeny and about impact on posterity.



All broad “other-worldly” or spiritual needs, including the need for sleep and quiet relaxation beyond every day reality and the pressure of the two other Motivators. Thus: a sense of connection to the Universe, placidity, calm, peacefulness, restfulness, passivity. Meditative and philosophical attitudes, withdrawal, morbidity, harmony with nature and ecology, deep contemplative appreciation of music and art.



For instance: Sexuality can relate to vanity and stroke exchanges ( Survia) to sexual activity that can lead to procreation, including lust ( Passia) to Transcia (as a spiritual union)

Selfishness, Altruism, and Idealism can be rated according to inner motivation, not outcome, also:.

Aggression, Love, Hate. For instance: Aggression:-To defend self -Survia .

To explore, regardless of consequences to self or others- Passia. Passivity (as in Passive/Aggressive) – Transcia.



For instance: Parenting requires attributes of Passia in combination with attributes of Survia, but Transcia’s attributes are also required at times. Similarly, good relationships involve complex interactions among a preferred Motivator of one party with a preferred Motivator of the other party , often with the mediation of the third Motivator.



An edited version of this article is published in the Transactional Analysis Journal, Vol. 36, No. 2, April 2006, pp. 172-175

Last Updated ( Sunday, 11 June 2006 )

How Did You Become a Transactional Analyst?

by Fanita English

In response to questions she is frequently asked about transactional analysis, the author briefly describes how she became interested in TA. In the process of presenting the theoretical material she now depends on for her work, she summarizes Eric Berne’s basic material, some underlying tenets from Freud, and some concepts she has added to transactional analysis.


“How did you become a transactional analyst?” I am often asked that question when I tell people what I do. I answer that originally I trained in Freudian psychoanalysis, including 8 years of personal psychoanalysis, and practiced using that model for 14 years, treating both children and adults. Increasingly, the process seemed overly ponderous, time consuming, and therefore not cost effective for clients, but I could find no better techniques.

Then, in 1965, I read Dr. Eric Berne’s (1961) Transactional Analysis in Psychotherapy, and soon after, I took time off from my practice in Chicago to go to California to train with the late David Kupfer at the then recently founded Transactional Analysis Training Institute in Carmel. While there, I had many stimulating contacts with Berne and personally experienced what many call the lifesaving value of “TA.” On returning to Chicago , I transformed my practice to transactional analysis, started doing workshops to teach it, and have been a dedicated transactional analyst ever since, although nowadays, partially retired, I limit myself to conducting workshops in various countries.

Inevitably, after finding out how I became involved, there follows a question such as, “And just what is transactional analysis?” Sometimes the questioner is just curious; at other times he or she is considering making a referral or perhaps signing up for a workshop or joining the International Transactional Analysis Association (ITAA). To some I give a long answer covering a good deal of information; with others, in the course of a conversation, I summarize briefly.

It occurred to me it might be of use to those interested in either a long or a short version of my answer to write it down in one place, which is what I have done with this article. Whether you read carefully through the entire article or just focus on a few sections, I hope this will be of use to both laypeople and professionals who are interested in the question of what transactional analysis is and how it is practiced.

To Answer Your Next Questions

Like many other therapies, transactional analysis therapy is primarily “talk therapy.” We work on the basis of a specific body of theory originally developed by Dr. Eric Berne and elaborated in various ways by others of us in the field. Berne was a practicing psychoanalyst before he developed the theory and practice of transactional analysis. Originally, it was used in therapy or treatment (as Berne called it), but it soon became clear that it was also useful in a wide variety of fields, including counseling, organizational work, and education.

Although Berne ‘s first book, The Mind in Action (1947), offered a simple description of basic psychoanalytic concepts, he became increasingly critical of psychoanalytic therapy. As a result, he began the San Francisco Psychiatry Seminars (which eventually became the International Transactional Analysis Association) to teach his own approach. He also spelled out his theory in his basic books: Transactional Analysis in Psychotherapy (1961), The Struc ture and Dynamics of Organizations and Groups (1963), and What Do You Say After You Say Hello? (1972), the latter of which was published posthumously. By now, about 40 years later, through many books and journals and conferences around the world, several generations of transactional analysis practitioners have debated and added much to Berne’s basic theory and practice.

For my part, I have dared to offer some major modifications of Berne ‘s concepts, particularly regarding what he called “games” and “scripts,” as well as developing a new view of what he referred to as “rackets.” I will discuss those later in this article, but before I do, I want to summarize the concepts and techniques that I consider indispensable in working as a therapist using transactional analysis. I will do so as simply as I can, so some of the theoretical material I present here may suffer from oversimplification and even some distortions, although I stand behind it.

Since Berne called himself a “better Freudian than the psychoanalysts” (E. Berne, personal communication, November 1965), I will begin by discussing some general psychological assumptions based on Freud’s discoveries. They were revolutionary in their time, more than l00 years ago, but are now so much a part of common discourse that they may seem obvious. However, I list them here because they underlie all talk therapy.

Underlying Tenets from Freud

1. However rational, conscious, and capable of exerting willpower human beings may be, they are nevertheless highly influenced (often even governed) by instincts and/or drives that “energize” their thoughts and feelings and often determine their behavior.

2. These instincts and/or drives usually affect us outside of conscious awareness. They operate in the unconscious, which, as the name implies, differs from consciousness of self, or the “ego” that represents our identity.

3. To the conscious ego, Freud added the “superego,” which corresponds to conscience, and the “id,” a cauldron of diverse, untamed instincts and drives operating unconsciously. These keep affecting the individual, even as the ego seeks to control them or to sublimate (transform) their manifestations into more socially acceptable channels (e.g., the wish to murder and “cut up” people may be sublimated by becoming a surgeon who saves lives by “cutting up” patients).

4. Classic psychoanalytic treatment focuses on bringing unconscious thoughts and feelings to consciousness so the client can gain new insights about seemingly unacceptable feelings or thoughts. The hope is that incapacitating symptoms are allayed when repressed wishes of the id are made conscious, although this is easier said than done and usually requires extensive analysis.

5. Originally Freud posited two basic drives: the self-enhancing survival drive of the ego and the pleasure-seeking sexual drive of the id. As a good Darwinian, Freud was impressed by how all creatures are driven by sexuality to create the next generation. Later Freud became convinced that there is also a death drive. Rather than posit three drives, he lumped together the self-enhancing survival drive with the sexual drive and called it “libido” or the life drive, as opposed to the death drive, which Berne later named “mortido.” For Freud, mortido included aggression and represents a turning around of murderous aggressive wishes.

6. Whether we posit a battle in the unconscious between the ego-enhancing drive and the sexual drive, or between libido and mortido, or between the superego and the id, the important psychological issue is that there can be constant unconscious conflict about what feelings and thoughts may be brought to light or manifested as behaviors. Conflicts often relate to the superego’s high standards and the ego’s inability to distinguish between awareness of forbidden wishes and the feared likelihood of enacting those wishes. As a result, we are likely to repress and then deny awareness of certain forbidden impulses, particularly those related to the sexual drive. However, some dim awareness of such forbidden feelings may appear in various forms of acting out and/or in fantasies, thus generating additional feelings of shame or guilt and further internal conflicts. Such conflicts may cause various psychosomatic ailments or symptoms, such as anxiety, panic, phobias, and so on.

7. In disguised form, unacceptable wishes may appear in dreams or slips of the tongue or incidents of forgetfulness, offering clues about unconscious conflicts.

8. One of Freud’s essential contributions was showing the extent to which we are influenced by childhood experiences: how such experiences are not forgotten, but stored and usually combined with various feelings such as fear and shame. We resist bringing painful or scary childhood memories and fantasies to consciousness in order to avoid experiencing terrible feelings in the present and instead rely on a whole system of psychological defenses to maintain repression.

