Psychotherapies Without Feeling

by Dr. Arthur Janov

Posted June 2005 on

Chapter 14: Transactional Analysis: Making a Better Adult Mask


In his well-known book, Games People Play (1964), Eric Berne originated Transactional Analysis (TA).  This is another cognitive therapy which, like RET, calls for rational analysis of one's thinking, beliefs, feelings, and actions in order to free oneself from old, restrictive patterns.  "Each person designs his own life," Berne wrote in a later work, What Do You Do After You Say Hello (1971).  "Freedom gives him the power to carry out his own designs, and power gives the freedom to interfere with the designs of others."  According to TA, once individuals gain "awareness" of why they think and feel the way they do they can opt for more rational and sensible alternatives.  In short, TA theory is a tool to "help people better adjust their behaviors and have more satisfying relationships."[1]

To explore the theories and practices of TA, I have chosen to critique Thomas Harris' popular book I'm OK -- You're OK, described as a "practical guide to Transactional Analysis."  Harris acknowledges Berne's contribution to the development and application of TA, and characterizes Berne's approach as "a blueprint of the mind, which no one had constructed before, along with a precision vocabulary, which anybody would understand, to identify the parts of the blueprint."[2]   The precision vocabulary Harris refers to consists of three words:  Parent, Child, and Adult.  These represent three separate ego states, or those parental, childhood, and adulthood influences that exist within all of us.  Upon this framework Berne hung his "blueprint" of personality.  Whether positive or negative, these three influences determine the outcome of our transactions (interactions with others, comprised of stimuli and responses) and shape our inner state of being.

The purpose of TA, as Harris sees it, is to inform us about the existence of this inner trio and to help us understand, analyze, and evaluate it.  We must learn, that is, how to differentiate between a negative, judgmental Parent and a positive, guiding Parent; and between a spoiled and impulsive Child and a spontaneous and creative Child -- all of which is accomplished via the balanced perceptions of the Adult.  In this way we can analyze the elements of our own "scripts," or attitudes and decisions which lead to repetitive ways of behaving.  We can understand "how the mind operates, why we do what we do, and how we can stop doing what we do if we wish."

The Theory:  P-A-C (Parent-Adult-Child)

Interestingly, Harris begins his book with research that also serves as a foundation for Primal theory.  He quotes passages from neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield, describing how the placement of electronic probes on certain parts of the brain elicits old memories.  Harris notes that the memories are apparently encoded in the brain, and that they contain the mental recall of the experience as well as the original emotions which accompanied it.  Both the mental and emotional components of the memory are retrievable when the brain is stimulated, which he stresses means that the memory is more relived than recalled.

Harris offers Penfield's work as proof that childhood memories endure for a lifetime and can be relived under the right conditions.  He then extrapolates the following conclusions:

1)  The brain functions as a "high fidelity tape recorder."

2)  The feelings associated with past experiences also are recorded and are "inextricably locked" to those experiences.

3)  We can exist in two states at one time, as both observer and participant.  (Harris concludes this from the fact that Penfield's patients knew they were on the operating table in a hospital at the same time they were reexperiencing vivid memories being stimulated by electrodes.)

4)  Recorded experiences and the feelings associated with them are available for replay today in as vivid a form as when they actually occurred.

Since the tape recorder analogy provides the ethos and ambiance of TA therapy, let us pause to examine Harris' first point.

Theorists like to provide analogies to help clarify ideas and make them more comprehensible.  For these reasons analogies tend to be simple, clear, and obvious.  They make long, detailed descriptions and explanations unnecessary because they connote rather than denote.  The reader makes a jump from the often difficult ground of concept to the more familiar footing of images and pictures. Complex and diverse processes such as memory, feeling, learning, and attitudes, as well as the brain in which they are housed, are thus all explained in terms of a familiar appliance like the tape recorder.

The danger here, especially when we are talking about the reality of human beings, is that instead of thinking that the mind is like a tape recorder, we begin treating it as if it is one.  But it certainly is not; a tape recorder may be able to hear, a video tape recorder can hear and also see, but neither one of them can feel.  We forget that we are utilizing analogy or metaphor --clever but incomplete comparisons which can end up diminishing us into ostensibly adjustable machinery and adding to our confusion.

Harris continues his analogical thinking by making a questionable theoretical leap.  Since Penfield's experiments indicate that our experiences are coded and stored intact, Harris concludes that these experiences somehow coalesce into three distinct psychological entities within us:  Parent, Adult, and Child.  These entities, according to Harris, become neuroticized through transaction (interaction between people), which is the "agreed-upon unit" of neurosis and the pivotal point of cure.  If neurosis begins as a result of a series of bad transactions, its correction must lie in a series of good transactions.  Good transactions in the outer world are brought about by a careful analysis (TA) of one's own internal transactions among the three residing entities of Parent, Child, and Adult.  Such an analysis "enables a person to have freedom of choice, the freedom to change at will, to change the responses to recurring and new stimuli." (p. 58)  This freedom constitutes an "emancipated Adult" who knows the truth about what is in the Parent and the Child, and how both are feeding into current transactions.

