Transactional Analysis

What it really means?

At its simplest level, Transactional Analysis is the method for studying interactions between individuals. Transactional analysis (or TA) is a model of people and relationships that was developed during the 1960’s by Dr. Eric Berne. It is based on two notions, that we have three parts or ‘ego-states’ to our personality, and secondly that these converse with one another in ‘transactions’.

There are three main ego-states under the transactional analysis: Parent, Adult and Child ego -states.

a) Parent:

There are two forms of Parent we can play.

The Nurturing Parent is caring and concerned and often may appear as a mother-figure (though men can play it too). They seek to keep the Child contented, offering a safe haven and unconditional love to calm the Child’s troubles.

The Controlling (or Critical) Parent, on the other hand, tries to make the Child do as the parent wants them to do, perhaps transferring values or beliefs or helping the Child to understand and live in society. They may also have negative intent, using the Child as a whipping-boy or worse.

b) Adult:

The Adult in us is the ‘grown up’ rational person who talks reasonably and assertively, neither trying to control nor reacting aggressively towards others. The Adult is comfortable with oneself and is, for many of us, our ‘ideal self’.

c) Child:

There are three types of Child we can play.

The Natural Child is largely un-self-aware and is characterised by the non-speech noises they make (yahoo, whee, etc.). They like playing and are open and vulnerable.

The cutely-named Little Professor is the curious and exploring Child who is always trying out new stuff (often much to their Controlling Parent’s annoyance). Together with the Natural Child they make up the Free Child.

The Adaptive Child reacts to the world around them, either changing themselves to fit in or rebelling against the forces they feel.


Communications (transactions)
When two people communicate, each exchange is a transaction. Many of our problems come from transactions which are unsuccessful.

Parents naturally speak to Children, as this is their role as a parent. They can talk with other Parents and Adults, although the subject still may be about the children.

The Nurturing Parent naturally talks to the Natural Child and the Controlling Parent to the Adaptive Child. In fact these parts of our personality are evoked by the opposite. Thus if I act as an Adaptive Child, I will most likely evoke the Controlling Parent in the other person.

We also play many games between these positions, and there are rituals from greetings to whole conversations (such as the weather) where we take different positions for different events. These are often ‘pre-recorded’ as scripts we just play out. They give us a sense of control and identity and reassure us that all is still well in the world. Other games can be negative and destructive and we play them more out of sense of habit and addiction than constructive pleasure.

Complementary transactions occur when both people are at the same level (Parent talking to Parent, etc.). Here, both are often thinking in the same way and communication is easier. Problems usually occur in Crossed transactions, where each is talking to a different level.

The parent is either nurturing or controlling, and often speaks to the child, who is either adaptive or ‘natural’ in their response. When both people talk as a Parent to the other’s Child, their wires get crossed and conflict results.

The ideal line of communication is the mature and rational Adult-Adult relationship.


It is very often misconstrued that a 40-year old cannot exhibit the natural child ego-state and a 6-year old cannot exhibit that of a controlling parent. However, very often these situations could be more prominent than the regular ego-states we associate different age groups with. For example, your parents may want to go out for a movie but you have exams. So you make your parents understand that you can’t go with them. In this scenario as you are the rational figure you are in an adult ego-state, and your parents are in natural child state. In different situations, people portray different ego states and every conversation is made in an attempt to establish an adult-adult transaction.

Shortcomings I feel are important

  1. Very often in today’s world transactions involve a lot of manipulation and rhetorics which the transactional analysis fails to account. For instance, a person may put on a child ego-state to actually control the actions of another person which is a parent ego-state. The transactional analysis does not account for the used tone and implied tone in a transaction.
  2. The transactional analysis states that the ideal situation is an adult-adult transaction. In certain situations, it is much more beneficial to both parties if one takes up a child state and the other a parent ego state. Very often people’s historical background and roots play a major role in determining ego-states in transactions. An adult state may be a difficult trait for many and therefore, rational conversations can very often not be carried out with them because even if dragged into rationality the quality doesn’t remain for long especially among people like rowdies. In such cases, the adult-adult transaction cannot be carried out and even if it is the purpose and effect of the transaction not remain for long.

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