Transactional Analysis's Life Positions
Beyond the parts and the personal traits, our personality is powerfully influenced by our relationships with ourselves and with others. In the simplest terms, you can either like or dislike yourself and like or dislike others. Thus, Transactional Analysis (Harris, 1973) suggests that we live our lives according to one of four "life positions." The four basic types are:
"I'm OK; You're OK"--this is the only healthy attitude. The "adult" must be realistic, aware, and tolerant but in control of the "child" and the "parent." A person with such an orientation feels positive; they are winners.
"I'm not OK; You're OK"--this is the position we all begin in, according to Harris. Our life is sustained by others, so they are OK. When young, we are weak and unable to do many things others can do, so we feel "not OK." If we are repeatedly put down, if we are taught we are sinful, or if we become severe self-critics (like Sooty Sarah in chapter 6), we may take the "I'm not OK" attitude with us throughout life. If so, we run a risk of being anxious, depressed, passive and, in general, a loser.
"I'm OK; You're not OK"--this is a self-centered, self-serving position. If parents are unduly harsh, negligent, inconsistent or irrational, one learns that others are uncaring, unfair or unsupportive, i.e. "not OK." Such a person may certainly feel he/she is better than others, maybe even superior. They are likely to be distrustful, aloof, and unconcerned with helping others (who are no good). They may take from others without feeling guilty; they may insult others; they may avoid or hurt others.
"I'm not OK; You're not OK"--this is the most futile and helpless position of all. There is no way to turn for help; others won't help and you can't. Nothing seems worthwhile. At the least, this is an unhappy state of affairs and in the extreme, such a person's only recourse may be to withdraw into the utter hopelessness of depression or insanity.
You can see the crucial role that interpersonal relations play in determining what we are like, personality-wise. In Transactional Analysis, your life position is related to the "Life Script " you follow throughout life and the "Games " you play constantly with others. Scripts will be discussed next, games when we discuss interpersonal relations.
The "scripts" we follow
A "life script" is the unconscious plan or expectation one has for his/her life. It reflects the kind of relationships we have had and expect to have with other people. Our life script is developed or, at least, started by the time we are 5 or 6, before the "adult" and "parent" are fully developed, according to Transactional Analysis (Berne, 1973). Our "child," probably the "adaptive child," makes these judgments (the life position) and plans (script) based largely on messages sent by our parents' inner "child."
The messages from our parents (or whoever raised us) get inside our heads and become part of our life position and life script. Included in the myriad of messages are instructions, called injunctions, about what not to do. In response to these injunctions we give ourselves instructions, some of these self-messages are helpful in counteracting the injunctions, called allowers, and some are harmful, called drivers. Examples are given below. Consider the first example: the message from the threatened parent's "child" is, "Don't do so well that you feel adequate." To cope with feelings of inadequacy, the child's "child" may try to give a helpful self-instruction, such as "Be perfect!" This message "drives" us but, because it is unrealistic, assures that we will fail and feel inadequate (as commanded by the parent's "child"). We could, of course, learn to give ourselves a more realistically helpful message, an allower, such as "It's OK to be yourself and less than perfect." Kahler (1974) describes several common injunctions, drivers (not OK messages) and allowers (OK messages):
Injunctions Driver Messages Allower Messages Don't succeed.
Don't feel adequate.
Be perfect! It's OK to be human & succeed. Don't be fast and efficient. Hurry up! It's OK to take your time. Don't make it. Try and try again! It's OK to just do the best you can. Don't think and feel what you want;
think and feel what I want you to.
Please others, not yourself! It's OK to consider and respect yourself. Don't feel. Be strong! It's OK to be emotional and need others.
It is these sorts of primitive messages, plus other aspects of how we are dealt with (respected, valued, spoiled, neglected, resented), that determine how we feel about ourselves and others, and which produce a script for our lives. It is scary to think that we may be compelled to live out our lives in accordance with a five-year-old's interpretation of confused and subtle messages from our parents' irrational inner child. Many people seeking self-understanding reject this notion and disagree with Berne's (1973) book on scripts. Many of us don't like the idea that unconscious forces, like a script, are directing our lives. Liking or disliking something has little to do with its truth, however.
Your "child's" view of life as being positive or negative is related to your script being for a "winner" or a "loser." Our life script not only unconsciously controls the role we play but it also manipulates others into playing the roles needed for our script. For example, if your script depicts others as disliking you, you may act in irritating ways that insure a negative reaction from others. Yet, all we see is that "people don't like me." It may seem to us as though we are planning and living our lives rationally as adults but perhaps we aren't. If you experience the same kind of things happening over and over again with different kinds of people, suppose they all show little interest in being friendly, you should start looking for an underlying script. In any case, being aware of possible unconscious scripts should be helpful.
The best way to understand life scripts is through case illustrations. Sooty Sarah in chapter 5 and Stella in chapter 15 illustrate a "I'm a lonely, sickly, no-good person" script. They acquired the script in different ways, however. Berne described six common kinds of scripts based on one's orientation to time: (see if you think in any of these ways)
- A "before" orientation would involve focusing on the near future, e.g. "Before I get married, I'm going to do a lot of hell raisin" or "Before I get fired, I'm gonna take this company for all I can."
