Transactional Analysis


Eric Berne (1910-1970) studied psychiatry and psychoanalysis at Yale, and over the course of time he found himself in conflict with traditional psychoanalytic theories, prompting him to create an alternative model of human behaviour called Transactional Analysis with influence from Paul Federn and Erik Erikson.

Berne introduced the concept of three ego states existing within the personality – Parent, Adult and Child to analyse social relations and communications with individuals, groups, couples and families. The underlying philosophy of TA is that people are OK (I’m OK –You’re OK), and the theory first began to emerge in 1949, and by 1957 TA was finally gaining acceptance within the international therapeutic community.

Berne proposed that there are four life positions that a person can hold including,


• I’m OK and you are OK This is the healthiest position about life and it means that I feel good about myself and that I feel good about others and their competence.
• I’m OK and you are not OK In this position I feel good about myself ,but I see others as damaged or less than, and it is usually not a healthy position.
• I’m not OK and you are OK. In this position the person sees him/herself as the weak partner in relationships, as others in life are perceived to be better than the self. The person who holds this position will unconsciously accept abuse as OK.
• I’m not OK and you are not OK. This is the worst position to hold as it means that I believe that I am in a terrible state and the rest of the world is as bad, and consequently, there is no hope.

pac2Berne suggested that each ego state, Parent, Adult and Child represents an entire system of thoughts, feelings and behaviour from which we interact with each other. He considered that there are two basic models of the ego states, the structural (the building blocks/content of the ego states – answering questions – what are they, how are they composed) and the functional (how the ego states actually behave) model.
These ego-states may, or may not, represent the relationships that they act out, or example, in the workplace, an adult supervisor may take on the Parent role, and discipline an adult employee as though they were a Child. Or a child, using their Parent ego-state, could scold their actual parent as though the parent were a Child.
Berne described that within the ego states there are subdivisions, and with regard to the Parent Ego State he suggested that that this ego state can be more nurturing (approving, affirmative, validating), or on the other hand, more critical and controlling. Berne described that the Child Ego State behaviours are either more natural or free, or morecompliant and adapted. He said that these subdivisions categorize individuals’ patterns of behaviour, feelings, and ways of thinking, that can be functional (beneficial or positive) or dysfunctional/counterproductive (negative).

There is no “universal” ego-state. For example, each Child Ego State is unique to the childhood experiences, mentality, intellect, and family of each individual; it is not a generalized childlike state.

Ego states can become contaminated, for example, when a person mistakes Parental rules and slogans, for here-and-now Adult reality, and when beliefs are taken as facts. Or when a person “knows” that everyone is laughing at him because “they always laughed”. This would be an example of a childhood contamination in that the here and now reality is overlaid with memories of historic incidents in childhood.

Parent Ego State
Berne described the Parent Ego State as the collection of memories recorded in the earlier years, and is a state in which people behave, feel, and think in response to an unconscious mirroring of how their parents (or other significant life figures) acted. The parental and societal expectations are uploaded into the brain as the persona is exposed to the behaviours from the significant others around them, and as Berne suggested, the messages that are received are from a range of seen and heard behaviours, but can also include information that is assumed.
The language of the Parent Ego State, typically includes, “should”, “must” and ought to” representing Critical Parent or validating and permission giving language of the Nurturing Parent. The language tends to reflect the parental, or significant others, expectations and obligations, and, society’s expectations and obligations. There is no doubt, as will be explored in the Intra-actional Analysis model, that the earlier messages recorded in the Parent Ego State are the most influential and tend to form core beliefs, schema and scripts.
The Parent Ego State is basically characterized by judgments values and attitudes, and is similar to the Superego in psychoanalytic terms. The Parent Ego State is considered to be comprised of a set of feelings, thinking and behaviours that people have copied from their parents or significant others. People take ideas, values and thoughts from elders, parents, and teachers, and these are known as introjections.

Functionally, the Parent Ego State is subdivided into the Critical/Controlling Parent and the Nurturing Parent. Berne considered that the Nurturing Parent Ego State represents more affirming and more pleasant qualities of what parents and society do for a person including, aspects such as, warning, forgiving, permitting and warmth, while he proposed that the Critical/Controlling Parent Ego State behaviours generally represent the corrective behaviours of real parents and the prohibitive messages of society, and are characterized by “should”, “must” and “ought to” statements, including, aspects of power, protection, principle and demand.

Adult Ego State
Berne proposed that the Adult Ego State is not related to a person’s age, but is related to a developmental state, in that, the Adult Ego State is concerned with logic and with rationally processing information. Berne noted in 1961 that the Adult Ego State is “principally concerned with transforming stimuli into pieces of information and processing and filing that information on the basis of previous experience.” In this sense then, the Adult Ego State can be likened to the hard drive of a computer and as such, this ego state is constantly updating. As the “central core computer of the personality”, the Adult Ego State communicates directly with reality, assimilating information from the other ego states and integrating it with messages from body-mind-spirit/value systems and then, sets up a course of action.

