THE PARENT The Parent is like a tape recorder. It is a collection of pre-recorded, pre-judged, prejudiced codes for living. When a person is in the Parent ego state she thinks, feels and behaves like one of her parents or someone who took their place. The Parent decides, without reasoning, how to react to situations, what is good or bad, and how people should live. The Parent judges for or against and can be controlling or supportive. When the Parent is critical it is called the Critical Parent. When it is supportive it is called the Nurturing Parent.
One ego state can dominate a person to the exclusion of the other two. An example of this is the excluding Nurturing or Critical Parent, which happens when a person is unable to use their Child or Adult. This person is at a great disadvantage because in order to be a well-functioning human being, the ego states must be available when needed.
With an excluding Parent as the only functioning ego state a person has to live without the benefit of his Child or Adult and is therefore cut off from two thirds of his human potential.
The Parent uses old “tapes” to solve problems, and is therefore usually twenty five years behind the times (though it may be 250 or as much as 2,500 years behind the times.) and is useful when there is no information available to the Adult, or no time to use the Adult to think. The Child, on the other hand, will create novel solutions based on intuition but these solutions may not be as reliable as the fact-based Adult decisions.
THE CHILD. When we are in the Child ego state we act like the child we once were. We aren’t just putting on an act; we think, feel, see, hear and react as a three or five or eight year old child. The ego states are fully experienced states of being, not just roles. When the Child is hateful or loving, impulsive, spontaneous or playful it is called the Natural Child. When it is thoughtful, creative or imaginative it is called the Little Professor. When it is fearful, guilty or ashamed it is called the Adapted Child. The Child has all the feelings; fear, love, anger, joy, sadness, shame and so on. The Child is often blamed for being the source of people’s troubles because it is self-centered, emotional, powerful and resists the suppression that comes with growing up.
In transactional analysis (TA) the Child is seen as the source of creativity, recreation and procreation; the only source of renewal in life. The Child can be observed in children for extended periods of time, but also in grownups in situations where people have permission to let the Child out, like at sport events or parties. The Child will appear for short periods of time in other situations, such as board meetings, classrooms or serious discussions where it may not be desired at all. In its most undesirable form it completely dominates a person’s life, as in the cases of persons who are severely emotionally disturbed whose confused, depressed, crazy or addicted Child will drive them to virtual self-destruction with out-of-control behavior. The Child may also appear for long periods of time in the form of depression or grief, as in the case of people who have incurred a great loss.
THE ADULT. When in the Adult ego state the person functions as a human computer. It operates on data it collects and stores or uses to make decisions according to a logic-based program.
When in the Adult ego state the person uses logical thinking to solve problems making sure that Child or Parent emotions do not contaminate the process. People may conclude from this that emotions are not good. But it only means that in order to be rational and logical we need to be able to separate ourselves from our emotions. It doesn’t mean that to be rational and logical is the best way to be at all times. In fact, just as an excluding Parent makes for an incomplete human being, so does an excluding Adult have the same deadening effect on people. People will also object: “I am an adult and I have emotions!” and they are right. Being a mature human being or grownup is not the same as being in the Adult ego state. Little children can be in their Adult and well adjusted grown-ups use their Parent and Child all the time.
The Adult computes all the facts fed into it. If the facts are up-to-date, then the Adult’s answers will be timely and more effective than the Parent’s solution. If the facts are incorrect, the Adult computer will produce incorrect answers. A very important function of the Adult is to predict outcomes and to provide a fact-based critique of the effectiveness of people’s behavior in the pursuit of their chosen goals. This fact-based, critical function is different from the value-based function of the Critical Parent.
Sometimes the Adult uses information which has its source in the Child or in the Parent and which may be incorrect. This is known as contamination. When a contamination comes from the Parent it is called a prejudice. For instance when someone assumes that women prefer to follow a man’s lead instead of making their own decisions this is data which comes to the Adult the from the Parent, and is a contamination because it is accepted as a fact without checking it against reality.
The same unchecked acceptance of information can occur with information fed by the Child in which case it is called delusion. A delusion is usually based on a Child fear or hope that is accepted as reality by the Adult. For instance when a person is convinced that he is being poisoned by the government this is probably based on his Child’s fears which the Adult accepts, rather than on fact. An extremely important process in transactional analysis is decontamination of the Adult.
TRANSACTIONS; COMPLEMENTARY, CROSSED AND COVERT. Transactions occur when any person relates to any other person. Each transaction is made up a stimulus and a response and transactions can proceed from the Parent, Adult or Child of one person to the Parent, Adult or Child of another person.
Complimentary and Crossed Transactions. A complimentary transaction involves one ego state in each person. In a crossed transaction the transactional response is addressed to an ego state different from the one which started the stimulus.
Communication can continue between two people as long as transactions are complimentary: Crossed transactions are important because they disrupt communication. This is useful to know because it helps transactional analysts understand how and why communication is disrupted. The rule is: “whenever a disruption of communication occurs, a crossed transaction caused it.” One very important kind of crossed transaction is the discount transaction. Here a person, in his response, completely disregards the contents of a transactional stimulus. Discounts are not always obvious but are always disruptive to the person receiving them and if repeated can severely disturb the recipient.
Covert Transactions. Covert transactions occur when people say one thing and mean another. Covert transactions are the basis of games and are especially interesting because they are deceptive. They have a social (overt) and a psychological (covert) level.
It is important to know the difference between the social and covert levels because in order to understand and predict what people are going to do, the covert level will give provide more information than the overt level.
One important reason we say one thing and mean another is that we are generally ashamed of our Child’s or Parent’s desires and feelings. Nevertheless, we act on these desires and express those feelings while we pretend to be doing otherwise. For instance, we may use smiling sarcasm instead of a direct expression of our anger, or when scared we may counter-attack instead of admitting our fears.
When we want attention or love we often feign indifference, and we have trouble giving or accepting them. In fact, because our lives are so immersed in half-truth and deception it can happen that we no longer know what it is our Child really wants. We also don’t expect people to be completely honest so that we never really know whether we can trust what they say. Transactional analysts encourage people to be honest with one another, and with themselves, about their wants and feelings, rather than “crooked” and covert. In this manner people can find out what they want, how to ask for it and, if possible, how to get it.