Since the Child is the first identity to form chronologically, Harris begins with a description of those aspects of childhood which contribute to the universal starting point for all of us: the not-OK Child.

The Child

The Child in Harris' system is a conglomerate of what was heard, seen, and felt in childhood.  Feeling is the primary response of the Child in us.  Since certain aspects of childhood are universal -- every child is small, helpless, and utterly dependent -- Harris concludes that the universal feeling of "I'm not OK" is every child's starting point:  "It is the situation of childhood and not the intention of the parents which produces the problem." (p. 26)  This means that the not OK child exists in all of us, even if our parents were kind, loving, and sensitive.  Thus, according to Harris, every child concludes "I'm not OK" about himself, and "You're OK" about his parents.  In this way a life position or life script of "I'm not OK -- You're OK" is established (usually by the age of two) as the "most deterministic decision" of the child's life. (p. 37)

Because this decision is permanently recorded (as per Penfield's research), it influences all action from that moment forward.  The not OK decision itself becomes a "tape" which "records" all the negative, hurtful feelings of childhood.  So encompassing is this tape that it forms a state-of-being which Harris calls the Child.  It also writes the script for how he will behave.  This Child, who has decided he is not OK, makes other decisions in order to receive "strokes" from his parents and others, Berne's term which means positive stimulation, or positive recognition.[3]  So they are obedient, dutiful, self-effacing, designing their behavior so that it is agreeable and pleasing to others.  Or they unconsciously create situations ("ulterior transactions") which repeat what happened in the past, such as what might happen in therapy, according to one transactional analyst:

If the client projects anger onto the psychotherapist, and then experiences the therapist of being angry or attacking, the client is inviting the therapist to behave in an angry or attacking manner.  If the therapist responds in the induced way, a game or repetitive negative pattern is played out by both, often echoing the client's childhood experiences.

Note the use of the word "induced."  In the piece from which this example is cited, the author (Petruska Clarkson, M A., Ph.D.) maintains that such recurring patterns which occur in therapy as well as in everyday interpersonal situations, and which are Berne's "games people play," are akin to hypnotic inductions.[4]  From another source we learn that an individual's repetition of certain behavioral patterns yields him a "payoff," in the form of (borrowing from Gestalt Therapy) "a repetition of important unfinished business in the past."  Perhaps he arrives late to a therapy session, "in order to be criticized and to feel as [he] felt," "recreating" the past in the present in an unknowing attempt to finish what was not finished then.[5]  What underlies this unconscious seeking of a payoff?  It is a "desperate need for strokes" being experienced by "a suffering Child beneath an apparent Critical Parent."[6]  And the job of therapists involves finishing this business, dehypnotizing our clients from the limitations and restrictions they decisionally accepted as youngsters."[7]

But how is this accomplished -- how do we get out of such old tapes and behaviorally-constricting scripts and into more liberating ones?  How do we get out of the basic life position of "I'm not OK -- You're OK," recorded in the first few years of life?  Harris says that it requires making a new decision:  "Because it is a decision it can be changed by a new decision." (p. 37)  And later in life, the therapist is there in a "working alliance" with the patient to help the patient make the kinds of decisions which will change her life.[8]  This is the basis of what Goulding and Goulding called "redecision therapy," the modified version of TA to which Harris adheres.

Since the rest of Harris' theory and therapy rests upon the premise of childhood decision-making, I would like to point out the basic contradictions within it before proceeding.

To begin with, notice that Harris alternately labels the not OK feelings of childhood as a conclusion, a position, and a decision -- as if all three were synonymous processes.  They are not.  A conclusion implies a viewpoint based on or inferred from an accumulation of prior experience.  For example, a child might conclude that he was unwanted based on the prior experience of being ignored or mistreated.  A position also implies a viewpoint resulting from prior experience; the child takes the position of not being important because he was not treated in any special way. Both conclusion and position imply a passive process of assessing information based on prior experience.  A decision, however, implies an active process of choosing among factors both old and new and being aware that you are doing so.  Thus the child might decide that he doesn't want to play baseball based on prior experiences of not being good at the game.  He doesn't, however, decide that he is unwanted, based on his prior experiences. Rather, he experiences the reality of being unwanted and "concludes" (feels) that he is unwanted.  This conclusion would be an empirical rather than cognitive one; it would be derived out of the child's life experiences, reflecting an organic integrity which could not be altered by the simple "decision" to change the decision.

In Harris' system, decision-making is both the problem and the solution.  He says that the critical "I'm not OK -- You're OK" decision is made no later than the age of two, and is a completely nonverbal and precognitive process.  Yet to say that the toddler decides he is not OK clearly implies a consciousness, autonomy, and cognitive deliberation which are not available in preverbal or precognitive states of development.  In other words, there is an obvious contradiction in this basic aspect of Harris' system, because decision-making and pre-cognitive states of being cannot coexist.

A second, similar contradiction arises from the fact that what Harris calls a decision, he also calls a universal attribute of childhood.  But how can the child make a decision about not being OK when there is only one possibility in the first place? Decision-making implies a choice among alternatives.  In Harris' system, however, there is only one predetermined possibility, which he then contends is somehow decided upon.  First he makes the not OK feeling a cultural inevitability; then he makes it an individual decision.  The problem is that inevitability and decision_making cannot coexist -- they are a contradiction in terms.