The Adult Ego State is concerned with responses generated here and now, and when using the Adult Ego State, individuals deal with the situation unencumbered by past experiences and with introjections from parents. So, the Adult Ego State is likened to the computer hard drive, processing information and making predictions and plans unencumbered by, and uninfluenced by, emotions and intuition. It is the case then that while the individual is processing through the Adult Ego State, decisions are based upon an objective appraisal of the reality of the here and now.

Child Ego State
Berne described the Child Ego State as the very first stage to develop within the personality, and this is, of course, the primary ego state developing in the first five years of personality development. Berne likened the Child Ego State to the Freudian concept of Id, and suggested that, it too, operated on the pleasure principle, was unconscious, and was aimed at the gratification and fulfillment of needs. Berne noted that the characteristics of the Child Ego Statewere concerned with the expression of feelings and intuition, and that the language of the Child Ego State was primarily “I” statements, such as, “I want”, “I need” etc. The Child Ego State is also characterized by the combination of impulses and desires directed towards the discovery of pleasure and happiness.
The Child Ego State within Berne’s model, collects information in a similar way to the Adult Ego State, in that it is comprised of feelings and behaviours experienced and learned during childhood, which in turn, influences the individual throughout life. Therefore, Child is astate 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 they used to 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.

Functionally, the Child Ego State is comprised of two parts, theNatural (Free) Child, which is spontaneous, intuitive, inquisitive, creative and pleasure seeking, and the Adapted Child, which is compliant to the wishes and demands of others, and which has developed from both the positive and negative interactions with the parents, and/or significant others. Berne proposed that the Natural Child Ego State represents a playful and spontaneous part of human behaviour, which is resident in all of us, while the Adapted Child Ego State has a degree of negativity, resistance, reaction and some deeper hostility, and it could be considered that a disobedient child, and a rebellious teenager, for example, may be seen to be in the Adapted Child Ego State.

A person operating through the Adapted Child Ego State could be considered to be behaving as if parents are watching and commenting. Berne noted that freedom from the various maladaptations that are embedded in the childhood script is required before the individual can be unencumbered by inappropriate, inauthentic and displaced emotions, which are not a fair and honest reflection of here-and-now life. In this case, childhood suffering, pity-me, mind games, compulsive behaviour and repetitive dysfunctional life patterns, for example.

Berne said that the aim of change under TA is to move toward Autonomy (freedom from childhood script), Spontaneity, Intimacy, and Problem Solving, as opposed to avoidance or passivity, with Cure as an ultimate goal. He described the four basic concepts in the following way.

That quality which is manifested by the release or recovery of three capacities: awareness, spontaneity and intimacy. In fact, any behaviour, thinking or feeling which is a response to here-and-now reality, rather than a response to script beliefs. Autonomy is a core concept in TA theory. The assumption is that all therapeutic interventions including, changes in script decision, ego state analysis, games and racket analysis, confronting and treatment contracts are used to reach the point of Autonomy. Autonomy is the goal of therapeutic intervention, and is the state where individuals are in balance with themselves, others, and the world around them, and are acting freely. Berne described this state as being script free, and it is in contrast to individualism or independence in which people are acting within their dysfunctional life script, maintaining a belief that others, or they themselves, are not OK.

Concerned with the freedom to choose how to react to the world around us. There is, of course, a full range of options available in terms of how to respond to the world and a spontaneous person will freely use all ego states to deliver a response, and refuses, at the same time, to comply with possibly outdated parental injunctions.

Relates to the capacity of the individual to be involved in a game free relationship that is both loving and reciprocal at the same time. A person who demonstrates intimacy will move willingly into the Free Child Ego State, which is affirmed by awareness arising from the Adult Ego State, and by protection from the Parent Ego State.

Relates to the social context of Autonomy in that the individual is influenced by concern about the impact of the individual’s actions upon others in the wider social context.
In relation to TA therapy, Berne noted that, “At a certain point, with the help of the therapist and his own Adult, he is capable of breaking out of his script entirely and putting his own show on the road, with new characters, new roles and a new plot and payoff. Such a script cure, which changes his character and his destiny, is also a clinical cure, since most of his symptoms will be relieved by his redecision.”In other words the “cure”, involves the act of breaking out of the pre-determined life script, acting autonomously, and not performing script related behaviour.

Berne used the term Contamination to describe an overload of Parent Ego State or Child Ego State functions, in that either a person is excessively duty-bound, or in contrast, excessively impulse-oriented, or spontaneous.

Berne suggested that Discounting is a process whereby a person can discount the receipt of some positive stroke by excusing it as unreal, or unmerited, (negative thinking). A person can discount himself, others, the existence of a problem, the seriousness of the problem or even, the possibility of fixing the problem.

