what is transactional analysis

What is Transactional Analysis?

I used to think transactional analysis was useless.

While studying Neuro-Linguistic Programming, I generally avoided most things that psychologists were using because it all seemed so unhelpful. Often what it seemed like they were simply doing was analyzing the content of the problems rather than working on the structure of the problem. My research showed that this largely left the problems to be unresolved.

While meeting with an NLP instructor here in Denver I came across transactional analysis and ego states. Looking over the practitioner manual for his organization I found that they were now teaching ego states and transactional analysis over their two-week course for practitioner certification.

I was intrigued yet skeptical of this knowledge since in the early days of NLP, practitioners would always make fun of psychologists and TAs. With an open mind I delved into learning more.

This lack of respect came only from an understanding that the TAs were generally less able to solve someone’s problems.

Transactional Analysis is the study of the content that takes place within conversations. This study of conversations can take place with the words said to others and even yourself. The aim is to get an understanding of these conversations and then apply the concepts in TA to how you talk to yourself or how you talk to others.

In analyzing these concepts it can be used in both a therapeutic therapy session where the TA works with one person or he can work with a group system such as a relationship or family.

I found transactional analysis to be most useful when dealing with interpersonal communication.

While NLP is going to be generally far more effective in just about everything, Transactional Analysis does have its uses. It’s limitations come only because we are generally working at a behavioral level of change.

Let me explain:

In Transactional Analysis, conversations are analyzed and exchanges are placed into one of three classifications of ego states:

  1. Parent – The person comes from an authoritative position. Here they support the other person and provide for them. However this becomes problematic when the other person doesn’t want the “parent’s” support.
  2. Adult – The person comes with responsible and appropriate behavior into the interaction. Sometimes considered an emotionless state, it is more of having the correct emotions for the given situation with the people involved.
  3. Child – The person comes from a need. They want something from another person and look to them for guidance, support, or maybe even love.

When looking at the exchanges we determine which ego state the person is coming from. By classifying these conversations we can add context to give us insight to the relationship and problems that might occur.

While you can do this in analyzing someone’s own behavior, I found this to be far more useful when analyzing people’s behaviors in relationships.

Whether this involves romantic relationships, family relationships, or even just friends you can look at these classifications of ego states and gain some valuable information about the communication in the relationship.

How is this useful?

This gives us an added context for a relationship, but also allows us to have a frame around how the people are communicating.What is likely the biggest benefit is analyzing your relationships with other people and seeing how you show up and how they show up.

It is unlikely that the best romantic relationships involve a parent to child connection. In the same way, two people acting as parents in a relationship is only going to lead to conflict and instability. A man continuously coming to a woman as the child in a relationship, always needing something isn’t going to be a great relationship dynamic.

In a different context if we look at family relationships, then we can also notice that the actual parent in the relationship could in fact be the child in its communication. Having a controlling or even nurturing ‘parent ‘as your child might not be in the best interest of that parent and will most likely lead to conflict. A specific example of this could be a nurturing son who only wants what’s best for his mother. She makes irresponsible decisions such as drinking too much alcohol and staying out too late. He takes care of her and makes sure that she gets to work on time the next day.

For a friendship maybe you can notice how you and others show up in the relationships? Sometimes there is a controlling friend that makes the decisions, is in charge, and is also caring for everyone in the group. When the others follow this person’s lead they are simply being the child in the relationship. This isn’t bad or good and can actually make for a sustainable connection.

When there are unstable or improper relationship transactions then transactional analysis aims to get the relationship back to an adult level of relationship transactions. This involves calm, cool, and rational communication between the parties where they are both treated with mutual respect.

Transactional analysis is an interesting subject with some use. While I have found communication strategies in NLP to be far more effective and useful, there are still parts of TA that I will use.

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The founder of Alter Shift, inspired thinker, and enthusiastic change specialist.