9. Freud’s work also led to the currently accepted recognition that just as we go through certain stages of physical and mental development before reaching adulthood (e.g., specific age periods at which children learn to walk or talk, comprehend abstract concepts, enter puberty, etc.), so there are stages of emotional development that we must master in order to move on to emotional maturity.

10. Thus, it is no longer disputed that childhood experiences and fantasies play an important part in determining the character and emotional stance of each individual and that these must be considered, along with genetic factors, in treating seemingly intractable psychological disorders such as panic, anxiety, irrational phobias, and sexual and relational problems in adults.

Tenets of Transactional Analysis

Like Freud, Berne acknowledged that the self is not fully rational and conscious. However, while fully recognizing the importance of developmental stages and the impact of caretakers’ messages during childhood, he was more concerned with a here-and-now, practical approach to treating personality and communication problems than with establishing the historical origin of symptoms.

Ego States. Berne saw that in addition to the Freudian id and superego, the conscious self or ego-that which we each experience as “me”-is itself not one unit. Actually, we each operate with at least three coexisting systems or “ego states,” as he called them. He gave them the colloquial names of “Parent,” “Adult,” and “Child.”

Berne (1972) defined ego states as “coherent systems of thought and feeling manifested by corresponding patterns of behavior” (p. 11). Actually, I prefer to substitute the words “body language” for “behavior,” because the impulse for the corresponding behavior is not always evident, although it is experienced internally. The important issue about Berne ‘s discovery of ego states is that each one is a distinct system of interacting feelings and thoughts and potential behaviors that differ from those of the other ego states.

This idea represents a significant departure from other theories and therapeutic approaches, which may distinguish between feelings, thoughts, and behaviors but fail to recognize that there are at least three different, actively operating systems within which different kinds of thoughts and feelings may combine to determine behaviors in at least three potentially different ways.

For instance, there are times when I can almost hear it when I say to myself, “You are an idiot to have done (or said) that!” or “You’re brilliant to have thought that.” This kind of dialogue may also take place nonverbally, for I may feel pangs in my stomach when a part of me feels scared of someone in authority, another part feels like lashing out against that person, and still another says “Stop!” Then who is it that represents “me” in relation to others, and who is it who communicates with whom?

A transactional analyst would say that it was my Parent ego state who was addressing my Child ego state by criticizing her as an “idiot” or by praising her as “brilliant.” And then, perhaps, my Child wanted to lash out in anger but my Adult suddenly said “Stop and think!” In so doing, my Adult was asking me to check out reality rather than allow my Child to react against someone just because of anger at my Parent.

My Child ego state (the word Child is capitalized when referring to an ego state, in contrast to referring to a chronological child) represents all the children I used to be, pictures of whom you might see in a series of snapshots taken of me as I was growing up. These children thought, felt, and acted over the years and continue to exist within me, not only as memories, but, most significantly, as systems of thinking, feeling, and acting in the here and now. Just as I did when I was little, my Child today may sometimes seek approval and adapt to what seems like an expectation of me, and at other times my Child may feel angry at an expectation and rebel.

My Parent ego state developed as I was growing up, taking on ideas, ways to behave, and values (including prejudices) from my different caretakers and the culture around me. This conglomerate often determines my values today, who I “should” be, or how I “should” act. Thus, my Parent ego state may be supportive of my Child, or that of others, or highly critical, according to values and ideas I have internalized.

Lastly, in terms of development, my Adult grew out of experiences with “reality” and my increasing ability to reason and check out assumptions against facts. (I put the word reality in quotes because some of reality is determined by the prevailing culture.) Ideally, this Adult can help me deal rationally with others so that I function well in the world.

Theoretically, I could be “mature” all the time by using my Adult. (This is the assumption in psychoanalysis, where the goal is to reach total maturity.) In truth, however, it is not possible to achieve total maturity all the time-nor is it desirable, for the world would be a dull place if peopled only by computer-like individuals. So, while it is important to learn how to call on one’s Adult, especially in times of crisis, for me it is equally important to use both my Child and Parent. In fact, it is mostly thanks to my Child that I developed the sense of self that connects me to my genetic roots and my potentials in life.

Strokes and Transactions. The human infant is born helpless, ill equipped to attend to his or her survival. Berne used the term “strokes” for units of care as first registered by the infant on being held and caressed. What he demonstrated is that we continue to need both actual strokes and symbolic strokes throughout our lives, which is why and how we are interdependent. Whether it be the actual touch of a handshake or the symbolic “touch” of a smile or even a telephone call, we continue to depend on strokes from others for a sense of existence. In fact, this underlies all communication among people. As Berne put it, we transact with others by exchanging strokes, just the way we might exchange goods in the marketplace for mutual benefit.

However, if you consider that each one of us operates interchangeably out of three different ego states, which ego state of mine is it that may transact with any one of yours? How can I be sure I reach the ego state in you that I hope to address in order to obtain the strokes I want in exchange?

For instance, John might say to Susie, “Here, let me show you the way” when he comes upon her wandering in confusion in the hallway before a meeting. His comment might be met with a grateful response, yet the following week the same offer will be met with a frown and something like “Mind your own business!” Why? In both instances, he was operating with a rescuing Parent (although perhaps his Child also wanted to relate to Susie). But whereas the first time Susie had been worried about being late and so responded from her Child, the second time she was in her Parent, busy with her thoughts and resentful of the interruption. So, much to John’s dismay, in the second case she responded with her Critical Parent ego state instead of from the Child ego state he expected.

Transactional analysis gets its name precisely from the idea that unsatisfactory transactions between people-or what we call “crossed transactions” that are frustrating to one or both parties-can be analyzed without having to resort to an analysis of total personalities. Thus, misunderstandings can be clarified, especially when both parties want to foster a relationship or partnership of any kind.

What my Child wants and expresses or what my Parent values does not necessarily correspond to what others like or approve of, and their response to me may lead me to feel vastly misunderstood or to react in ways that anger or hurt others. Then they, in turn, may react in ways that may hurt or anger me, and so on. In most instances, we can recognize when, how, or why specific transactional patterns go wrong (or continue to go wrong). We can thus help clients to understand better what occurs in others or themselves in different situations and to make better choices to further their goals.

I will not go into detail here about how different transactions can be analyzed (as parallel, complementary, or crossed) or how we distinguish between here-and-now transactions and those that are habitual for a particular individual who seeks help. However, I do want to add that strokes are not always experienced as positive (e.g., pleasant caresses) or negative (e.g., blows), and that what I may like when I am in one ego state I may dislike in another or under different circumstances, as in the example of Susie. There are also “crooked strokes” that seem positive but have negative effects, thus generating what other schools of therapy refer to as “double-bind consequences.”

Ultimately, any kind of strokes may be preferable to none, for otherwise a person may feel discounted, rather like a piece of unimportant furniture. Some individuals can become quite provocative when they feel discounted, and they may seek to obtain attention at all costs. There are also people who actually prefer negative or crooked strokes because such input corresponds to the strokes they were raised on and thus feel like “homemade soup.” Even though it may contain some poisonous ingredients, it is reminiscent of what they were “fed” in childhood. It may take some time for them to develop a taste for healthier forms of “nourishment.”

One reason it can be useful to work with clients in groups rather than in individual sessions is that in a group it is easier for both client and therapist to recognize helpful or harmful patterns of transactions. However, for practical reasons, treatment, counseling, or coaching can also take place in individual sessions.