Berne noted that Redefining means the distortion of reality when we deliberately (but unconsciously) distort things to match our preferred way of seeing the world. Therefore, a person whose script involves “struggling alone against a cold hard world” may redefine acts of kindness and concern towards then as the conclusion that others are merely trying to take advantage of them by manipulation.

Berne defined Exclusion as the blocking off the Parent Ego State from the Child Ego State, so the impact upon the Adult Ego State is diminished.

In TA theory, Games are unconscious behaviours which insulate and isolate people from reality, while Payoffs include freedom from guilt, freedom from change, or perhaps, receiving the negative strokes that an individual feels they unconsciously deserve.

The Script of a particular ego state is the basic way that the ego state responds to the world around. The script is the schema or the collection of various core beliefs embedded at an early stage of development. Life (or Childhood) Script is a life plan, directed to a reward. A Script is decisional and responsive; i.e., decided upon in childhood in response to perceptions of the world and as a means of living with, and making sense of, the world. It is not just thrust upon a person by external forces, but the Script is reinforced by parents (or other influential figures and experiences). The Script is for the most part outside awareness, and is about how we navigate through life and what we look out for. It is simply the case that the rest of reality is redefined (distorted) to match our filters. Each culture, country and people in the world has a Mythos, or a legend explaining its origins, core beliefs and purpose, and according to Berne so too do individual people. He proposed that a person begins writing his/her own life story (script) at a young age, as he/she tries to make sense of the world and his place within it. Although it is revised throughout life, the core story is selected and decided upon typically by age seven, and as adults it passes out of awareness. A life script might be “to be hurt many times, and suffer and make others feel bad when I die”, and could result in a person setting himself up for this, by adopting behaviours in childhood that produce exactly this effect. Although Berne identified several dozen common scripts, there are a practically an infinite number of them.

Berne identified twelve primary injunctions which people commonly build into their scripts. These are injunctions in the sense of being powerful (“I can’t/mustn’t …”) messages that embed into a child’s script/core belief system,
• Don’t be (don’t exist)
• Don’t be who you are (Don’t Be You)
• Don’t be a child
• Don’t grow up
• Don’t make it in your life (Don’t Succeed)
• Don’t do anything!
• Don’t be important
• Don’t belong
• Don’t be close
• Don’t be well (don’t be sane!)
• Don’t think Don’t feel
Against these, a child is often told other things he or she must do. These are the Drivers.
• Please me/others!
• Be perfect!
• Be Strong!
• Try Hard!
• Hurry Up!

Therefore, in creating Script a child will often attempt to juggle injunctions and drivers in that, “It’s okay for me to go on living (ignore don’t exist) so long as I try hard”. This explains why some change can be very difficult indeed, and to continue the above example, when a person stops trying hard and relaxes to be with his family, the injunction You don’t have the right to exist, which was being suppressed by their script, now becomes exposed and a vivid threat. Such an individual may feel a massive psychological pressure to return to trying hard, in order to feel safe and justified in existing. In an overall sense, scripts can be Tragic, Heroic or Banal (Non-Winner) in theme.

Strokes are considered a unit of nourishment and recognition that empowers the human psychological system. Positive Strokes come from acts of compliments, touching, acts of love, excitement, and from the joy of interacting with the world around, whereas, Negative Strokes are the product and outcome of painful experiences such as, abuses, accidents, disasters, personal failures and disappointments.Strokes are the recognition, attention or responsiveness that one person gives another. Strokes can be positive or negative, and the motivation is that people hunger for recognition, and lacking positive strokes, they will seek whatever kind they can, even if it is recognition of a negative kind. We test out as children what strategies and behaviours seem to get us strokes, of whatever kind we can get.

Strokes can be described in terms of four dimensions:
positive –negative
conditional – unconditional
internal – external
verbal – non-verbal
Positive unconditional
I love you.
I like you very much.
You are an interesting person.
Positive conditional
Always wear that dress because you are pretty wearing it.
I like when you are quiet.
You got excellent marks and I like your dedication.

Negative strokes are received as unpleasant transactions, and again, the quality of the negative strokes is conditionally based.
Negative unconditional
I hate you.
I feel sick when I see you around.
You are a bad person.
Negative conditional
That piece of work is not OK.
Your behaviour is shameful.
I am embarrassed when you spit on the street.

Plastic strokes are strokes given grandiosely and insincerely. They are always negative. Not many people, even stroke deprived, will take insincerity as a positive stroke. Such type of strokes is a part of the game called “You are wonderful doctor, therapist”, or “You are the most intelligent person I have ever seen in my life, every time I talk to you, I go back home and write down your words, just to remember them…”. Negative strokes, if they are conditional, can be helpful, however, and could point to a pathway for positive change. In fact, some people more often seek and give negative strokes. Many function on the principle that any kind of a stroke is better than no stroke at all. This behaviour usually starts in an early childhood when a child instinctively learns how to get a stroke and is not overly concerned at the time about the quality of the stroke.