Although he cannot conceive it or enunciate it as such, a child begins only with "I am" until he learns from experience that there is an "OK" and a "not OK" feeling, if you will.  This experience provides the child with an awareness that he is either valued or not valued.  Usually the awareness of not being valued comes as the result of being denied proper fulfillment of his needs from the people he values as OK because they are supposedly his providers.  Even in adulthood, "the Child is a state into which a person may be transferred at almost any time in his current transactions." (p. 26)  Harris rightly explains that when difficult situations "hook the Child," old "tapes" of rejection, helplessness, and abandonment are replayed, although I certainly would not use his metaphoric terminology.  These "archaic" tapes place us "in the grip of feelings" -- be they tears, anger, or depression --feelings which indicates that the Child has "taken over."  While Harris admits that the Child is the feeling being in us, he cautions that it must be watched over and held in check by the reasoning Adult.  It is the Child that overwhelms us with feeling, that reacts without thinking, and in whom tears and anger will dominate.  It is the Child who carries the archaic not OK feelings to be discerned and filtered out by the Adult.  Indeed, whenever we are impulsive and irrational, it is because our Child is "coming on."

"Whenever we are impulsive and irrational, it is because our Child is coming on" seems a harmless and sensible enough statement, with an element of truth in it.  But viewed from another vantage point, it has a simplistic and harmful element.

The supremacy of rationality in modern life has made it increasingly difficult to accept the non-rational world.  Rather than being an adjective which factually denotes the opposite of "rational,"  "irrational" is now laden with moral condemnation.  We are almost incapable of thinking of rationality as anything other than virtuous and its opposite as a sort of chaotic beastliness.

Simply because certain aspects of our being are beyond the considered formalities of reason, it does not mean they do not make sense in their own ways.  They are rational in that they have an idiosyncratic order, meaning, and language.  They may even be rational in the familiar and formal (logical) sense of the word, with the perceivers (us) lacking in our abilities to detect and comprehend all the many complex factors and interrelationships. Saying that this or that type of human behavior is "irrational" may in the end prove to mean nothing more than saying that we do not see all of its dynamics clearly at the time it happens.

It is in the nature of children to be spontaneous, impulsive, emotional, and "irrational" because reason as a conscious mental facility is a late acquisition in their development.  Yet we turn this natural condition against them.  Irrational and impulsive behavior is tagged a flaw to be pressed out as soon as possible. "Stop acting like a child!  Grow up!", we insist.  Being told you are like a child (even if you are one) becomes an insult.  We look for a cooling of passions, a muting of reactions, a flattening of emotions, a restraining of spontaneous impulses such as mischievous behavior.  When these are modified by parental injunctions and other attitudes learned from external authorities, when a moderate "Adult" sensibility is developed, we judge them to be signs of maturity.  And so they may be, especially if maturity is defined by the very rationality to which these modifications conform.  It is the cultivated definition of the intellect, but how does it stand in relation to the innate definitions of biology?

There is a trap here because childish behavior in the adult is inappropriate.  What we need is a proper understanding of why it exists so that we can do something about it other than condemn and suppress it.  Although we realize that the neurotic adult is still very much a child, prone to emotional extremes of enthusiasm and sadness, bursts of anger, the tendency to withdraw and rebel, we can see that stamping the label "Child" upon him with its implied pejorative judgment is to miss the point.

"Stop being a child" is an impossible injunction to follow because whatever he does he is still a child.  It is one thing to tell someone what he "should" or shouldn't do and be, and yet another what he is and can hardly help doing.  The problem is that this childishness is only half-way conscious.  He acts from it or against it but never fully gives in to it.  He never lets himself be the child because ever since he was actually a child he was enjoined by parents, teachers, and even friends not to be one.  Now that he is an adult, the reasons why he should not be a child are more compelling than ever.  It is a bind.  Because he had to abide such injunctions as "grow up," "be reasonable," "control yourself," "act like an adult," "don't be so childish," "think before you act," and so forth, he never really was a child.  This means that he couldn't grow up naturally, and he did not grow up in accordance with the innate timetable of need.  Maybe Harris' Child is impulsive and irrational precisely because he imposed an Adult surveillance system -- the whole infrastructure of do's and don'ts and shoulds and shouldn'ts -- over what would have been natural childhood feeling.  Harris' Child would then naturally become a behavior-problem child, acting out its watched over and checked feelings in the only way possible:  negatively, impulsively, and irrationally.

Also note Harris' use of the passive voice:  "The Child is a state into which a person may be transferred."  He does not specify the mechanisms that mediate this transference; nor does he specify the active agents in the "state" of the Child.  Harris contends that the language of TA is the "precision tool" of the treatment. Yet what could be more imprecise than to declare that "the Child is a state" -- does he mean something physical, mental, emotional, biological, psychological, a combination of all? -- "into which a person may be transferred."  By what?  By neurons, by chemicals, by thoughts, by brainwaves, by wishes, by fears, by desires?