Treatment Considerations

Contracts. An essential first step in transactional analysis treatment is establishing a contract with the client’s Adult. This may be accomplished quickly or require several sessions, depending on how upset the client is and how willing he or she is to use his or her Adult to determine, with the therapist, what the goals of treatment might be rather than maintain unrealistic, magical expectations that can never be met. Sooner or later, it is important for both therapist and client to spell out what both seek to achieve and how they intend to go about it. (In what follows I will use the pronoun “she” for therapist or counselor and “he” for client.)

Character Type. What I call a person’s “character type” is based on his preferred ego state. Roughly, I distinguish between two types of individuals, with subdivisions for each: Type I or “Undersure” and Type II or “Oversure.” Type I tends to want help and guidance even in situations in which he is clearly able to decide for himself. Thus, he tends to function a great deal in the Adapted and/or Rebellious Child ego state. Type II spends more time in the Parent ego state than in Child, insisting on his values and/or view of the world and giving advice either as a Rescuer or a Critical Parent. The basic character type tends to get established in childhood, usually between the ages of 2 and 6.

Persons who develop a Type I character have usually experienced a good deal of domination from caretakers either in a critical or a suffocating, “loving” manner. As a result, they learned that they were better off obeying, adapting, and/or depending on the leadership or control of others than seeking to be independent. When they are assertive, it is likely to be in the form of rebellion.

Persons who develop a Type II character had to take on much more responsibility during childhood than was appropriate for their age (e.g., with sick or nonfunctioning parents) or they were pushed to excel and show off beyond their own intrinsic needs. They feel valuable only when rescuing or getting others to follow them.

Neither one of these character types is good or bad per se, unless the person lacks flexibility and rigidly tries to keep functioning most of the time in accordance with his type rather than allowing Adult assessment of a given situation and other people. Such individuals are functioning according to type on a third-degree level, which is pathological.

Transactions according to type: In the course of establishing a contract, I seek to determine for myself as therapist, at least tentatively, what the client’s character type is because it is crucial for identifying patterns of harmful, repetitive transactions. Obviously, Type I and Type II persons are likely to engage in what we call “complementary” transactions, whereby Type I will seek advice (Child to Parent) and Type II will be glad to give advice (Parent to Child). So, for a while, an Undersure and an Oversure person may get along beautifully. Eventually, however, either one or the other may not be as motivated to function according to type as is the other. There may come a time when Undersure, whose Child expects support from Oversure, may be disappointed, because Oversure may be using the Critical Parent instead of the rescuing Parent or, worse, Oversure wants to use his own Child (or Adult) for a change. The result is a crossed transaction. Similarly, Oversure, eagerly dispensing advice to Undersure, may feel discounted (i.e., not sufficiently appreciated) if Undersure responds rebelliously or wants to use his Parent for a change.

It is easy to imagine any number of variations of the painful frustration that occurs for either type when seeking to communicate with the other in a way that once seemed satisfactory but now fails to generate the desired responses. If either partner or both operate at a third-degree level, crossed transactions can lead to very dangerous behavior. Communication can become just as bad or worse between two persons of a similar type if they operate on a third-degree level. After enjoying much agreement for a while, two Type II individuals may eventually become too competitive, or two Type I individuals may feel let down by each other at crucial times and sink into depression.


A (Sad) Merry-Go-Around. Sometimes, in a relationship between a Type I (Undersure) person and a Type II (Oversure) person, the Undersure partner may initiate transactions as a “Victim” and the Oversure partner may operate as a “Rescuer.” However, if either one becomes frustrated, he or she may switch ego state and suddenly become a “Persecutor” of the other, after which they may change roles again. As a result, they may both end up as frustrated Victims.

The words “Victim,” “Rescuer,” and “Persecutor” were first used by Karpman (1968) in describing similar changes of roles under the name “drama triangle” by analogy to changes of roles in Greek tragedies. The way out of this pattern is with the help of the Adult-preferably the Adult of both participants and perhaps the help of a therapist’s Adult-to analyze both the parallel transactions that seemed to go well and the reasons for the shift to crossed transactions. An inexperienced therapist who does not recognize what is going on between the two parties may herself end up as a Victim by rashly entering the fray as the unwary Rescuer of one or another of the parties.

Survival Conclusions. Human babies and young children lack the kinds of lifesaving instincts that keep other animals from recklessly endangering themselves. Toddlers may cheerfully crawl off a balcony or into a swimming pool or a fire unless they are conditioned to appropriate caution by means of messages given with positive or negative strokes (“Darling, watch out!” or “Don’t let me catch you going there!”). Such cautions become integrated into the Child’s implicit memory as survival conclusions. Later they influence behavior just the way self-protective instincts influence other animals. For instance, we would recoil seemingly automatically if someone tried to push us out of a window, although such a reaction was developed during childhood without our consciously remembering exactly when and how we learned it.

Unfortunately, many survival conclusions that may have been useful in the context of a person’s childhood family no longer serve the grown individual and may be downright harmful. We call them “archaic survival conclusions” to distinguish them from the ones that continue to be useful. For example, when John’s boss came into his office slamming the door, John felt an almost irresistible impulse to hide under his desk. After he identified the archaic origin of this impulse-learning as a child to hide when his violent father slammed the door on coming home drunk-John was able to use his Adult to maintain his composure after a door slammed, even though he sometimes still felt a little twinge of fear when his boss slammed the door.

Archaic survival conclusions can also be set when someone is shamed in early childhood. Children are particularly vulnerable to shame during the 2-4 year age period, and some people carry unnecessary tendencies to be ashamed about perfectly normal wishes or behaviors, for instance, in the sexual arena. In many instances, the unwanted symptoms, phobias, anxieties, inhibitions, or behavior patterns about which people may come into treatment are related to a variety of archaic survival conclusions carried by their Child and sometimes reinforced and/or contradicted by subsequent remembered instructions integrated into their Parent.

To identify particular archaic survival conclusions that may generate unwanted problems, I ask the client to visualize one or more early situations that may have generated such a conclusion during childhood. We might proceed by trial and error, or transactions among the participants of a treatment group or even an erroneous hypothesis will stimulate a long-lost memory, either of the events that caused a harmful archaic conclusion or of family anecdotes that describe what happened. If we are quite clueless, I might use the hot-seat technique developed by Fritz Perls (1969). This involves asking the client to temporarily let go of his Adult and to dialogue with an empty chair representing various authority persons from childhood that are still powerfully integrated into his Parent and/or Child or are projected onto others. I use the hot-seat technique only occasionally, however, because even though the results can be immediate and quite startling, they are often not maintained sufficiently after the client leaves treatment due to the fact that the client’s Adult is not involved enough in the process. However, with a temporary subcontract, the hot-seat technique can be useful to identify lost memories of painful childhood experiences or to work with significant repetitive dreams. Data obtained in this manner can also help the client later to modify harmful archaic conclusions.


Substitute Feelings and Attitudes. It is also during the 2-6 year age period that children learn words that correspond to their emotions so they can correctly name and identify a feeling or an attitude (e.g., “I’m scared,” or happy, angry, jealous, sad, etc.). Unfortunately, in many families emotions are mislabeled or discounted; children from such families may grow up either without the ability to recognize some of their own feelings or emotional reactions or believing that certain feelings are monstrous while other feelings or attitudes will gain them approval. For instance, a child may be told when his dog dies, “Aren’t you lucky! Be happy you’re getting a bigger dog!” without any recognition that he may feel sad and need to grieve. Having been stroked if he seems glad and discounted if he seems sad, the idea that he might be sad at times just does not exist in his consciousness. He may grow up showing cheerful happiness or a stiff upper lip whenever grief tries to surface, even at times of severe loss. This is how some people learn to substitute anger for sadness, or sadness for anger or fear, or generosity for greed or envy, and so on.