The following is an example,
There were seven clients. One of them, usually passive in the group work, was the person who seeks and gives most negative strokes. His usual reaction before we start was,
“Can someone open a window; some people always use a strong perfume which makes me sick.”
“I am not going to participate, I have not done anything for a week and I know that I am far behind others. Maybe I am dumb. Is that right?”
“You can tell me the truth. I am dumb, am I?”
Some of interventions in the group setting were,
”Please, P., will you focus on the group, decide one thing that you like and comment on it.”
“Please, P., tell us what has been helpful today.”
The first several months, not very much has been helpful and the group has not received lots of positive comments. The first positive move has been at the end of 5th session when P. said: “It seems that I feel OK among you, people.”

Berne proposed that there are six ways of time structuring by giving and receiving strokes:
This means no strokes are being exchanged
A ritual is a series of transactions that are complementary (reciprocal), stereotyped and based on social programming. Rituals usually comprise a series of strokes exchanged between two parties For instance, two people may have a daily two stroke ritual, where, the first time they meet each day, each one greets the other with a “Hi”. Others may have a four stroke ritual, such as: A: Hi! B: Hi! How are you? A: Getting along. What about you? B: Fine. See you around. The next time they meet in the day, they may not exchange any strokes at all, or may just acknowledge each other’s presence with a curt nod. Some phenomena associated with daily rituals If a person exchanges fewer strokes than expected, the other person may feel that he is either preoccupied or acting high and mighty.If a person exchanges more strokes than expected, the other person might wonder whether he is trying to butter him up or get on good terms for some vested interests If two people do not meet for a long time, a backlog of strokes gets built up, so that the next time they meet, they may exchange a large number of strokes to catch up.
A pastime is a series of transactions that is complementary (reciprocal), semi-ritualistic, and is mainly intended as a time-structuring activity. Pastimes have no covert purpose and can usually be carried out only between people on the same wavelength. They are usually shallow and harmless. Pastimes are a type of smalltalk. Individuals often partake in similar pastimes throughout their entire life, as pastimes are generally very much linked to one’s life script and the games that one often plays. Some pastimes can even be understood as a reward for playing a certain game. For example, Eric Berne in Games People Play discusses how those who play the “Alcoholic” game (i.e., alcoholics, their Persecutors and their enablers) often enjoy the “Morning After” pastime in which participants share their most amusing or harrowing hangover stories.
Activities in this context mean the individuals work together for a common goal. This may be work, sports or something similar. In contrast to Pastimes, there is a meaningful purpose guiding the interactions, while Pastimes are just about exchanging strokes. Strokes can then be given in the context of the cooperation. Thus the strokes are generally not personal, but related to the activity.
Games in general allow for the most intensive strokes.
Intimacy as a way of structuring time allows one to exchange the strongest strokes without playing a Game. Intimacy differs from Games as there is no covert purpose, and differs from Activities as there is no other process going on which defines a context of cooperation. Strokes are personal, relating to the other person, and often unconditional.
Berne described a dual strategy game of getting, what he suggested where “permitted feelings,” while covering up our actual feelings that we feel are not acceptable. So, a racket feeling is “a familiar set of emotions, learned and enhanced during childhood, experienced in many different stress situations, and maladaptive as an adult means of problem solving”.

Berne noted that a racket is a set of behaviours which originate from the childhood script, rather than within the here-and-now/Adult process, and which are employed as a way to manipulate the environment to match the script, rather than to actually solve the problem. Further, Berne said that the covert goal is not so much to solve the problem, but to experience these racket feelings and feel internally justified in experiencing them. As in statements such as, “Why do I meet good guys who turn out to be so hurtful”, or “He always takes advantage of my goodwill”. So, the racket is then a set of behaviours and chosen strategies learned and practised in childhood which, in fact, helps to cause these feelings to be experienced.

Transactions describe the exchange of strokes through words, actions and emotions. They can be complementary, meaning they run parallel, but from two different ego states, and they can be crossed, meaning that either or both persons are misunderstanding, and either, or both, will feel Not OK as a result. They can be ulterior, meaning that a person can relate in one way (overt), but have another set of meanings (covert). Transactions are the flow of communication, and more specifically the unspoken psychological flow of communication that runs in parallel. Transactions occur simultaneously at both explicit and psychological levels. Example: sweet caring voice with sarcastic intent. To read the real communication requires both surface and non-verbal reading.
A complementary transaction is a simple transaction such as,
Parent Ego State (1) – “I feel so sorry for hungry people.”
Parent Ego State (2) – “Can we do anything to help?”
Adult Ego State (1) – “What time is it?”
Adult Ego State (2) – “It is 4.45.”
Child Ego State (1) – “I love you!”
Child Ego State (2) – “I love you, too!”
Parent Ego State (1) – “I feel so sorry for hungry people.”
Adult Ego State (2) – “Yes, I understand what you mean. Out there is a lot of misery.”
Child Ego State (1) – “Will you help me, please?”
Parent Ego State (2) – “Yes, of course.”
Child Ego State (1) – “I am so happy about my new job!”
Adult Ego State (2) – “I understand your happiness, the salary is significantly increased.”