The passive voice is appropriate in one sense:  things do happen within us in which it seems we have played no active part. What is really underneath Harris' vague and imprecise passive process is a very precise and active process:  the neurological reverberation of unconscious Pain.  Pain is the active agent which transfers us into the feelings of childhood.  Harris' point about the Child being "a state" into which a person may be "transferred" could be rewritten as follows:  Pain transfers the adult into the original childhood feelings of traumatic events so that the adult relives those events.

The other thing to ask is whether Harris' personified psychological divisions of the mind accurately correspond to the neurological capability as described by Penfield.  But let's continue to explore Transactional Analysis' distinctive tripartite separation of personality.

The Parent

The Parent is comprised of a "huge collection of recordings in the brain" that are set down the first five years of the child's life. (page 18)  The most significant tapes we develop are provided by the example of the parents:  what they say, what they teach us, how they behave.  The "data" in the Parent is taken in and recorded verbatim because the child does not have the capacity to modify, evaluate, or correct what he sees, hears, and learns.  All parental rules, admonitions, and attitudes (as well as all useful data in the "how-to" category) become part of these tapes.  The information ranges from the earliest nonverbal communications of facial expression and voice tone to the endless do's and don'ts of the toddler period, to the more elaborate and complex list of adult attitudes and values:  work is man's only virtue; don't trust people of a different race; never use credit; keep good company; live according to the Bible; a family that prays together stays together, etc.

All this Parent data can be either useful or hampering depending upon how appropriate it is to the present.  The Parent is hampering when it overwhelms the child with its shoulds and musts and other restrictions.  Verbal clues that an un-useful Parent is "coming on" in the present are time-bound words such as always, never, once_and_for-all; judgmental pronouncements such as, "That's wrong, stupid," and words such as naughty, asinine, shocking, out of the question, ridiculous; all oughts and shoulds; and condescensions such as "poor dear" and "there, there." (p. 66)  This domineering Adult becomes so insistent, another commentator writes, that in adapting to its strictures "people may discount their own needs, feelings, emotions, or actions."  The script that emerges is a "self-limiting adaptation, which selects and repeats a number of feelings, thoughts, actions, and specific behaviors while avoiding others" and "thus limits the individual's ability to problem solve and relate to the environment."[9]  A simple example would be the person who habitually strives to please others while ignoring his own feelings and needs.

How do we know when our Parent is saying something useful? Enter, the Adult.

The Adult

According to Harris, the moment the child begins to move about on his own and to find things out for himself (at about ten months), his Adult is born.  This Adult transforms external stimuli into information.  It examines, evaluates, and judges, but unlike the Parent it is not judgmental.  "Through the Adult," Harris says, "the little person can begin to tell the difference between life as it was taught and demonstrated to him (Parent), life as he felt it or wished it or fantasized it (Child), and life as he figures it out by himself (Adult)." (page 30)

Harris' Adult is a data-processing computer which "grinds out decisions" after computing information from the Parent, the Child, and the data which the Adult has gathered. (page 30)  One of the Adult's most important functions is to mediate between Child and Parent.  The Adult evaluates Parent data to see if it is still applicable today, and it decides whether or not the Child's feelings are appropriate today.  All of this requires an "effort of will," so that present realities can gain priority over past realities.  To reinforce this point he quotes a passage from Bertrand Russell's autobiography:

So many things were forbidden me that I acquired the habit of deceit, in which I persisted up to the age of twenty-one.  It became second nature to me to think that whatever I was doing had better be kept to myself, and I have never quite overcome the impulse to hide what I am reading when anybody comes into the room.  It is only by a certain effort of the will that I can overcome this impulse.[10] [italics added]

Harris concludes that "this 'effort of the will' is the Adult."  It is the job of the Adult to keep emotional expression in line with reality by continually updating the Child and Parent. The Adult helps us "make objective, meaningful decisions related to the 'here and now' instead of based on preconceived notions stemming from Child feelings and adaptations or from Parent traditions and prejudices."[11]

If the Adult is alert, it can devise emergency solutions to meet trouble when it comes.  Under sufficient stress, however, the Adult can fail to function efficiently and emotions can take over completely.  A danger or "bad news" signal can hit the Adult and make the Child respond in the way it originally did, with the feeling of Not OK.  This may lead to regressive behavior.  The adult now feels tiny and helpless.  Thoughts can be blocked. Feelings may take over.  What to do at this precarious point?

In Harris' therapy, the therapist would intervene at this point with the question, "Why don't you stay in your Adult?"  The therapist would then probe the patient to find out the similarity between what is going on now and the original situation in which the child underwent distress.  This is not done, however, in the hope of getting the adult in touch with his original feelings.  The purpose of it is to "turn on" the patient's analytical, objective processes, for Harris believes that "catering to the helpless Child" only delays the reconstructive process of getting the Adult back in control.

Harris' Adult is really the agent of repression.  The moment the Child has difficult feelings, the Adult is brought in to reason them away.  The Child's emotions are always something to be got out of by the more reasonable Adult.  The problem with this is that reasoning the child out of his emotions is part of what caused neurosis in the first place.  It again denies the reality as experienced by the Child.  It again forces repression, and again leaves important feelings uncompleted.