Once such individuals are grown, people around them often sense that there is something phony when they exhibit such substitute feelings. Berne called these feelings “rackets” because he thought that people who manifested what were obviously phony feelings or attitudes were extorting strokes the way gangster racketeers extort “contributions” to false charities. In my opinion, he did not sufficiently allow for the fact that the substitution process develops at such an early age that it is unconscious and not deliberately exploitative. Unfortunately, using the term “rackets” to refer to substitute feelings or attitudes is still part of transactional analysis vocabulary.

Emotional Racketeers. We use the term “racketeers” to describe individuals who transact with others by repeatedly displaying substitute feelings or attitudes. Actually, racketeers are quite pathetic, although often annoying, because they are not aware of how they substitute artificial feelings or attitudes for underlying feelings. Since they nebulously sense that something is wrong, without quite knowing what, they may continue exhibiting their phony feelings in transacting with others, all the while hoping for compensatory strokes. This often backfires disastrously. In their desperate quest for compensatory strokes, because they themselves often feel inchoately that there is something wrong with their approach to others, they often reinforce their character type to a second or third degree. Eventually, they are likely to meet with rejection (through crossed transactions), even from partners who may have been supportive initially.

Excessive frustration generates inner chaos and provokes sudden, abrupt switches of a racketeer’s habitual ego state to the opposite one (e.g., if the habitual ego state was Child, a sudden switch to Parent and vice versa). As a result, there may be unexpected violence if the racketeer operates on a third-degree level. Shakespeare offers classic examples of this process. For instance, Hamlet, a Type I Undersure character, after repeatedly feeling that he lacks support from his mother and Ophelia, finally switches from his habitual ineffectual depressed Child ego state to a murderous Parent. In contrast, Othello, a Type II Oversure character, operates habitually from Parent with substitute attitudes of invulnerability until he becomes convinced of Desdemona’s alleged infidelity, at which point he collapses as a convulsive, inarticulate Child. Then, when shamed about this by Iago, he sees no other way than to murder Desdemona and kill himself.

To help racketeers who seek treatment-which many of them do, precisely because of the nebulous feeling that something is going wrong in their relations with others-they must first be supported so they feel safe in the group context. Then, rather than continue to offer them strokes for their rackets, which many inexperienced therapists do in the mistaken assumption that they should keep offering support, it is important to nudge these clients to recognize what they actually experience under stress and then correctly name unacknowledged feelings or attitudes if or when these are stimulated. To acknowledge certain disallowed feelings can be very frightening for these clients. For instance, a client might feel, “If I allow myself to feel murderously angry, I might do something terrible!” They need help to realize that acknowledging a feeling and naming it does not necessarily mean acting on it, because they can use their Adult to decide on behavior in each instance. This is particularly important for people whose underlying feelings involve rage, envy, or jealousy, which they may have learned to cover up, even to themselves, with, for instance, “charitable attitudes.”

What about Games? Berne ‘s (1964) book Games People Play was a best-seller in the mid-1960s, perhaps because of the catchy titles of the games he listed. I do not recommend this book (except for the introductory chapter, which summarizes transactional analysis theory) because I think it trivializes behavior and does not distinguish between racketeering and games. After its publication, Berne modified his early definition of games by emphasizing that there has to be a switch of ego state by one or both parties before the final, concluding crossed transaction.

In my opinion, it is not necessary to struggle with details about games. The aforementioned descriptions of Undersure and Oversure third-degree racketeers and how frustration about not receiving the desired strokes for their rackets may lead to a switch of ego state and, thereby, to a final crossed transaction (possibly with violence) adequately describes the process. Different games are simply variations on the Oversure and Undersure kinds of complementary transactions ending with a crossed transaction as mentioned earlier (English, 1977a).

Unconscious Motivators. As indicated previously, transactional analysis treatment focuses primarily on the here and now without seeking to analyze deeply the unconscious. However, it is undeniable that many important choices in life can be motivated by unconscious drives. Their impact must be recognized, particularly when a client deals with major life commitments or changes (e.g., regarding career or marriage) or wonders about having engaged in certain past behaviors that now seem strange.

To address such situations, I have added the concept of unconscious motivators to basic transactional analysis. I use the term “motivators” rather than drives because my definition differs significantly from Freud’s (see English, 1998, 2003). The three motivators are the survival motivator, the expressive or passionate motivator, and the transcendence motivator. Each motivator has distinct functions and can affect our ego states with its particular attributes, yearnings, or feelings.

Specifically, the survival motivator functions for individual survival. It stimulates feelings and needs for action to ensure such survival. Therefore, it brings on attributes such as hunger, thirst, feeling cold, fear, and need for protection and strokes; it also promotes survival conclusions.

The expressive/passionate motivator functions for species survival. In all animals this occurs thanks to procreation, so sexuality is an important attribute of this motivator. However, procreation alone would not have sufficed for the survival of the human species; we would have been annihilated long ago by more powerful animals. Fortunately, our species has evolved by adding many more attributes to this motivator. For instance, it promotes curiosity and attraction to adventure and risk taking. These attributes led our forebears to the creative inventions, discoveries, and explorations that have enabled our species to survive and become the most powerful on earth.

Lastly, the transcendence motivator functions to maintain our quiet connection to the universe and to help us transcend daily life through, for example, spirituality, meditation, and also by sleep. It fosters peacefulness, restfulness, harmony, and detachment from overwhelming anxiety.

Scripts. Berne noted that most of us seem to operate with an unconscious life plan, which he referred to as a “script.” Scripts are adaptations of infantile reactions and experiences, and although Berne (1961) wrote that “neurotic, psychotic and psychopathic scripts are almost always tragic,” he also added that “a practical and constructive script . . . may lead to great happiness” (p. 116).

Unfortunately, there has been a tendency among some transactional analysts to forget that Berne indicated that constructive scripts can lead to happiness. They thus sometimes erroneously confuse scripts with dysfunctional archaic survival conclusions. Yet just because someone may be functioning with certain harmful archaic survival conclusions that need to be changed, it does not mean that their entire script should be abandoned. Quite the contrary, as I have spelled out elsewhere (English, 1977b, 1988).

On the basis of clinical experience, I believe Berne was correct to emphasize that a child of about 3-6 years of age creates an initial script to guide his or her future. This script is influenced both by inborn tendencies and the child’s limited worldview, which includes exposure to fairy tales, myths, perceptions, and misperceptions about the environment and the wishes of caretakers. This initial script primarily serves the child’s emerging self as an organizing structure to deal with time, space, boundaries, relationships, activities, and ideas about the world and the future. However, like the first draft of a movie script, the early script is but a tentative outline. It continues to be revised throughout a person’s life and may develop quite differently from the initial design, with unexpected outcomes that are affected by how the person manages to balance his or her inner motivators in the course of living.

Even a script generated under the worst family circumstances contains within it the child’s genetic sense of how he or she might fulfill inner goals creatively if certain malevolent fairies and cobwebs could be neutralized. Without a script, the child would be operating out of a vacuum of time and space, with no content with which to connect past and future, feeling rootless, like a leaf in the wind. I suspect that this happens with certain confused adolescents and that certain cases of psychosis represent a lack of script formation rather than the reverse.

As a person grows, eventually the script becomes a rather complex production, with some scenes that follow sequentially and some that do not, with ups and downs of success and failure, and with magical reversals and assumptions. Thus, scripts contain genetic elements and patterns related to experiences, fantasies, and beliefs that are woven together into the fabric of a personal mythological story, with many possible variations and allowances for improvisations in the course of life.

Script analysis requires a different kind of contract from a treatment contract, where the aim is to change harmful existential patterns. In the script workshops I conduct, the aim is to work with clients’ fantasies and stories in order to gain a deeper understanding of people’s inner needs and tendencies and a better sense about the creative processes of their lives, without necessarily planning for particular changes.