Complementary transactions are safe transactions and continue indefinitely in an appropriate and expected way. Complementary transactions are part of usual work and family life, where roles were established a long time ago.
Some people tend to use only one ego state in communicating with others and their communication lasts a long time. Transactions with parallel vectors are seen in hobbies, some activities and harmonious intimacy.

pac6A Crossed transaction occurs when a communication is sent from one ego state, targeting another, but the response comes from a different ego state. In this situation people tend to withdraw, turn away from each other or change a subject. Crossed transactions are a frequent source of misunderstanding among people and usually act as an introduction to a game. If people involved want to stop a communication breakdown, they will need to shift ego states in order to create a new parallel transaction.
Adult Ego State (1) – “What time is it?”
Controlling Parent Ego State (2) – “Am I your mother? Get a watch!”

In Ulterior transactions, a message is sent through two levels – social and psychological. The verbal message is usually on an Adult-Adult social level, but an ulterior, psychological message is exchanged between other ego states. In most cases, this is between a Parent and a Child but sometimes between two Parents or between Child-Child. Berne called these transactions ‘duplex ulterior transactions’.
Social stimuli (A-A): “Shall we try together to solve that problem?”
Psychological stimuli (P-C): “You, stupid men, you have made a mistake!”
Social response (A-A): “Yes, of course.”
Psychological response (C-P): “I knew that I made mistake!”
Social stimuli (A-A): “Shall we try to solve that problem together?”
Psychological stimuli (C-P): “I need help!”
Social response (A-A): “Yes, of course.”
Psychological response (P-C): “I know that you need help.”
Social stimuli (A-A): “We need to see each other to discuss the issue.”
Psychological stimuli (C-C): “I would like to see you!”
Social response (A-A): “Tomorrow over lunch?!”
Psychological response (C-C): “I look forward to see you!”

In angular, ulterior transactions, an individual sends psychological and social stimuli from the same ego state to two different ego states, expecting a response on the psychological message.
Such as,
Social stimuli (A-A): “It is the last pair of shoes.”
Psychological stimuli (A-C): “Come on, buy them!”
Psychological response (C-A): “I will buy them!”
Social stimuli (A-A): “I think that something is wrong with this project.”
Psychological stimuli (A-P): “Can you help me, please!”
Psychological response (P-A): “What is wrong?”
In tangential transactions, a stimulus and a response target different issues or the same issue from a different perspective (for example: “Tell me more about your father.” with a response: “I had a fight with my friend.”)

Blocking transactions are transactions in which the purpose of raising an issue is avoided by disagreeing about the definition of issue. For example: “Do you love me?” with a response: “What is love, anyway?”

Passive behaviours
Passive behaviour has four manifestations – Doing Nothing, Over-adaptation, Agitation and/or Incapacitation/Violence, reflecting how people don’t do things or don’t do them effectively. One purpose of passivity is to maintain non-functioning of ego states in a dependency relationship. Passivity is perceived as a competitive survival struggle for the Child position. Two individuals might have a long-term relationship competing for the Child ego state position and complementing each other over years. If their symbiosis is threatened, they could slip into passive behaviours.
Doing Nothing
When faced with problems, some people choose to do nothing. It is not the Adult decision, because an individual subconsciously utilises energy in inhibiting responses. Child ego state is executive and Adult contamination is motivated by an attempt to keep symbiosis with everyone wanting to transact.
“Leave the room!”, said a teacher to a naughty pupil. The pupil does nothing, just stares at the teacher who begins to feel a need to rescue, automatically being caught in the symbiosis.
It is one of manifestations of passive behaviours that are most difficult to identify. A person who over-adapts does what he believes somebody else wants him to do, instead of working out an active solution for himself.
“I am cold!”, said a husband. A wife rushes to bring him a blanket, not being even asked for that.
Is likely to occur between over-adaptation and violence. This might involve repetitive behaviour that is non-directed and non-productive. Typical forms of agitation are food tapping, nail-biting, chain smoking and repetitive thoughts. Thinking is confused and a person feels inadequate. In a stage of agitation it is extremely difficult, if not impossible to function from Adult ego state. It could be a warning sign of impending violence and significance should not be underestimated.
Incapacitation and/or Violence
Violence and/or incapacitation represent the discharge of energy built up from passivity, and are attempts to enforce symbiosis at the time. Cognitive processes could not be identified and an individual does not take responsibility for own actions.
Incapacitation might include becoming ill, fainting, having a “nervous breakdown”, vomiting or getting drunk. Usually, someone else takes charge – hospital, family, social services or police, absolutely being unaware of agreeing to be part in a symbiotic game.