The two-year-old who is terribly afraid of the dark cannot be reasoned out of his fear.  The condescending assurance from the Adult that "There's nothing to be afraid of" only pressures the child to repress his terror.  The point is that the child is afraid; that fear comes from some real experience within him.  It is utterly reasonable from his vantage point.

I would agree that "catering" to the helpless child in adults is not therapeutic, but there is a considerable difference between catering -- which I take to mean encouraging the helplessness --and allowing the helpless feelings of the child to finally come through.  Harris makes a serious mistake; he confuses coddling the helplessness with allowing its conscious experience.  The two are definitely not the same.  Furthermore, I would suggest that it is Harris who in the end cossets the helplessness by bandaging it up with his P-A-C catechism.  The helplessness is preserved behind the false facade of mentally-contrived adulthood.  And what could foster helplessness more than offering a dependency upon answers cooked up by someone else in an unfamiliar language?  Here TA is similar to other cognitive therapies such as RET; it attempts to impose an alien dogma over the individual's subjective experience. This is a straightjacket of belief rather than a liberating therapy.

How to "stay in the Adult" is a central concern of TA.  "The more sensitive one is to one's own Parent and Child, the more separated, autonomous, and strong becomes the Adult."  Separation is the TA ideal, a clue to beginning wellness:  "One of the first indications [of wellness] is the statement by the patient, 'My Not OK Child was...' or 'is...'" (p. 202)  Harris believes that the use of this expression "signals the achievement of an understood, authentic, and real separation of the patient's Child from his Adult." (p. 202)  But this is exactly my understanding of neurosis: it is an authentic and real separation of the Child (childhood feelings) from the Adult (consciousness).  In a curious way, what Harris is describing is really a more correct neurotic split.  One does not integrate the Child through feeling it fully.  One integrates an understanding and control of the Child, and that makes you well.  I believe quite the opposite.  It is integration, not separation, that must be the goal of any truly feeling therapy. A merging of all levels of consciousness should be sought if harmonious functioning is to be lived.  One must not separate from some kind of generic Child; rather one must integrate those highly individualized traumatic events and experiences that were previously separated from consciousness via repression.  Harris' ideal of separation remains necessary as long as something is undesirable and un-integratable -- and primal needs remain both, as long as they remain unconscious.

While Harris' Adult functions like a complex computer, "grinding out decisions" and "processing new data," the techniques he provides for developing this Adult are surprisingly simplistic. Harris explains that the first way to develop the Adult is to become sensitive to signals from the Child or Parent:  "Aroused feelings are a clue that the Child has been hooked.  To know one's own Child, to be sensitive to one's Not OK feelings, is the first requirement for Adult data processing." (p. 92)  His technique for becoming sensitive to one's Not OK feelings, however, is an old wives' tale offered anew as science:  "Counting is a useful way to delay the automatic response in order that the Adult maintain control of the transaction.  When in doubt leave it out."  Counting to ten allows us to curtail the "archaic, destructive child reactions" so that "the Adult [can] maintain control of the transaction."  Aroused feelings are childish legacies which are ideally processed dispassionately by the Adult.  Above all Harris does not want feelings to get out of control, which is why he advocates the control of the Child's Not OK feelings.

Here Harris is confusing what might be called childish impulses from true childhood feelings.  Childish impulses are nothing more than the pressures which accumulate from the repression of real feeling.  The adult who demands attention from everyone around him is acting out a childish impulse which is derived from a profound Primal feeling of self-negation.  The acting-out behavior is a defense against the unconscious feeling of worthlessness.  That is why when Harris' Adult "takes over" and "counts to 10", it is literally overtaking repressed childhood realities.  The result is an artificial adulthood rather than authentic maturation.

I have always found that the childhood responses are the real ones, once they are allowed to surface, and that the child -- the real self -- is by nature social, cooperative, and curious.  It is the Adult who is neurotic because he is the captive of a child with countless unmet needs.  The longer those needs go unmet, the more of the person is destroyed.  It is adult curtailment of childhood need that is ultimately destructive; not the other way around. Harris again has it backwards:  Destruction is inherent in neurosis, not in childhood.

"Contamination" of the Adult

Harris is against traditional diagnosis.  He finds such terms as superego, ego, and id, or manic-depressive, schizophrenic, and catatonic, to be vague and uninformative.  I agree.  But for him the solution is more TA lingo.  Harris explains that when the Parent, Child, and Adult are not cleanly separated one from the other, "contamination of the Adult" results. From another source we get this TA explanation of how one element of personality can "contaminate" another:

The Parent, Adult, and Child ego states are independent parts of our personalities that determine our feelings, thoughts, beliefs, and behavior.  Energy can flow freely between these personality parts, or it can be restricted or blocked.  Psychological energy can flow from one ego state to another as a spontaneous reaction to a stimulus or as a deliberate act of will.  This flow is necessary for clear and effective thinking...

Understanding how to shift psychological energy increases our inability to understand. The inability to shift our internal energies is usually due to...ego state boundary problems.

