We’re not talking about Pac Man, we’re talking about P.A.C., man: Parent, Adult, Child; Transactional Analysis; I’m OK, You’re OK. (Is that OK?)
Transactional Analysis Definitions
According to Wikipedia:“Transactional analysis (abbreviated to TA), is a theory in psychology that examines the interactions, or ‘transactions’, between a person and other people. The underlying precept is that humans are social creatures and that a person is a multi-faceted being that changes when in contact with another person in their world. Canadian-born US psychiatrist Eric Berne developed the concept and paradigm of TA in the late 1950s.”
According to Berne, “Transactional analysis is a branch of social psychiatry, and game analysis is a special aspect of transactional analysis.”
Parent is a state in which people behave, feel, and think in response to an unconscious mimicking of how their parents (or other parental figures) acted, or how they interpreted their parent’s actions. For example, a person may shout at someone out of frustration because they learned from an influential figure in childhood the lesson that this seemed to be a way of relating that worked.(Wikipedia)
Most people have had to take on the Parent role while motivating their children to do their chores, get dressed for school, or eat their greens. For mothers, especially, this reduces the time it takes to explain why. The easier answer is ‘Because I told you to…’
Adult is a state of the ego which is most like a computer processing information and making predictions absent major emotions that could affect its operation. Learning to strengthen the Adult is a goal of TA. While a person is in the Adult ego state, he/she is directed towards an objective appraisal of reality. (Wikipedia)
Even children have an Adult ego state: that’s when they provide reasonable answers to questions, and sometimes can be spot-on in their assessments of situations. My sister, Anne, at three years of age, once replied, ‘I said, probably‘ when questioned about something she had declared at the kitchen table.
Child is a state in which people behave, feel, and think similarly to how they did in childhood. For example, a person who receives a poor evaluation at work may respond by looking at the floor and crying or pouting, as when scolded as a child. Conversely, a person who receives a good evaluation may respond with a broad smile and a joyful gesture of thanks. The Child is the source of emotions, creation, recreation, spontaneity, and intimacy. (Wikipedia)
For years, we have been advised to ‘let the Inner Child out.’ We instinctively know what that means.
If It Weren’t For You (IWFY)
Using just one example from the many that are explained in Eric Berne’s 1964 book, “Games People Play”, we can see how the interaction between a married couple carries a load of emotional baggage.
“Briefly, a woman marries a domineering man so that he will restrict her activities and thus keep her from getting into situations which frighten her. If this were a simple operation, she might express her gratitude when he performed this service for her. In the game of IWFY, however, her reaction is quite the opposite: she takes advantage of the situation to complain about the restrictions, which makes her spouse feel uneasy and gives her all sorts of advantages. This game is the internal social advantage. The external social advantage is the derivative pastime “If It Weren’t For Him,” which she plays with her congenial lady friends.”
TA Explanation of IWFY
The following is the analysis as provided by Berne:
Thesis. This is a general description of the game, including the immediate sequence of events (the social level) and information about their psychological background, evolution and significance (the psychological level). In the case of “If It Weren’t For You” Marital Type, the details already given will serve. For the sake of brevity, this game will henceforth be referred to as IWFY. (Please notice that IWFY is an anagram of WIFY.)
Antithesis. The presumption that a certain sequence constitutes a game is tentative until it has been existentially validated. This validation is carried out by a refusal to play or by undercutting the payoff. The one who is “it” will then make more intense efforts to continue the game. In the face of adamant refusal to play or a successful undercutting he will then lapse into a state called “despair,” which in some respects resembles a depression, but is different in significant ways. It is more acute and contains elements of frustration and bewilderment. It may be manifested, for example, by the onset of perplexed weeping. In a successful therapeutic situation this may soon be replaced by humorous laughter, implying an Adult realization: “There I go again!” Thus despair is a concern of the Adult, while in depression it is the Child who has the executive power. Hopefulness, enthusiasm or a lively interest in one’s surroundings is the opposite of depression; laughter is the opposite of despair. Hence the enjoyable quality of therapeutic game analysis. The antithesis to IWFY is permissiveness. As long as the husband is prohibitive, the game can proceed. If instead of saying “Don’t you dare!” he says “Go ahead!” the underlying phobias are unmasked, and the wife can no longer turn on him, as demonstrated in Mrs. White’s case.
IWFY is a two-handed game and calls for a restricted wife and a domineering husband. The wife may play her role either as a prudent Adult (“It’s best that I do as he says”) or as a petulant Child. The domineering husband may preserve an Adult ego state (“It’s best that you do as I say”) or slip into a Parental one (“You’d better do what I say”).
Since the childhood origins of a game, or its infantile prototypes, are instructive to study, it is worth-while to search for such cognates in making a formal description. It happens that IWFY is just as frequently played by little children as by grown-ups, so the childhood version is the same as the later one, with the actual parent substituted for the restricting husband.
Transactional Paradigm. The transactional analysis of a typical situation is presented, giving both the social and psychological levels of a revealing ulterior transaction. In its most dramatic form, IWFY at the social level is a Parent-Child game.
Mr. White: “You stay home and take care of the house.”
Mrs. White: “If it weren’t for you, I could be out having fun.”
At the psychological level (the ulterior marriage contract) the relationship is Child-Child, and quite different.
Mr. White: “You must always be here when I get home. I’m terrified of desertion.”
Mrs. White: “I will be if you help me avoid phobic situations.”
We cannot help ‘playing the game’ because socially that’s what we’re programmed to do. However, when one person chooses to react in a way that the other person is not expecting or inviting, the result is frustration of the game. That’s the equivalent of ‘talking at cross purposes.’