Berne proposed that a game is a series of transactions that is complementary (reciprocal), ulterior, and proceeds towards a predictable outcome. He said that games are always characterized by a switch in the roles of the players towards the end of the game, and that games are always played by the Parent and Child ego states. He said that the players in the games can play multiple roles, however, if a person uses their Adult ego state in a game then this would be a manoeuvre and not a game, because he postulated that the Adult functioning is conscious, whereas game playing is based on awareness. Berne indicated that each game has a secondary gain for the players such as, to gain some emotion and that both reflects and reinforces the life script including, sympathy and vindication, for example.

Games are essentially toxic and sometimes deadly methods of obtaining “strokes.” Berne said that a “stroke” was the unit of human contact and recognition. Strokes, Berne pointed out, are needed by people for psychological and eventually physical survival, just as they need food, water and air. These repetitive stroke-gathering interactions, labelled by Berne with the instantly recognizable names (such as “Why Don’t You, Yes But”; “Now I’ve Got You”; “I’m Only Trying to Help”, etc) which made TA famous, are the building blocks of people’s life scripts.

Many people must have been in a situation where they have said: “Why does this situation keep happening to me”, or “I always keep meeting people who hurt me and then go off and leave me”, and when similar situations, and patterns of behaviour keep happening over and over again then, then the behaviours are described as a game. So, a game is a familiar pattern of behaviour with a predictable outcome.
Games are played outside Adult awareness and they are the best attempt to get needs met. Unfortunately, with most games, people do not achieve desired outcomes. Games are learned patterns of behaviour and most people play a small number of favourite games across situations, different interactions and varying intensities.

Berne proposed that people tend to play games in order to, structure time; acquire strokes; maintain the substitute feeling and the system of thinking, beliefs and actions that go with it; confirm parental injunctions and further the life script; maintain the person’s life position by “proving” that self/others are not OK; provide a high level of stroke exchange while blocking intimacy and maintaining distance and make people predictable.
Berne said that games can be two handed, three handed, or many handed, for example, and he identified three game variables,
Flexibility: The ability of the players to change the currency of the game (that is, the tools they use to play it). In a flexible game, players may shift from words, to money, to parts of the body.
Tenacity: The persistence with which people play and stick to their games and their resistance to breaking it.
Intensity: Easy games are games played in a relaxed, playful way whereas, Hard games are games played in an aggressive sometimes violent way.
Berne graded games based on the degree of acceptability and potential harm including,
First Degree Games are socially acceptable in the players’ social circle.
Second Degree Games are games that the players would like to conceal, though they may not cause irreversible damage.
Third Degree Games are games that could lead to drastic harm to one or more of the parties concerned.
In his book “Games People Play” Eric Berne described the following games,

YDYB: Why Don’t You, Yes But
IFWY: If It Weren’t For You
WAHM: Why does this Always Happen to Me? (setting up a self-fulfilling prophecy)
SWYMD: See What You Made Me Do
UGMIT: You Got Me Into This
LHIT: Look How Hard I’ve Tried
ITHY: I’m Only Trying to Help You (becoming a neglected martyr
LYAHF: Let’s You and Him Fight (staging a love triangle
NIGYYSOB / NIGYSOB: Now I’ve Got You, You Son Of a Bitch ((escalating minor disagreements or errors into major interpersonal conflicts)

Berne suggested that the logic of games is wholly subjective, in that one person’s Parent Ego State might interact with another’s Child Ego State, rather than as Adult Ego State to Adult Ego State.

Games can also be characterized by a switch of roles of Persecutor, Victim and Rescuer, when the Victim can suddenly become the Persecutor, or the Rescuer switches to become a Persecutor (“You never appreciate me helping you!”).

Why Don’t You/Yes But
The first such game theorized was Why don’t you/Yes, But in which one player (White) would pose a problem as if seeking help, and the other player(s) (Black) would offer solutions (the “Why don’t you?” suggestion). This game was noticed as many patients played it in therapy and psychiatry sessions, and inspired Berne to identify other interpersonal “games”. White would point out a flaw in every Black player’s solution (the “Yes, but” response), until they all gave up in frustration. For example, if someone’s life script was “to be hurt many times, and suffer and make others feel bad when I die” a game of “Why Don’t You, Yes But” might proceed as follows:
White: I wish I could lose some weight.
Black: Why don’t you join a gym?
White: Yes but, I can’t afford the payments for a gym.
Black: Why don’t you speed walk around your block after you get home from work?
White: Yes but, I don’t dare walk alone in my neighborhood after dark.
Black: Why don’t you take the stairs at work instead of the elevator?

This game can proceed indefinitely with any number of players in the Black role, until Black’s imagination is exhausted, and she can think of no other solutions. At this point, White “wins” by having stumped Black. After a silent pause following Black’s final suggestion, the game is often brought to a formal end by a third role, Green, who makes a comment such as, “It just goes to show how difficult it is to lose weight.” The secondary gain for White was that he could claim to have justified his problem as insoluble and thus avoid the hard work of internal change; and for Black, to either feel the frustrated martyr (“I was only trying to help”) or a superior being, disrespected (“the patient was uncooperative”). Berne suggested that superficially, at least, this game can resemble Adult to Adult interaction (people seeking information or advice), but more often, according to Berne, the game is played by White’s helpless Child, and Black’s lecturing Parent ego states.