These authors rephrase Harris in describing the three kinds of contamination possible:

1.  The Adult Contaminated by the Parent

2.  The Adult Contaminated by the Child

3.  The Adult Contaminated by the Parent and Child[12]

Number two might translate verbally into:  "You have a lot of Not OK in your Child with a fairly sizeable contamination of your Adult, which lets you come on inappropriately at times and gives your hovering Parent an opportunity to beat your Child." (p. 200) Is this type of caricaturing really any more useful than the superego, ego, and id entities of Freud's day?  Can such elaborate labeling really advance our state of being?  Or does it further entangle us in a filigree of thought that keeps the substance of our reality even more remote?

To answer these questions, let's take an example provided by Harris, which illustrates how he applies the above concepts to real life.  This example is supposed to illustrate the first kind of contamination:  "Parent-Contaminated Adult with a Blocked-out Child."  This type of person cannot play or relax.  He is dominated by duty, working compulsively all of the time.  He has no time for anyone, including his family.  Harris says:  "It is as if, at some point in his childhood, he was so utterly quashed by serious, stern, duty-bound parents that he found the only safe way to proceed through life was to turn his Child off completely." (page 100)

We all recognize that kind of person.  He was given orders and tasks in place of love.  He then grows up into a removed, cold, and preoccupied parent.  Harris concludes:  "However, he can be helped to appreciate that his position is not fair to his own family and to his own children, and that, indeed his marriage may break up if he persists in trying to block out the Child in his wife and children." (p. 101)

Harris' approach here is to cajole the man into change via threat and guilt.  He is not behaving fairly toward his family, which is a reason for change; his marriage may break up, which is another reason for change.  Yet where in this analysis is concern for the man's state of being per se?

The primary concern here should be the patient's own experience of himself, not whether the marriage endures.  Furthermore, Harris should consider the possibility that this man's marriage might be better off breaking up, rather than himself playing God and decreeing its preservation as a primary goal of treatment.

A Case Study

The following transcript recreates a session between Harris (D) and an adolescent fictitiously called Sally (S).[13]  Here we see how Harris force-feeds his own values in the name of therapy.  He attempts to rework the patient's problem into a triad of characters which supposedly explain all things to all people.  The important focus is on labeling the data, rather than on contacting the patient's feelings.

While this session may not be truly representative of how TA practitioners work, it must be fairly typical or Harris would not have included it.  I have inserted comments where appropriate.

S: You know, you're sounding just like a psychiatrist of course, you are, but it's just so typical.

D: Is that bad?

S: Well, it's just like a television program that I just despise when they show these psychiatric programs.  I hate it.  And I am sounding just like a typical patient.  I mean, I really am, I know it.

D: Why don't you talk about P-A-C

S: Oh, I can't today.  I can't use it, I am not using it now.  I am dealing with everything totally, completely wrong.

D: Do you know what you're saying?

S: No.

D:You're saying to this guy that's acting like a psychiatrist, "I dare you to change me."  Isn't that what you're saying?

S: When did I say that to you?

D: Well, that's what you are implying.  I ask you, why don't you use your P-A-C, and you say, "I am not using it, I am not going to use it, I dare you to make me use it."

S: I didn't say forever, I just said for today I'm not using it and I don't feel like using it.  I'm nervous, that's it.  I've been nervous for a couple of days.

D: So you want to play nervous today.

In this opening segment we see a tone of accusation and manipulation established by Harris, to which the patient responds by continually "sticking to her guns."  Sally responds negatively ("I hate it") to the artificiality of the doctor's (Harris) behavior.  Rather than deal with what the patient has expressed, however, Harris counters by grilling, "Why don't you talk about P-A-C?"  The patient answers in a straightforward and affective manner, saying that she cannot use the P-A-C terminology today. Harris then takes the patient's statement and reinterprets it back in an accusatory fashion:  "You're saying...'I dare you to change me'..."  When Sally counters with, "When did I say that to you?" Harris contends that she implied it, and to prove his point proceeds to "quote" the sentence in question by completely revising the second and third clauses to suit his purpose.  In reality Sally had said:

I can't use it,

I am not using it now.

I am dealing with everything totally, completely wrong.

But Harris reworks it to:

I am not using it,

I am not going to use it,

I dare you to make me use it.

The patient again responds with an accurate grasp of what actually transpired saying:  "I didn't say forever, I just said for today I'm not using it and I don't feel like using it."  When she admits she has been feeling nervous for "a couple of days," she receives Harris' discrediting retort, "So you want to play nervous today." What appears to be occurring in this opening interchange is a kind of battle of wills:  the patient knows exactly what she's feeling but doesn't want to express it in P-A-C lingo, while Harris seems determined to discount what she does say in an effort to pressure her into his pre-established framework.

S: No, I don't want to play anything.  I want a stronger tranquilizer.

D: You want a stronger tranquilizer?

S: Why not?  I need a stronger tranquilizer.  I shouldn't have come today; you know, I didn't want to come.

D: You want a stronger tranquilizer because you are too lazy to use your P-A-C.

