Back in June the British voting public narrowly chose to leave the European Community, and in America the US voting public are in the process of choosing who will be the next president of the US, Hilary Clinton or Donald Trump. The first of these choices is already having far reaching effects on the UK, its economy and its sense of identity. The second of these choices has the potential to have far reaching consequences not just in the US but right across the world.
How can we start using Transactional Analysis to understand choices that people make?
One way we can think about this subject is in terms of the TA idea of “script”. This idea developed by Eric Berne suggests that we develop a particular life story of how life will be, what we are like, and what others are like. We then live out our lives based upon the unconscious script decisions we make, and unconsciously seek out both people and circumstances who will confirm this story for us. What this means in terms of choices is that unconsciously we make the choices that will confirm our script for us. So for instance if we have a script believe that you are not important and your opinion has no value, this may result in you making the choice not to vote in an election or referendum!!
It might seem here that what I am saying is that we make choices that are not always in our best interest. At one level I believe this to be true, and at another untrue. This is because the advantage of following our script is that it keeps our lives predictable, and provides us with an illusion of certainty in what otherwise would be a chaotic world.
The alternative to script it what Berne called “autonomy”, which involves the ability to see things as they are (rather than how we believe them to be), to recognise that we always have options we can choose from, and be open in our expression with others. This is no easy task!!
So how might we differentiate between scripty and autonomous decisions? To help here we could look at another model developed by Berne. Berne proposed that we have a number of ways of being in the world that he called Ego States. He identified 3 different types of Ego State: Parent, Adult and Child, which he represented in the following way.
Parent is described as ways of being (thinking, feeling, behaving, perceiving) taken from authority figures in our past. Child is described as a ways of being (thinking, feeling, behaving, perceiving) as we did in the past, most notably in childhood. Adult is described as a way of being (thinking, feeling, behaving, perceiving) that is a direct response to what is happening here and now, that is not contaminated with either Child or Parent. As script is based decisions we have made in the past coming from experiences in our past, we can see that when we are being in our Parent or Child Ego State we are operating from script and when we are being in our Adult we are operating autonomously.
Coming back to choices, let us look at how this can help us understand some of the current choices that people are or have made. If we look at Parent choices, these are linked to the values and belief systems (including prejudices) of significant people from our past. We can see this when people identify with a particular party at an election, perhaps identifying themselves as Republican (or Democrat) rather than actually weighing up the pros and cons of each option. Perhaps more disturbingly we see this in people’s thinking around who are people like “us”, and rejecting people like “them”, rather than taking a more holistic perspective on issues like migration.
If we look at choices made from Child, these may well involve a sense of reaction rather than a thought through response. Both in Brexit and the US election there has been talk in the media about people voting against the establishment, rebelling against the actual and perceived messages of what is good for them. Such rebellion, in the same way as blind adaptation to such messages is an indication of voters being in their Child Ego State.
Finally, we look at Adult choice. This is the choice that weighs up the available information at the time. This is the part of us that can recognise and acknowledge our own belief systems and childlike reactions to the choices we are presented with and not be swayed by them. Rather Adult choices make an informed decision, recognising our responsibility in making that choice and with consideration of the potential consequences both for and against making that choice.
May you all make more Adult choices in the days to come!!!