In the previous post on Transactional Analysis, we learnt about the parent, the adult and the child. These are all parts inside us – the voices in our heads.
So how does this affect our interactions?
TA breaks human interactions into two categories.
Complementary transactions happen when both parties are communicating with the same part, e.g. adult to adult. In short: complementary transactions FTW.
Cross transactions happen when one person is communicating with one part and the other with a different part, e.g. parent to child. These interactions are problematic.
(N.B. Just as there is the natural child and the adapted child, some people say that there are two types of parent: a nurturing parent and a critical parent. For simplicity (and because it reflects my experience with TA), I place the nurturing parent role within the adult so whenever I mention the parent, I mean the critical parent.)
The bad news is that cross transactions are easy to get into: if someone speaks to me with a parental subtext, it is more likely to bring out my child part than if someone spoke to me as an adult. Unless we’re both aware of what’s happening and can get back to an equal level, badness ensues.
There are over 100 different games (*gulp*) so I’m listing the most common below. If you want to know more about them, they’re described in Eric Berne’s book, Games People Play.
On a social level, the following games appear to be adult-adult interactions. However, on an emotional level the interaction is always parent-child.
The scenario: In this game, the agent (the person instigating the game) starts by presenting a problem. Person B responds with ‘Why don’t you [insert suggestion here]?’, to which person A replies ‘yes, but…’ or ‘The problem is…’ or something similar.
This can go on for hours.
What’s really happening: It’s important to remember that the unconscious purpose of the agent is not to get useful suggestions, but to reject them. That’s why they keep… rejecting them.
The solution: ‘That does sound like a difficult situation, what are you going to do about it?’ If the agent continues to push for the game, responding with ‘that’s too bad’ or something similar will stop them in their tracks. Either you can return to adult-adult conversation, or the agent will get fed up and find someone else to play with.
‘I’m only trying to help’
The scenario: Person A goes to Person B with a problem. Person B suggests something and person A goes away to try it. Later, they return saying it didn’t work, at which point person B suggests something different. Again, A returns saying the idea was no good. Person B suggests something else… etc. etc.
What’s really happening: This game is an inversion of ‘Yes, but…’ Person B is still in parent role but they’re getting a kick out of showing off their wisdom, while person A is in child mode trying to prove that their wisdom doesn’t exist.
The solution: The same as ‘Yes, but…’. Don’t engage.
‘See What You Made Me Do’
The scenario: Person A is painting/fixing/cooking etc. Person B interrupts and person A accidently puts a blob of paint in the wrong place, drops a screwdriver or burns the soup: ‘See what you made me do?!’ is the outburst.
There are also more subtle versions of this game, which usually interact with ‘I’m only trying to help’.
The scenario: a wife takes on the ‘I’m only trying to help’ role in the family and over time more and more decisions are delegated to her. Something happens, for instance the family end up in debt, leading the husband to play the ‘you got us into this’ card, which is another form of ‘See what you made me do?’.
What’s really going on: Of course, it’s not person B’s fault – they didn’t make person A do anything. The whole point of this game is for person A to avoid blame and responsibility by laying it on person B.
The solution: Leave the situation or give the responsibility back to the agent.
This game traditionally occurs in an offline setting but I’ve noticed it more and more in online interactions too.
The scenario: Person A makes a derogatory comment, followed by the word ‘sweetheart’, e.g. ‘It’s like that time you forgot to pick the children up from school. Isn’t that right, sweetheart?’
Online, this game usually occurs when someone says something similar to the above followed by a smiley face. :)
What’s really going on: Person A is throwing criticism at person B disguised as an adult comment. In more complex situations, person B gets drawn into interactions with A because they know A will reveal their deficiencies without B having to do it themselves. Then, it becomes a shaming exercise.
The solution: There are a few ways to respond to this without getting involved in the parent-child interaction. One is to reply with something like ‘Yes, honey’, or ‘Of course :)’, putting the other person’s vindictiveness back where it belongs. Another is to get everything out in the open: ‘You can make derogatory comments about me, but please don’t call me sweetheart afterwards’.
The Golden Rules of Games
1. Games always appear as adult-adult interactions but aren’t.
2. Games can’t be won by engaging. In fact, games can’t be won full stop, they can only be defused.
3. Don’t take responsibility for something that you’re not responsible for.
4. The most productive interactions are adult-adult.
5. Stay aware of how you’re feeling, stay curious of how the other person is feeling.
How often do these games appear in your life? What can you do to change these patterns?