Hot Potatoes and Episcripts. Within families or tight-knit groups, sometimes there is a phenomenon like a psychological contagion whereby a disturbing condition (e.g., anxiety, depression, suicidal wishes, etc.) may be passed from one person to another or over several generations. This happens sometimes when a potential “donor” of pathology believes, consciously or unconsciously, that he or she can become magically free of troublesome symptoms by passing them on to someone who becomes a “vulnerable recipient.” At the root of this process are magical beliefs like those that existed in primitive tribes.

I refer to such transmissions as “passing on a hot potato” (English, 1969). In addition to transmissions within family groups, hot-potato transmission can occur whenever one partner in a dyad is in a psychologically more powerful position than the other (e.g., teacher/student, priest/parishioner, therapist/client, etc.), especially if the donor of the hot potato is an Oversure character type and the vulnerable recipient is an Undersure type. Sometimes the transmission is quite deliberate in relation to total life projects, although the donor might deny this. Accordingly, one or more vulnerable recipients might take on specific harmful goals for their lives while believing they are making voluntary choices. Such instances, which are far more complex and harmful than transmissions of hot potatoes, are referred to as “episcripts.” Tragic examples of these include the suicide bombers who struck the United States on 11 September 2001 after taking on episcripts from Osama Bin Laden and Palestinian suicide bombers who attack Israel after being episcripted by Yasir Arafat or some zealous cleric.

It is important not to confuse episcripts with scripts any more than one would equate cancerous growths with normal development. Episcripts, as the name implies, are taken on from others outside the self, whereas scripts correspond to personal development and blossoming into life.

 Finally, and to Continue . . .

Like Einstein, who stated that a physicist did not understand relativity if he could not explain it to a 12-year-old, Berne insisted that transactional analysis should be comprehensible to an 8-year-old. Indeed, this is why transactional analysis can be very useful for child therapy and in educational contexts. However, ultimately it is empathetic sensibility combined with solid therapeutic skills that are the essentials for good practice. Therefore, the International Transactional Analysis Association has developed high standards for qualification, training, and ethics.

In 1970 Berne died suddenly of a heart attack. He did not live long enough to refine his theories fully, although he was still working on them until the end of his life. After his death, the very simplicity of basic transactional analysis was misused by some so that in the public mind it became erroneously viewed as a pop psychology. Fortunately, there were already enough competent, well-trained transactional analysts to spread it in the rest of the United States and the world, especially throughout Europe, Latin America, India , Korea , Japan , Australia , New Zealand , and South Africa . Sadly, Berne did not live to see this expansion.

To this day I know of no more effective therapy when practiced by responsible, sensitive practitioners. This has been confirmed by comparative research (Novey, 2002), and, as mentioned earlier, transactional analysis has proven effective in many fields. There are many ways to find out more about transactional analysis (see the learning opportunities and links elsewhere in this site and at https://itaaworld.org/), but I hope this article has given you at least a beginning understanding of what it is all about.

Fanita English, M.S.W., is a Teaching and Supervising Transactional Analyst and a member of the ITAA Board of Trustees representing the United States region. She is also a member of the council of the NATAA. Fanita was the 1978 recipient of the Eric Berne Memorial Scientific Award for her work on rackets and the 1997 recipient of the Eric Berne Memorial Award for her work on episcripts. Now semiretired, she continues to do occasional workshops, primarily in Europe . She can be reached at One, Baldwin Ave., #516 , San Mateo , CA 94401 , U.S.A. ; email:fanitae@aol.com.


Berne , E. (1947). The mind in action. New York : Simon & Schuster.

Berne , E. (1961). Transactional analysis in psychotherapy: A systematic individual and social psychiatry. New York : Grove Press.

Berne , E. (1963). The structure and dynamics of organizations and groups. New York . Grove Press.

Berne , E. (1964). Games people play: The psychology of human relationships. New York : Grove Press.

Berne , E. (1972). What do you say after you say hello?: The psychology of human destiny. New York : Grove Press.

English, F. (1969). Episcript and the hot potato game. Transactional Analysis Bulletin, 8 (32), 77-82.

English, F. (1977a). Rackets and racketeering as the root of games. In R. Blakeney (Ed.), Current issues in transactional analysis (pp. 3-28). New York : Brunner/Mazel.

English, F. (1977b). What shall I do tomorrow? Reconceptualizing transactional analysis. In G. Barnes (Ed.), Transactional analysis after Eric Berne: Teachings and practices of three TA schools (pp. 287-347). New York : Harper’s College Press.

English, F. (1988). Whither scripts? Transactional Analysis Journal, 18, 294-303.

English, E. (1998). The forces within us (Video Recording). San Francisco : International Transactional Analysis Association.

English, E. (2003). How are you? And how am I? Ego states and inner motivators. In C. Sills & H. Hargaden (Eds.), Ego states (Vol. 1 of Key concepts in transactional analysis: Contemporary views) (pp. 55-72). London : Worth Publishing.

Karpman, S. B. (1968). Fairy tales and script drama analysis. Transactional Analysis Bulletin, 7 (26), 39-43.

Novey, T. (2002). Measuring the effectiveness of transactional analysis: An international study. TransactionalF Analysis Journal, 32, 8-24.

Perls, F. (1969). Gestalt therapy verbatim. Lafayette , CA : Real People Press.



This article was originally published in the January 2005 TAJ, Vol. 35, No. 1, pp. 78-88

Handling Those Difficult People

Who is difficult for you to deal with? Your boss? Your spouse? Your parents or in-laws? An employee or coworker? It seems that everyone has at least one person who is a challenge and if that person plays an important role in your life the stress can be constant and costly!

Rather than let those people create stress and control the relationship with their difficult behavior, you can learn to handle them in new and effective ways. Several ideas in this article can help you change how you respond to these folks and how you communicate with them.

An important first step is to change how you think about the person. Rather than thinking of the person as being difficult, you will find that your perception of them will change if you think of them as just a normal or average person who has one or more behaviors that you find difficult to deal with. Please read that last sentence again and understand what it says! People are not problems — their behavior is the problem. The behavior that you find difficult to deal with might not be difficult for someone else.

Okay, the person is just another person – now, what is the behavior that you don’t like? This can be tough because most of us describe the person rather than the behavior. Don’t use labels such as “arrogant”, “abrasive”, “stupid”, etc. because those describe the whole person. Give examples of what the person does that you have labeled and you will be describing behavior. For example, if your boss impresses you as arrogant, a behavior might be his manner of speaking- referring to you as his “girl” or “old Bob” when talking to others. If you think of your boss as rude, the behavior may be interrupting you when she can see that you are discussing something with a coworker or a customer on the telephone.

The reason it is important to identify the specific behaviors that you find difficult to handle is that it will help you decide if you want to continue to be bothered by them and if you want to talk with the person about changing them. Sometimes people discover that after the specific behaviors have been identified and separated from the whole person, the behaviors don’t seem that annoying anymore. If you still find the behaviors to be unacceptable then you can take more assertive action.

You may also find it helpful to list the ways in which the other person’s behavior creates concrete and tangible effects upon you. How does the behavior cost you? Does it affect the quality of your work, your use of time, or how others perceive you? Is it affecting your health? Being able to explain to the other person how their behavior has an impact upon you may be important for convincing them to change the behavior.

How do you feel about these effects upon you? Are you concerned about the quality of your work, frustrated about the impact on your time, worried about how the situation may be affecting your health? Telling the other person how you feel may help communicate the seriousness of the situation and motivate them to change. People are not accustomed to others telling them their honest emotions and doing so can get their attention.

We have had people say to us, “I have already done this. I have talked with this person, told them how I feel about their behavior and explained why it is a problem and they just keep doing it!”. You may be thinking the same thing. Here is a very important point — it is not enough to just talk about this situation with the other person. You must get a commitment from them about changing their behavior!

