You’d Better Know Your Lines…

actor on stageI often laugh at my eight year old. He’s funny. He says things like “naughty Daddy” with a mock-stern expression and tone– when I’m trying to put him in bed.

He can do an amazing impression of a two year old. A mixture of laughing and crying…which makes everyone, including his 11-year old brother, act like a parent ….”ahhgghh little baby…”

It was Dr Eric Berne (1910 – 1970) who first codified all this stuff. He called it transactional analysis.

Berne was a psychiatrist…

…in the US Army in the Second World War. Afterwards, he decided to live in Carmel in California. There’s some great footage of him on YouTube driving up the Pacific Coast Highway in a small sports car…I suspect he enjoyed life.

It was in Carmel that he started to write. He gained fame for his work on how people communicate and interact. He coined the phrase transactional analysis and his most read book The Games People Play became a best seller with the general public. It’s quite a remarkable book – every little psycho drama we humans inflict on each other – dissected and explained. Endless fun.

But let’s go back to transactional analysis (TA). I first learned about this in some ICI training centre in the 1990s. Been using it ever since. Works a treat with kids. Of all ages.

Egomaniacs…

In TA, Berne says that we are in one of three egostates at any given time.

Parent – where we mimic our parents

Adult – where we are logical and unemotional

Child – where we behave, feel and think like we did in childhood

When we have a bit of a chat with another human being the psychologists have chosen to call this a transaction, and our egostate tends to be on display.  

Here are a couple of ways this can go…

Complementary Transactions

A says – Can you give me a run home tonight?

B says – No problem – see you at the gate at 5pm.

This is adult to adult.

A – Let’s leave the office at 11am and hit the pub?

B – Great idea – I’m sick of this job!

This is Child-Child. (I’m not saying going to the pub at 11am is a good idea, but as a transaction between two people in the same egostate this works efficiently and effectively).

So far so good.

But here’s where it goes wrong…

Crossed transactions  

Someone hits you with a statement that does not fit with your ego-state…

A – You haven’t managed to produce the report in time. What can we do to get it in on time?

B – You give me too much to do. Joe never does his report on time and you don’t chase him. You never appreciate what I do anyway! (None of this may be said out loud).

The boss is being in the adult egostate and expects the subordinate to be in that state too, but the subordinate is in the child egostate and responds accordingly.  

The complementary transaction is efficient and effective. The crossed transaction is inefficient and ineffective.

So what?

It’s all about scripts. The scripts we have in our head.

Our scripts are a life plan. We choose our scripts in order to make sense of the world. They are reinforced by parents and others whom we care about. We spend most of our time not being aware of our own scripts (although they can often be painfully clear to others). However, if we take the time to be aware of what we’re thinking and what we’re feeling in different situations we can begin to become more conscious of what our scripts are actually saying to us.  

We tend to navigate…

…our way through this life based on our scripts. And we often distort reality to fit the script. So it’s worthwhile trying to identify any unhelpful scripts we may have because they are very, very limiting.

Unhelpful scripts are often based on one or more of the following declarations

…don’t be who you are…

…don’t be a child…

…don’t grow up…

…don’t be a success…

…don’t do anything…

…don’t be important…

…don’t do well…

…don’t belong…

…don’t think…

…don’t feel…

There’s more of this stuff around than you think. And some people, for the best of reasons, or the worst of reasons, will try to put some of this bad script writing into your head.

Curtain call…

And just as the character in the play is defined by her script, your script will define you.  

But you can re-write your script if you want to.  

The first stage is to be aware of any scripts we may have that are not helpful.

And next week I’ll show you what can be done about it all (and how you can help others to write great scripts for themselves).  

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