We again see accusation and pontification.  The patient needs more tranquilizers because she is "too lazy" to use Harris' lingo. Harris fails to consider the possibility that the patient's resistance to using P-A-C may reflect the limitations and unsuitability of P-A-C itself -- rather than the laziness of which the patient is accused.

S: I have been using it, and I did try, but I am short-tempered and I --

D: So what's new?

S: So what's new? (laughs)  That wasn't nice.  But I mean I'm very short-tempered and I wasn't when I got out of the hospital.

D: Is this the only option you have, to be short-tempered?

S: No, it isn't, and I try not to be, but sometimes I am.

D: You blow off the handle?

S: Not extremely, but I find myself getting mad and then when I keep it inside of me it makes me kind of shaky.  Do you understand?...I hate everything about this and I hate everybody today.  I'm going to quit psychiatry.  Now doesn't that sound typical patient?

D: With a smile -- I'm glad you're smiling.

S: Oh, I can smile about it.  I''s making me nervous.  But do you know what I do?

D: What?

S: If I smile, then I laugh, and then I get very upset, and --

D: Can you tell me what's upsetting you?

S: No!

D: Are you on the verge of tears?

S: I hope not.  No, I'm fine.  I'm upset today, I knew -- I hate this.  This is getting us nowhere -- why don't we just stop my therapy and I'll take pills.  What's the matter with me besides headaches and the regular bunch of stuff that seems to be -- What is my problem?

D: You don't want to grow.

We now get Harris' diagnosis of Sally's problem.  Because she "hates everything about this" it means that she doesn't want to grow.  Harris is taking a position which is typical of many cognitive psychologists today:  that the patient is choosing her neurosis, choosing her short-temperedness, choosing her shakiness and nervousness -- and can just as easily choose the opposite.  He is asking her to choose P-A-C over the reality of her own Pain, and when she balks he accuses her of laziness and of not wanting to change.  Such a position is judgmental, parental, and guilt-producing.  Harris' irony as a therapist is that his approach seems to embody much more of his hovering Parent than his mature Adult.

S: That's what you told me one time.  You said I didn't want to grow up.  Now that wasn't fair.

D: I don't know what "up" is, I said "grow," you know, open your mind to some new thoughts.

S: To what thoughts?

D: P-A-C.

S: I opened my mind to that when I was in the hospital.  I came home and I was feeling pretty good.

D: Why isn't your Adult plugged in today?

S: I don't know.

D: All you can talk about is "I am nervous, I can't, I shouldn't have come here today, you're an old psychiatrist and I'm a patient."  Well, that's what we are today.  Well, that was a real statement.  That came through the Adult.  That's what we are today.

S: I can't be P-A-C every single day.

D: Well, it wouldn't be a bad idea.  I am.

S: OK, that's fine if you can do it, but I can't do it right now.

D: Oh, why not?

S: Because I'm --

D: Your Child likes to take over.

S: Well, every once in a while I guess maybe it happens.  I haven't been using P-A-C all my life or even for a year or anything.  I don't know.

Harris demands that she open her mind "to some new thoughts," which turn out to be his thoughts in the form of P-A-C.  This comes across like some kind of psychotherapeutic form of "political correctness" which makes no room for comments, ideas, and approaches that do not agree with the given dogma.  Harris is not interested in her reality and, in fact, once again remonstrates her for it: "All you can talk about is 'I am nervous, I can't, I shouldn't have come here today...'"  Sally then bemoans, "I can't be P-A-C every single day," to which Harris smugly replies, "I am."  Sally can't be P-A-C every single day because, according to Harris, her Child likes to take over and her Adult is not plugged in.

Harris has constructed a hermetical system of belief which, this interchange suggests, he then superimposes without modification over each patient.  If the patient balks in any way, Harris concludes that the problem is with the patient -- not with his hermetical system.

The transcription continues with Harris refusing to allow the patient to talk about how "rotten" she feels in relation to her parents.  She comments that she could go on "psychoanalyzing myself from here to doomsday," to which Harris omnisciently replies, "Well, it's one thing to psychoanalyze yourself without tools, but you have P-A-C to psychoanalyze yourself, and P-A-C will give you the answers you need." [italics added]  Next Sally, in all her teenage wisdom, aptly summarizes her discomfort with an Adult who is so perfect as to be "almost not human":

S: Well, still -- OK, I'll tell you something.  I don't know whether or not I want to be, to use my Adult all the time. And I try to use it most of the time.  Sometimes I just don't want to, it's just kind of a battle, it's almost being actually perfect, it's handling everything the correct way at the right time.  It's almost not human sometimes.

She is sensing the falsity and unnaturalness of imposing theory over feeling, where a role of Adult is force-fed over the reality of being human.  Harris' answer is rich in metaphor and poor in fact:

D: I know what you mean.  Of course we have said before that your Child is what makes you charming and delightful to others, so it isn't that we want to kick the Child out, but let's say that P-A-C is always around, I mean the Parent, the Adult, and the Child are always present.  It's true the Child may crowd out the Adult and the emotions take over, or the Parent may crowd out the Adult and the Parent takes over.

I guess the trick is to always keep the Adult plugged in even though the Child is playing.  If the Child wants to play, let the Adult go along to make sure that everything remains appropriate, because the way that girls get into trouble is when the Child takes over and plays, but plays games that are dangerous.  Right?