How do you get this commitment? The best way is to ask directly for what you want. You can ask the other person to stop the behavior; you can ask them to use a different behavior; or, you can ask them to suggest a solution. This last alternative can be particularly effective because people are more likely to actually follow through and do something that they thought of themselves.

So, how does all of this sound when you think it through and put it into words? Here is how it might go:

“Val, may I speak with you a moment about something very important?”


“Frequently when I am talking with a coworker in my office or with a customer on the telephone, you come into my office and start talking to me without acknowledging the other person or apologizing for the interruption and I feel embarrassed and angry when that happens.”

“Well, pardon me! When I come in it’s because there is a business reason that is more important than idle chitchat or some telephone conversation!”

“I know that you have a reason for coming in and I’m bringing this up because I am worried that the customer may get the impression that their call is not being treated as important. I am also concerned that the other people present may interpret the situation as a lack of respect for me which could affect my credibility and effectiveness with them. If they think you don’t respect me then they may not take me seriously when I am communicating about important issues.”

“Okay, I can see that. What do you want me to do about it?”

“What I had thought about was arranging some type of signal which we could use to let me know that you have an important need so I could ask the other person to wait. I’m open to your ideas about how to handle the situation. What do you suggest?”

“Well, I guess a signal would be a good idea. How about if I indicate with my fingers how many minutes I need?”

“That should work great. Do we have an agreement that we’ll do that from now on?”


“May I use the same signal to remind you if you forget?”


The discussion may not always be this short and it may not go so smoothly, but it certainly can. Because you have thought it through and identified the important ingredients of an assertive confrontation, you have a track to run on and you are less likely to become flustered or intimidated by the other’s response. It is important to remember not to push too hard because that will only result in the other person pushing back. Be patient, listen to their side, and look for ways to meet them halfway if you sense that they are unwilling to give you everything you want.

Sometimes, the other person just needs attention and they have learned to get attention with this behavior that you don’t like. If you don’t want to confront them about changing the behavior you can often get a change by making sure to give them attention at other times and for other behaviors. Make it a goal to give the person attention (a smile, a thank you, a touch, a moment of conversation) a certain number of times per day when they are not doing what you object to. You may be surprised by how quickly they become a more pleasant person to be around!

One of the most effective ways to give someone attention is to listen to them skillfully. The most effective way to prove to someone that you are really listening is to restate what you have heard. Here is a little formula you can practice with that [lets others know] you have heard and understood them.

• Paraphrase the content of their message (don’t say word for word what they said) • Acknowledge their feelings about the message (mad, sad, glad, scared) • Ask a checkout question at the end (Right? Did I hear you correctly?)

Your restatement proves that you understood them and that you have empathy (acknowledging feelings). If you get a “no” ask for clarification of what you missed. Typically, if you misunderstand the other person will simply correct you as soon as you ask the checkout question. Keep using the formula until you show that you understand. People love it! This is particularly important when the other person is having strong feelings and you want to help calm them. This approach works much better than telling them to calm down!

Here’s an example of how this might happen:

“You never do this the way I ask! Are you intentionally trying to make me angry?”

“So you’re telling me that I don’t do this the way you want and you’re upset because you think I may be doing it just to get you angry. Right?”

“Yes. I just don’t understand why you don’t follow my instructions.”

” Sounds like you’re confused about why I didn’t do this the way you specified. May I explain?”

“I wish you would.”

“The customer asked that I use a format which was closer to their system and I didn’t think to mention it to you. I hope it’s not a big problem.”

“Oh. Well, of course it’s not a problem if that’s what the customer wants.”

When people get evidence that they are being taken seriously and that you really understand, they quickly calm down and become much easier to deal with. It does take a lot of practice to learn to listen this way and to do it skillfully so we recommend that you practice every day for the next two or three weeks to help you develop some skill. Just use it during everyday conversations a few times each day and you will become comfortable with the technique and will be more likely to be able to use it when you really need it.

We wish you success using these ideas to help you handle those difficult behaviors of others around you! Our training programs are full of valuable and practical ideas, techniques and skills for improving your effectiveness with others. We hope to meet you in one of our programs and to help you learn more ways to improve your success!

Sam R. Lloyd, President
Tina Berthelot, Vice President
SuccessSystems, Inc.
“Training People To Excel With People”
P. O. Box 18208
Boulder, CO 80308
(303) 998-0248 Fax: (303) 998-0247

Web page: https://www.trainingforsuccess.com

Building Community through Cooperation

The Summer Gathering of the NATAA in Salem, Massachusetts, this summer is focusing on the theme of “Community and Relationship.” Transactional Analysis has much to offer on the topic of community and cooperation which is the antithesis of disenfranchisement and violence. I would like to focus this discussion on three areas: The TA concepts which support the notion of community and cooperation; how Transactional Analysts explain violence; and, finally, how we impact groups and communities to minimize violence and maximize cooperation.

First, however, I would like to define community and cooperation as I am using them in this discussion.

Community refers to a group of parts which together make a whole, such as a family, city, business organization, street gang, professional association, classroom, school, the United Nations, the Hispanic community, the Gay community, the Christian community, and so on. Community also refers to the group of selves within a personality, such as ego states identified by Eric Berne in Transactional Analysis in Psychotherapy (1) or selves as described by Erving Polster in his book A Population of Selves.(2) Important to this discussion of community is that each community, group of parts, is part of a larger community which eventually includes the whole world community and the Universe. So, a family community is part of an extended family, a neighborhood, city and state, and so on, and each has an impact on the other. One business is a community of people working together but is also a part of many other communities that it impacts, such as the community of their customers, the community of their industry, the community to which each member belongs, e.g., as family, ethnic, and religious groups. “No man is an island,” someone said, and so it is true about community. Every community is an integral part of all other communities. The elements of community that apply to one community apply to all other communities and the community as a whole. The most basic community, which forms the foundation for all others, is the community of selves within each of us. How we relate to the different parts of ourselves will greatly reflect how we relate to others.

Cooperation is an attitude toward individual rights and equal power that promotes win-win outcomes as differentiated from competition in which some win, some loose, and people with power make decisions for all. Cooperation means that people are working together and each person’s rights and input are taken into account and respected. A cooperative community is one in which all members are contributing in their own ways to the betterment of the whole community.

The following are some of the concepts which we as Transactional Analysts use in helping ourselves and others, whether in clinical, educational or organizational settings, to maintain cooperative relations.

The concept of ego states and cathexis is basic to taking charge of behavior. Berne’s theory of the executive ego state and the capacity to learn to manage the energy, cathexis, within ego states, lends itself very well to learning to think and solve conflicts in cooperative, “I’m OK, you’re OK” fashion. Volumes have been written by Eric Berne as well as his disciples in explaining which of the ego states are useful in maintaining effective relationships and which are used to create conflicts. Some of those publications are listed in the reference list at the end of this paper. For a complete bibliography of TA literature, you may want to refer to TA Today: A New Introduction to Transactional Analysis (3).

The theory of OKness (4) and the OK corral (5) is quite useful in supporting the idea of equality and mutual respect. As Transactional analysts we maintain that every human being has worth and value which deserves respect, “I’m OK, you’re OK,” this is the position on which cooperation and community is based.

