Transactional Analysis: The Games People Play

Transactional Analysis: The Games People Play

A Quick History

Count up the number of therapeutic modalities currently used in psychotherapy worldwide and they probably number in the hundreds. The psychiatrist Irvin Yalom would say that all psychotherapeutic modalities must inevitably deal with the Four Existential Givens of life. On the other hand, behavioral therapists might say all modalities deal with our behavioral responses to stimuli. The founder of Stoicism, Zeno of Citium, first derived this idea in 3rd Century BC Athens. Later Stoic Epictetus spread this idea further, stating, “It is not events that disturb us, it is our responses to them.” This notion inspired the entirety of what is now called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Freud would have said the influence of unconscious drives can explain all human behavior. Furthermore, bringing such drives to consciousness for the purpose of working with them adaptively is the purpose of therapy.

A Point of Departure

In the 1950s the psychiatrist Eric Berne, who trained for years in classical Freudian psychoanalysis, became dissatisfied with Freud’s focus on the individual in therapy. As a result, he began to develop a way of working with human behavior that involved analyzing social interactions. In this, Berne was part of a leading edge of therapists in the mid-20th century who were focusing on relational therapy, or more formally, Intersubjective Analysis. This is a fancy way of saying that humans are relational and therefore understanding those around us and being understood by others become primary drivers of human emotional health, growth, and change. It was, in fact, out of this movement toward relationships that the discipline of Marriage and Family Therapy was born. Even Freud recognized that our family relationships are crucial influences on our emotional health, as is the state of our various other relationships, particularly our intimate relationships.

Transactional Analysis: Three Basic States

Berne used a number of ideas from traditional psychoanalysis to organize Transactional Analysis.  He postulated that all humans think, feel and behave out of three basic ego states:  Parent, Adult, and Child.  Depending on the given situation a human finds themselves in, and depending on that human’s relative state of emotional maturity, she or he will function adaptively in one of these three ego states or a fluid, blended state.  Difficulties arise when the ego state I’m operating from does not really fit the situation I’m in.

Other Key Concepts of Transactional Analysis

I can’t adequately summarize Transactional Analysis briefly, but beyond the idea of the three Ego States as the building blocks of personality, it involves some other key concepts:

  • Script:  A story we have learned and internalized about ourselves. Negative stories about ourselves or others tend to result in dysfunctional social outcomes. The script itself tends to be out of our conscious awareness.
  • Games:  We all have our scripts and with them, we engage in various “games” that generally involve winners and losers. Games in Transactional Analysis have been defined thus:   “a series of duplex transactions which leads to a ‘switch’ and a well-defined, predictable ‘payoff’ that justifies a not-OK, or discounted (less-than) position.”  In a transactional game we act out our internalized script and things go well for a little while. Ee receive the “strokes” we expect to get from acting out our script instead of being vulnerable and authentic, until things inevitably go south – the “switch” – and then we get the “payoff.”
  • Strokes:  The pleasant or familiar thoughts and feelings we receive from playing out our social games with our internalized scripts.
  • Switch:  The moment when our internalized script’s utility breaks down. This is usually when the script prevents us from expressing our authentic identity in that moment.  We begin to feel sad, confused and angry.
  • Payoff:  The usual, expected result of our game, wherein we end up feeling a loser, or less-than.

Autonomy and Authenticity

The mature, ideal goal for any game in Transactional Analysis is “I’m-OK/You’re-OK.” That is, we both “win.” This results only when all the processes outlined above are within conscious awareness, which is the point of TA therapy. Naturally, this can take a while. We all have many scripts we have internalized from childhood or adolescence which are often quite dysfunctional. More generally the goal of transactional analysis is autonomy. In other words, awareness, spontaneity, and the capacity for intimacy. In achieving autonomy people have the capacity to make new decisions thereby empowering themselves and altering the course of their lives. This week at Barn Life Recovery, we are discussing the building blocks of TA therapy with our clients. What games do we play to live out our scripts and avoid authenticity and true intimacy? How do we do this? How does doing this make us feel?

Limerence: Love and the Brain

Limerence: Love and the Brain

Joy and Chaos

No doubt you’ve seen, or experienced for yourself, the state of limerence. The chaotic, sometimes even terrifying thoughts and feelings. The often irrational, even crazy behaviors. And most of all, the abject despair when our feelings of attraction are not returned. All of this is part of the limerence experience. Limerence is a precise term defined by, essentially, one crucial aspect of in-love/infatuation/romantic attraction: the psychological aspect. Psychologist Dorothy Tennov coined the term for her 1979 book, Love and Limerence: The Experience of Being in Love. It describes a concept that had grown out of her work in the mid-1960s, when she interviewed over 500 people on the topic of love. Tennov described this state of being as involuntary. However, it is, in fact, only involuntary insofar as the limerent person is unaware of what is driving them.

The Origins of Limerence

I would like to suggest evolutionary biology as the basis of limerence. Limerence promotes the possibility of procreation. It almost always brought a child as a result in the days before widespread family-planning resources. One hundred thousand years ago there were plenty of ways for humans to perish. Therefore, it was crucial for the survival of children that both parents stuck around. However, at about 3-7 years into a limerent relationship, the dopamine cycle responsible for limerence begins to drift back toward normal. Procreation achieved, with a child of an age to survive, the people in this limerent pair-bond begin to re-enter reality. They begin to see each other as who they really are, instead of as distorted fantasies of someone who will assuage or satisfy all inner needs – the emotional trick evolutionary biology plays on us to get us to commit to pair-bonding and procreation in the first place.

From Dopamine to Serotonin

Once the dopamine cycle fades, the serotonin/oxytocin cycle takes over. These endorphins foster feelings of contentment, trust, and groundedness. Very different from the rush of pleasure and terror fostered by the dopamine cycle. The reality is that dopamine cycles and serotonin cycles cause very different feelings that do not, in fact, go together much. At this point, people in a limerent bond have a choice to make. They can leave the bond to find another limerent experience involving a strong dopamine hit to the brain’s reward centers. Or, they can refocus their emotional and intellectual attention on their current partner with the goal of knowing them for who they really are. This can be a challenge, as many of us have discovered. The reward for doing it, though, is substantial. It offers a peaceful, contented relationship that allows for and fosters the emotional growth of both partners.

Exploring Limerence

This week, Barn Life Recovery explores limerence with our clients. If limerence fosters procreation for the purpose of raising a child to survival age, the serotonin cycle that comes after supports an intimate environment between partners fostering emotional growth and maturation and far deeper feelings of attachment. We explore the various irrational and emotionally questionable aspects of limerence: the fantasies, the intense highs and lows, the deep unhappiness limerence can cause. How might we become much more aware of the state of limerence? How can we become aware enough to manage these forces that drive us, and instead be the driver instead of the driven?

Barn Life Recovery is the first treatment center in the state of California licensed to treat mental illness on an outpatient community-based level. We specialize in mild to moderately severe mental illness, co-occurring disorders and addiction. If you or someone you love is struggling with anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues, or if you’re feeling overwhelmed and need some help refocusing, please don’t hesitate to give us a call today.