- An "after" orientation focuses on distant events, e.g. "After I finish college, things will be a lot better" or "After we get married, I'll get serious about holding a job" or "After I get a raise, I'll relax with the family more and slow down."
- An "over and over" orientation expects history to repeat itself, e.g. "Over and over again I fail, just when I think I am going to succeed" or "Over and over I think I have found the right person, then they screw me over."
- An "always" orientation sees things as remaining the same, e.g. "My job...my marriage...my family...the world will always be the same, so why try to change it?"
- A "never" orientation reflects a wish that will never come true, e.g. "I'll never be able to..." or "They will never change..."
- An "open ended" orientation is where the original script has been played out and now we have no script; thus, we feel lost. Berne believed most of us have a notion of when we will die. If we live beyond that time, we may have no script to guide us. Also, Berne believed it is hard for our "child" to out do our parents and may have no script for doing so. This had personal significance for Berne because his father was a physician who died in mid-life and his mother was a writer and close to her son. Berne, a writing physician, felt he was living on "borrowed time" after middle-age and he died of unknown causes about the time he reached the age of his mother at her death. Other examples of having a vague script are (1) a student who has been in school for 20 years and facing graduation has little notion of what professional life will be like or (2) a person who gets a divorce after 20 years of marriage and has little idea of what being single will be like.
Hopefully, a few brief descriptive phrases can convey to you the general nature of several life scripts or attitudes towards life. Remember these are "life plans" of 5-year-olds, which influence their life-style and continue to dominate their lives even as adults. Try to see which ones "ring true" for you.
- I'm the greatest, a conquering hero, a big shot.
- I want to do something worthwhile and I will.
- Let's live it up today, let's party, and I'll show you how much fun I can be.
- I'm a stud or a sexy thing.
- I'm a little angel or a good boy.
- I'm a fantastic ____ (student, athlete, talker, mechanic, reader, etc.)
- I'm the class clown, I make people happy.
- I'm a good person, I help people in need.
- I'm down on myself, I hate myself (see Sooty Sarah in chapter 6).
- I'm always messing up other people's lives. I just do and say the wrong things.
- I try hard but I am always making mistakes. I'm a sad sack. I can't do anything right.
- I'm so unattractive, no one will ever want me. It is better to be alone than to be rejected.
- I am weak and sickly, I've got problems, please don't abandon me (see Stella in chapter 15).
- I have a heavy cross to bear. I'm preparing for the worst, because it's coming.
- I'm a little rebel, a real trouble-maker, I'm never going to get along.
- I don't want to upset anyone, ever. I don't ask for much because I don't deserve it. I apologize (for being alive).
The idea of scripts is useful in uncovering and identifying possible unconscious forces that direct our lives. Yet, scripts aren't the only forces at work. The TA theorists tend to neglect the "adult's" conscious, reasonable planning and decision-making. As discussed in chapter 3, we can consciously chose our own values and life goals. We can pit our constructive self-help efforts against our unconscious, childish scripts, and live more rationally. You can give yourself realistic and practical "I'm OK" messages which can override any unconscious putdown messages. Furthermore, besides a "script," there are perhaps hundreds of driving forces, habits, and traits trying to find expression within us.
The notion of human needs
Most theories try to simplify our personality so it is understandable, i.e. three parts or nine character types or "the environment determines the behavior." Henry Murray and other theorists argued for much greater complexity. Murray wrote, "a personality is a full Congress of orators and pressure-groups...and a psychologist who does not know this in himself, whose mind is locked against the flux of images and feelings, should...make friends...with the various members of his household." A need is a force that causes us to act, to try to satisfy our specific wants. Murray identified 20 or more needs, including dominance, deference, aggression, autonomy, nurturance, achievement, order, understanding, sex, self-abasement, and to avoid harm or blame from others. The strength of these needs are constantly changing but the strongest needs at any one time strongly influence our behavior. Therefore, it is important to be able to measure the relative strength of our needs, as done with the Edwards Personal Preference Schedule (see chapter 15). Also, if needs determine our behavior, then it is vital to self-understanding that we know how our needs developed. Just saying "I have a need" is hardly a complete explanation.
Fromm proposed these five needs: (1) the need for human contact, especially love but including destructive interaction (domination, sadism, or submissive dependency) if love isn't possible. (2) The need for transcendence --to rise above and change things--can be positive or negative. If we love ourselves and others, we can act creatively. If we are powerless, we are likely to be destructive. (3) The need for rootedness stems from our almost universal dependency on our mothers. This need is related to the need later in life to worship and slavishly follow male authority figures; Fromm believes peace, justice, and equality will only come when we truly love and are well rooted in our identification with our fellow humans all over the world. (4) The need for identity involves knowing ourselves and accepting who we really are. (5) The need to believe in something and be devoted to those beliefs.
Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs was described in chapter 4 because unsatisfied basic needs take priority over higher needs. That may explain why certain changes in behavior are hard to make, i.e. pressing needs take priority over the desired new behavior. However, if basic needs are satisfied, we are supposedly free to self-actualize. What exactly does this mean? What would we be doing if we were well adjusted and free of worry about physical-safety and love-self-esteem needs? Maslow studied successful, creative people to find out.