Transactional Analysis proper is very useful in analyzing where violence starts and how to intervene. We know the positive as well as the negative use of crossed transactions and how they can lead to escalations that result in violence. We know the negative effect that can result from the ulterior aspects of transactions and the results of being hooked into responding to the hidden message. (Games)(6) We are also aware of the importance of responding to our own internal needs and finding clear and effective ways of responding to them and the importance of listening and responding to each other in a mirroring and clarifying manner. (7)

In TA terms, violence is a result of an “I’m OK your not OK; get rid of you” position. This position we know often hides an “I’m not OK” self that we hate within ourselves and project on to others. Violence from a TA point of view is a third degree game sometimes involving only two players but often involving many players as in street wars. It is behavior which demonstrates an “I’m OK your not OK” position. It is a form of passivity that ignores thinking and fosters symbiosis.(8) Violence is an escalated form of rage or threat which can be identified and confronted at lower stages of the problem and the energy redirected in a positive and constructive manner.

How can we intervene? What can we as Transactional Analysts be doing to curb violence and promote cooperation? What are we doing already? I will share some thoughts here, and I know that there are many of you out there who could comment on what you are doing in terms of reducing the incidence of violence, alienation and disenfranchisement in communities. I know that those of us who are clinicians, educators, and organizational developers make great strides in terms of aiding individuals and groups to operate more cooperatively with themselves and as groups. It is difficult, however, to prove the results of Transactional Analysis on communities. Research on the positive results of TA in schools and communities could help verify the effects of TA and fund projects to work with the poor.

I believe that consciousness raising activities to differentiate between healthy competition and destructive competition is vital in fostering community and cooperation. Competing to win at a game such as cards, football, or a race is very popular and billions of dollars are spent each week in these activities, normally considered “healthy competition.” We are all aware of the excellence that music competition, for example, promotes and how sports develop character and team spirit; but winning must be kept in perspective. Winning is conditional. Winning in terms of getting rich or getting degrees or high grades or winning at sports does not necessarily make one feel like a winner. Many people after winning in marathons or in education often feel very depressed. This is because these people have been lead to believe that winning will make them winners and it doesn’t. A fifteen year old in my community committed suicide recently. He was a straight A student and people asked, “I wonder why. He was a star athlete and a good student, a model child.” Conditional winning and over adaptive behavior does not give one the feeling of being OK. Being a winner is being OK with oneself being aware of one’s unique value and dignity. One is a winner, OK, because one is human! James and Jongeward in their international best seller book Born to Win described a winner as follows, “When we refer to a person as a winner, we do not mean one who beats the other guy by winning over him and making him lose. To us a winner is one who responds authentically by being credible, trustworthy, responsive, and genuine, both as an individual and as a member of society.”(9) This type of winning is not earned; it is instilled and modeled. This is unconditional OKness and is developed because of love, respect and limits from significant others, both as children and as adults. Antisocial behavior often is a result of not feeling OK about self or others. Competition does not lead to unconditional OKness. In fact, competition often leads to violence because within a competitive frame of reference no one wants to loose, so “winning” is pursued at any cost, including revenge, resentments, violence and cheating. Rape and domestic violence are also examples of unhealthy attempts at control and feeling of power by persons who feel powerless and not OK. We must help people be aware of their own dignity and worth; then they can be respectful and loving of themselves and others. Winning and losing will then not affect one’s sense of value as a person.

Cooperation is based on the “I’m OK, you are OK” existential position or on Martin Buber’s “I-thou” relationships. (10) Cooperative relationships are those in which each person strives to do their best, which demonstrates their OKness, while at the same time are supportive and encouraging of others doing their best and succeeding. In cooperative communities everyone can be a winner. Celebration comes from the love and support shown to each other rather than from beating someone. This is a paradigm shift which takes many of us believing it and modeling it and making an impact on our community. Most of us believe it. Do we model it? Do we confront unhealthy competition in ourselves and in systems when we experience it? There is a natural inclination in each of us to beat another or to become defensive. We must learn to be aware of it and shift to a cooperative attitude. It is this type of competition that destroys families and communities. The following is a list of behaviors and attitudes which compare and contrast cooperation and competitive and can be useful in teaching and practicing cooperation and confronting unhealthy competition.

fighting to win negotiating to resolve conflicts so that everyone wins
revenge forgiveness
polarizing inclusion
racism, sexism, ageism, homophobia respect, understanding or appreciation of uniqueness and differences
winning or losing being OK, making others OK, doing your best, excellence
hoarding sharing
power plays, passivity, games responsive communication, intimacy
Us vs. Them I-thou, Integration
secrets honesty, oneness
parliamentary procedure consensus
fighting illness, disease,pain healing, transcending, exploring options
comparisons: best-worst; right-wrong appreciating, understanding respecting differences, options
violence communication, conflict resolution, problem identification and resolution, positive regard for self and others.
orders requests, suggestions, invitations
failures mistakes, further learning opportunities
criticism, judgments feelings, information, teaching, appreciating differences
blame responsibility, confrontation
symbiosis, codependency interdependence, autonomy, synergy
endings transitions
problems opportunities, options
control, power over cooperation, power with
fear, envy, hate love

Building on a sense of OKness by being responsive with each other is one of the ways to work at confronting violence at low levels before it escalates. Relating authentically with each other and resolving conflicts so that everyone ends up feeling OK about themselves and the other is the goal for fostering cooperative community. One may not like another and choose not to relate to the other and still maintain a sense of OKness about oneself and the other. If violent beliefs and attitudes are not confronted at low levels, they will escalate because violence (competition) is not the way to win. Put downs, ignoring, and, of course, name calling are all low, first degree, forms of competition. Shoving, pushing, slapping, and spanking are second degree forms. Impacting families and other social groups by confronting low levels of violence and unhealthy competition is important as is boycotting movies and other forms of entertainment that glorify violence and unhealthy competition. Schools promote unhealthy competition by their great emphasis on sports and grades rather than on learning, creativity, character, and citizenship development. Law enforcement tries to fight violence with violence which, of course, fosters more violence. Suing, instead of dialoging, negotiating, and forgiving, are too common in our culture. Reaching out to children at risk with programs that instill self respect and respect for others, such as the parent and teacher programs designed my Jean Ilsly Clark (11), is very helpful.

Yes, we as Transactional Analysts are doing much to shift consciousness from a competitive win-lose mind set to cooperative community building behaviors and attitudes in families, in organizations, and in schools. We need to impact policy makers, “correctional” institutions, and law enforcement agencies, and the poor as well as the rich. We need to begin with the vision that a cooperative community is possible, that peaceful coexistence is achievable in the home, on the streets, and all places where people work and live together. We will have a great opportunity to explore and expand on this topic at our conference in Salem, Massachusetts this July and August; in the meantime sharing how you foster cooperation using TA through the NATAA web page could be of value to many of us and to all communities.


1. Berne, E. (1961) Transactional Analysis in Psychotherapy. New York: Grove Press.[back to text]

2. Polster, E. (1995) A Population of Selves: A Therapeutic Exploration of Personal Diversity. Jossey – Bass Inc.[back to text]

3. Stewart, Ian and Joines, V. (1987) TA today: A new introduction to transactional analysis. Chapel Hill: Lifespace Publishing.[back to text]

4. Harris, T. (1969) I’m OK-Your OK. New York: Harper & Row.[back to text]

5. Ernst, Franklin H. Jr (1971). “The OK Corral: the grid for get-on-with” Transactional Analysis Journal, I (4).[back to text]

6. Berne, E. (1964) Games People Play. New York: Grove Press.[back to text]

7. Garcia, F. N. (1991) “Responsivity” Transactional Analysis Journal 21 (4).[back to text]

8. Schiff, J. L. with Schiff, A. W., Mellor, K., Schiff, E., Schiff, S., Richman, D., Fishman, J., Wolz, L., Fishman, C., & Momb, D. (1975) Cathexis Reader: Transactional Analysis treatment of psychosis. New York: Harper & Row.[back to text]

9. James & Jongeward, (1971) Born to Win: Transactional Analysis with Gestalt Experiments. Menlo Park, California, Addison-Wesley Publishing Company.[back to text]

10. Buber, M. (1958). Hasidism and Modern Man. New York: Harper & Row.[back to text]

11. Clark, J. I. (1978) Self-Esteem: A Family Affair. Minneapolis: Winston Press. [back to text]

Response by Gaylon Palmer (GaylonLCSW @aol.com)

Felipe N. Garcia has thoughtfully discussed several key ideas about how communities either act cooperatively or competitively. His list of different behaviors between these two approaches to power within relationships gives the foundation to the notion of choice. Violence, as well as antisocial behavior, can be described as a lifelong belief that people act in a threatening way, and therefore, must be responded to with outrage and/or more power. I think the most violent people are unable to acknowledge internal fear.