“Drunk” or “Alcoholic”
Berne identified the game of “Drunk” or “Alcoholic.”, in which the transactional object of the drunk, aside from the personal pleasure obtained by drinking, could be seen as being to set up a situation where the Child can be severely scolded not only by the internal parent but by any parental figures in the immediate environment who are interested enough to oblige. The pattern is shown to be similar to that in the non-alcoholic game “Schlemiel,” in which mess-making attracts attention and is a pleasure-giving way for White to lead up to the crux, which is obtaining forgiveness by Black.

“Kick Me”
A family consisting of the mother (Martha), the father (Fred), the son (Sidney) and the daughter-in-law (Diane), eat Sunday dinner every week together. Martha has always been a dependent, depressed person and is generally ignored by the family. Her thoughts and feelings are discounted and she has adopted the role of a Victim in a permanent Not–OK life position. Fred is an authoritarian person, taking care of the household, family and money with strong dedication. Initially appearing as a Persecutor or a Rescuer, he usually ends up in a Victim role. Sidney has moved away from the primary family, aware that the same patterns keep repeating from day-to-day and year-to-year. In spite of knowledge regarding family dynamics he comes every Sunday and willingly joins dinner. He has still not resolved the secondary symbiotic relationship with his mother. He quite often functions from the Rescuer position. Diane knows about games and serves the scenario from the bystander position (I am OK, you are not OK). The game is usually initiated by Martha, but sometimes by Fred or Sidney.

The general purpose, or aim, of the game is to keep roles in the same positions and maintain an illusion of a happy, solid family.
With regard to the dynamics, Martha plays the first and the second degree games, structures her lonely life by asking for banal strokes and lives her life script based on injunctions – Don’t Enjoy, Don’t Be Important, and Don’t Be You. The alternative to the game is scary – going crazy or running away including suicide. Games are her survival tool. Her husband and son subconsciously know this and instead of doing something about it, they discount her ability to change. Diane, as a bystander pretends not to be involved, but collects her own payoffs every Sunday.
The scene – dining room, all sitting around the table and a dinner is served. •
Martha: I tried my best, but it seems that you don’t like what I’ve prepared.
Fred: No, no, it is excellent.
Sidney: I like it, too.
Martha: Don’t you think the meat is too dry?
Fred: I don’t think so.
Martha: What’s about the salad? Is it too oily?
Sidney: Mum, I like everything, really.
Martha: But the veggies are not so fresh.
Fred: Everything is perfect, but if you want to know, it’s not salty enough!
Martha: I knew it (starts to cry and leaves the room).
Fred and Sidney are now confused!

Berne created a sequence of six game stages known as Game Formula including,
CON – psychological trick by which one person hooks another into playing a game.
GIMMICK – a person’s weak spot where he is wide open to being involved into a game.
RESPONSE – series of social messages in parallel transactions.
SWITCH – a moment when players change ego states and roles.
CROSS-UP – a moment of confusion when players wonder what has happened.
PAY-OFF – “prize” at the end of game in which every player experiences a bad feeling.
The Game Formula as applied to “Kick Me” is as follows,
C – Let’s play Sunday game – Awful dinner again
G – Fred and Sidney play Rescuers, reassurance
R – Series of parallel transactions about food
S – Fred (sometimes Sidney) turns nasty and moves to Persecutor
X – Silence
P – All feel bad

Berne was a prolific writer and had published many books and articles relating to psychiatry, psychoanalysis and Transactional Analysis including popular books such as “Games People Play” and “What Do You Say after You Say Hello?” These books popularised and made accessible the basic concepts of TA to the general public in language they could understand.

pac8The Games People Play (1964) has been an international bestseller which has altered the way people think and how they understand relationships. The ideas of the inner Child, Games, Strokes and Life Scripts are now widely used terms far outside the TA community and have entered everyday language. A final book, published after his death, “What Do You Say after You Say Hello” summarized much of his theory and its final development. The book opens with 4 questions:
What do you say after you say hello?
How do you say Hello?
What do you say after others say hello?
Why do we and others spend so much of our time not saying hello?


Eric Berne left behind him a profound and systematic theory of personality and a range of tools which have been used throughout the world to promote health and growth.