How would a person unaware of his/her feelings of fear be able to act cooperatively? I think it would be very difficult to teach a person dealing with this feeling, to chose forgiveness or to go for options for problem solving. One of the best examples of suggesting that the violent “think” about what was going on was in a movie I saw about six months ago, with Drew Barrymore, called “Boys on the Side”. There was a particularly ugly scene of physical violence as a response to being lied to, and possible infidelity. When the secondary character intervened with a suggestion to consider other options in that situation, the two characters involved were so dumbfounded that someone would suggest that lying and infidelity could be addressed by looking at other options, they just stopped. No more fighting.

In my work with particularly violent couples, there is also the illusion that violence is the ONLY way to resolve a conflict. Slug it out. When I suggest the notion of choices, and to identify what is the underlying fear, by the question, “What is at stake for you here?” there is usually a moment of silence . Once there is silence, then there is the opportunity to make a choice.

Frank Ernst’s OK Corral is a useful tool in teaching about choice and looking at outcomes. I think that a commitment to cooperation must be first made as a conscious choice. Returning to the marriage counseling example,the couple who has decided to change the patterns of violence, is the couple who will use such tools as the “Walk Away” or the Time Out. These tools are only temporary stops to violence, and may be misused, unless the individuals within the relationship also take charge of their internal thoughts. Each of us has a choice to feel like the underdog, e.g., “She just wants to control me,” “He always gets to get his way,” and so on, or each individual can use positive self talk,as described by Pamela Butler, in her book “Talking To Yourself” By continuing the positive self-talk, the individual takes a look at the ways he/she continues the fear talk, and thus, the violence. In TA we talk about this internal dialogue as the Adult control of the Parent – Child dialogue.

What is the potential of such dialogue within larger communities? I think dialogue is powerful and useful. There have been examples of how getting to know the unknown inner workings of the “enemy” has resulted in greater cooperation and lessening of violence. In short, compassion and violence cannot exist in the same dialogue.

Response by Jonathon Wagner (73751.2216@CompuServe.com)

Some scientists are coming to the conclusion that cooperation is at the heart of all existence, a cooperation that stands on the edge of chaos.(1) Every move toward individuation, toward creation of new structures brings with it the possibility of breaking the delicate balance of our existence. On the other hand there seems to be a cooperative spirit that binds all structures from molecules to planetary orbits in a habitual balance that regulates new creation to incremental changes that maintains existence.

This emerging view of science puts me in a peculiar dilemma as a person diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Do I view the diagnosis as an indication of my existence falling into chaos? Or do I view it as a mechanism to maintain the balance of creation? Or is it the emergence of a microscopic new life form? From a strictly personal view I can only see the MS as a destructive competition that is destroying my well being. When I consider the five billion people that inhabit the earth who are fast destroying the balance of life I can view the MS as a cooperative effort to limit life.

One view of MS as a disorder is that an unidentified virus lodges in the body early in life which leads to destruction of the host body. It is possible to view that scenario as a new life form that has not yet learned to live cooperatively with its host as do many other organisms that live on and under our skin. Several months ago the National Public Radio program To The Best of Our Knowledge discussed one of these organisms that lives at the root of our eyebrows; I am bothered by this cooperation. Even though it is a friendly organism, now I have a new urge to frequently scratch my eyebrows.

I can not make the clear cut distinction between cooperation and competition that Felipe Garcia makes.(2) For me cooperation and competition are part of the same fabric of life. Each is useful for existence. I agree with Garcia that competition is often presented in a way that promotes autocratic positions and violent situations. But I have also seen competition used to stimulate everyone to be excellent. My sons played on championship water polo teams in high school. At one game when they were playing a new team in the league the score was becoming very unbalanced. At that point my son’s coach required everyone on his team to use his non dominate hand. His team gained skill and the other team was given a level of competition that spurred them to do their best. From childhood attempts to pile blocks higher and higher to Olympic competition we value discovering our abilities.

Just as competition can be constructive, cooperation can be detrimental. The current revolution in health care is fostering unforeseen cooperation that is destroying the checks and balances that assured us of quality care. As the companies that distribute the health care dollars develop more cooperative relationships with providers, clients begin to worry about who will advocate for their needs. As multi-national corporations amass economic control of resources greater than the governmental resources of many countries how to protect the welfare of workers and customers become issues. Cooperation and competition can be seen as merged together into an intricate dance. One group of cooperators becomes competition for another’s individuation.

The Newtonian view of the world as a machine, that would someday be understood with mathematical precision as a unity, is dissolving under the insights of quantum physics.(3) The perfection possible with Newton dissolves into multiple orders eked out of chaos. While hard nosed competition is not conducive to promoting new life, cooperation evolves because of the limited options and the possibility of chaos.(4) We live in a world of “both and” rather than a world of “either or.” We have a thread of unity that connects us to other aspects of existence and we have an individuated reality.(5) We are all one and we are all separate. Each of us are a mass of billions of cells cooperating to become an individual. Each of us is an individual competing and cooperating for the food, air and water we need to exist. The same tension between unity and diversity can be seen within each person. We are one person and many separate persons.

Transactional Analysis provides a system to explore the unity and diversity of each individual and the unity and diversity between individuals. As a person discovers the make up of ego states there is a discovery of unity and diversity. Those same ego states interact with the ego states of another person cooperatively and competitively. The more we are able to interact internally and interpersonally with the attitude of being OK with me and OK with another the more likely we are to cooperate and compete in a way that enhances life. To ignore the beneficial tension between competition and cooperation, to devalue the positive roles each play, limits and distorts existence. To expect ourselves to use only the positive aspects demonizes the negative, making the negative more difficult to manage and confront.(6)

To accept the holistic world view means to accept both our cooperative base and our competitive individuation. To be whole we must recognize that we live as individuals even when we attempt to see the whole. This means that our view is always distorted, always participating in both constructive and destructive forces. It is by recognizing our dual nature that we can live a more balanced life. When we deny part of our existence we propel ourselves into deeper distortion and destruction. The tools of transactional analysis enable a person to discover hidden parts of ones personality and thus maintain a more balanced life.

A fully balance life is not desirable. One of the recent discoveries in science is that too much orderliness is destructive. Fractals, disorderly orderliness, are required to maintain many systems. Our heart beat has an irregular irregularity to it.(7) When the heart becomes regular, it leads to a stroke. The courage to be, is the courage to act; knowing that each action has potential for great good or harm. Yet to not act, to become balanced brings death. Cooperation without competition is an illusion. Competition without cooperation is impossible.

1 Briggs, John; F. David Peat: Turbulent Mirror, Harper & Row, Publishers, New York, 1990. [back to text]

2 See Garcia’s article on this Web site. Note his lists that compare competition and cooperation. [back to text]

3 Briggs and Peat, p. 21. [back to text]

4 Briggs and Peat, p. 156ff. [back to text]

5 Briggs and Peat, p. 154f. [back to text]

6 See bibliography of trasactional analysis on this Web site . [back to text]

7 Briggs and Peat, p. 107f. [back to text]

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