“Cultural Aspects of a Multiple Murder.” Psychiatric Quart. Supp. 24: 250-269, 1950.
“Concerning the Nature of Diagnosis.” Int. Rec. Med. 165: 283-292, 1952. No. 2 in the Intuition series.
“Concerning the Nature of Communication.” Psychiatric Quart. 27: 185-198, 1953. No. 3 in the Intuition series
“Principles of Group Psychotherapy.” Indian J. Neurol. & Psychiat. 4: 119-137, 1953.
“The Natural History of a Spontaneous Therapy Group.” Int. J. Group Psychotherapy. 4: 74-85, 1954.
“Intuition IV: Primal Images and Primal Judgment.” Psychiatric Quart. 29: 634-658, 1955.
“Group Attendance: Clinical and Theoretical Considerations.” Int. J. Group Psychotherapy. 5:392-403, 1955.
“Comparative Psychiatry and Tropical Psychiatry.” Am. J. Psychiatry. 113:193-200, 1956.
“The Psychological Structure of Space With Some Remarks on Robinson Crusoe.” Psychoanalytic Quart. 25:549-567, 1956.
A Layman’s Guide to Psychiatry and Psychoanalysis. New York: Simon & Schuster. (Originally published as The Mind in Action,, 1947). (3rd edition, 1968)
“Ego States in Psychotherapy.” Am. J. Psychotherapy. 11:293-309, 1957.
“Intuition V: The Ego Image.” Psychiatric Quart. 31; 611-627, 1957.
“The Mythology of Dark and Fair: Psychiatric Use of Folklore.” J. Amer. Folklore, (1957?)
“Transactional Analysis: A New and Effective Method of Group Therapy.” Am. J. Psychotherapy. 12:735-743, 1958.
“Group Therapy Abroad.” Int. J. Group Psychotherapy. 8:466-470, 1958.
“Principles of Transactional Analysis.” Indian J. Psychiatry. pp. 215-221, received for publication August 1, 1959.
“Psychiatric Epidemiology of the Fiji Islands.” In Progress in Psychotherapy, Vol. 4. Grune & Stratton, New York, 1959: pp. 310-313.
“Difficulties of Comparative Psychiatry: The Fiji Islands.” Am. J. Psychiatry. 116:104-109, 1959.
Berne, E., Starrels, R.J., and Trinchero, A. “Leadership Hunger in a Therapy Group.” AMA Archives of General Psychiatry. 2:75-80, 1960.
Berne, E. “‘Psychoanalytic’ Versus ‘Dynamic’ Group Therapy.” Int. J. Group Psychotherapy. 10:98-103, 1960.
“The Cultural Problem: Psychopathology in Tahiti,” Am. J. Psychiatry. 116:1076-1081, 1960.
Transactional analysis in psychotherapy: A systematic individual and social psychiatry. New York: Grove Press. (First Evergreen edition 1961; First Ballantine Books edition 1973)
The structure and dynamics of organizations and groups. New York: Grove Press. (First Evergreen Edition, 1966) (copyright J. B. Lippincott 1963)
Games People Play (1964), The psychology of human relationships. New York: Grove Press. (First paperback edition 1967).
Group treatment. New York: Grove Press. (Originally published as Principles of Group Treatment by Oxford University Press) (First Evergreen Black Cat Edition, 1970)
Berne, E., and others. Symposium on Game Theory and Theatre. Tulane Drama Review, Vol. II, No. 4 (Summer Issue), 1967.
“Staff-Patient Staff Conferences.” Am. J. Psychiatry. 125: 286-293, 1968.
“History of the ITAA: 1958-1968.” Transactional Anal. Bull. 7: 19-20, 1968.
The Happy Valley. Grove Press, New York, 1968.
A Layman’s Guide to Psychiatry and Psychoanalysis, Simon and Schuster, New York, Third Edition 1968.
Standard structural nomenclature. Transactional Analysis Bulletin, 8(32), 111-112.
“Editor’s Page.” Transactional Anal. Bull. 8:7-8, 1969.
“Introduction to Reparenting in Schizophrenia.” Transactional Anal. Bull. 8: 45-47, 1969.
Poindexter, W. Ray and Berne, Eric, “Games Prevent Social Progress.” In Hemmende Structuren in der heutigen Industriegcellschaft. (“Inhibiting Structures in Today’s Industrial Society.”) Buchdruckerei, Schuck Sohne AB, Ruschlikon ZH; Switzerland, 1969, pp. 153-170.
Berne, Eric. “Reply to Dr. Shapiro’s Critique.” Psychological Reports, 25: 478, 1969. Accepted for publication Sept. 4, 1969.
Sex in Human Loving. Simon & Schuster, New York, 1970.
“Eric Berne as Group Therapist.” Transactional Anal. Bull. 9: 75-83, 1970.
What Do You Say After You Say Hello? The psychology of human destiny. Grove Press, New York (1972).
Beyond Games and Scripts (1976) (C. Steiner & C. Kerr, Eds.). New York: Ballantine Books, Eric Berne; posthumous collection of Berne’s writings on transactional analysis (TA).
Intuition and ego states: 1977 (P. McCormick, Ed.). Posthumous collection of early papers; the origins of transactional analysis SF: Harper and Row. New York.