This leads into a discussion of manipulation in which Sally expresses the fear that she manipulates her father by taking advantage of him:

S: I took advantage of him and took advantage of his feelings. I expected to get everything I wanted, I expected every -- well, I expected quite a bit and yet he had so much affection for me and I wouldn't let him even touch me unless I was in the mood.  I would move away from him and I was actually cruel sometimes.  This was even going on in the hospital and then one night I said something horrible when he was bringing me to the hospital, when he was going to go down in the elevator and he wanted to hug me, I think, and I moved away from him and I told him not to do it, and then I just kind of laughed and I said, "Frustrates you, doesn't it?" as if I was really trying to hurt him, and he said, "Yes," and he agreed with me.  I felt badly then.

D: Then did you hug him?

S: No.

D: That's a pity, because your Adult would have let your Child hug him because your Adult could have a value that not to hurt anyone is important.

Harris again superimposes a pat P-A-C answer over the patient's reality.  Instead of exploring in depth the complex dynamics going on between father and daughter, he simply takes the father's side and offers up a platitude to justify it:  "Your Adult could have a value that not to hurt anyone is important," and therefore Sally really ought to hug her father when he wants to be hugged.  But how can Harris be so certain that his hugging Sally is a good thing?  How does he know that the father has not sexually abused her in the past?  In all likelihood, Sally is not hugging her father for very good reasons, and it will hurt her to "have a value that not to hurt anyone is important."  It seems easy for Harris to see the situation from everyone's vantage point but his patient's.  Sally continues:

S: I try not to now though, if he wants to hug me I let him.  If I don't feel like showing much affection I just let him hug me and that's it.  But I have been showing him affection.

D: You don't want to hug him back?

S: Well, now I'll go and kiss him on the cheek or something, like this, and I will show him some affection and I will be very nice and I have done this to my mother, too.  I have done this purposefully to show them affection.  Well, it wasn't a total act because I mean I felt --

D: You see, the problem here with affection with the opposite sex is the Child is afraid of s-e-x whether it's a feeling or what others may think.  Your internal Parent is watching your Child and your Child is fearful of s-e-x because of the internal Parent, but your Adult can say, Look it's perfectly appropriate, perfectly proper for you to give your father affection in the form of a physical embrace and if you can do it, it is a form of mastery of the Adult over the Child.

It is difficult to imagine how anyone could keep this hodgepodge of parts straight:  the Child is afraid of sex; the Parent is watching the Child; the Adult can step in and say "Everything is OK."  When the Adult does so with success, it constitutes a "mastery of the Adult over the Child."  I would take the opposite view.  Harris' mastery of the Adult over the Child is really a violation of the Child by the Adult.  He is advocating, in a way, a kind of psychological rape whereby the parent's needs and wants take precedence over the child's needs and wants.  Instead of exploring Sally's discomfort with affection between her and her father, Harris offers another platitude (which we shall see further extended in the next section) to the effect of, everyone is uncomfortable being affectionate with the opposite-sexed parent. The solution is to listen to one's Adult, who in essence absolves the guilt and discomfort with a few words of advice.

First of all, not everyone is uncomfortable being affectionate with the opposite-sexed parent, and second of all, when there is discomfort it is usually because the parent has sexualized the affection in some subtle (or not so subtle) way.  The adolescent in such a situation has every right to pull away, and indeed must pull away for his or her own protection -- if not physical, then emotional.

Harris continues to offer generalizations that have no connection to this patient's reality, and in fact are harmful. Sally is saying, "I cannot touch my father."  Harris is saying, "Touch your father, it is good and appropriate."  The only thing getting truly "mastered" (i.e., obliterated) here is Sally's internal reality.

S: I have been doing it.

D: Good.

S: I have been doing it very well.

D: But you know it's a problem for teenagers.

S: Well, well I didn't know that.

D: It really is.

S: Is it?

D: There is a great big word in here called t-a-b-o-o.

S: I don't see why.

D: No?  This has existed down through the generations -- t-ab-o-o.  It's OK for affection with s-e-x if there are no blood ties.  That's a great big taboo.  But this is data that needs to be out in the open.  I find that I can help any teenager to be perfectly natural and affectionate and outgoing with his parents if I can help them to get the data out in the open to process it with their Adult.  And you can't be affectionate with the opposite sex, period, you know; it's as if you can't really be discriminating, selective.

Once they see it, have the data out in the open, then they are free to be affectionate at the Adult level and affectionate at the Child level and the Adult will take care of the Parent.  The Child doesn't have to be afraid of the Parent because the Adult is processing the data with regard to what is real.

Sally reports that she experiences being affectionate with her father as an unwanted task.  But this is "good" according to Harris, who then further elaborates his generalization on adolescent sexuality by explaining how the taboo has been around for eons.  He can resolve this dilemma in most teenagers, he says, by simply showing them how to "get data out in the open to process it with their Adult."  This involves another hodgepodge of interactions in which the adolescent is:

*affectionate at the Adult level;

*affectionate at the Child level;

*with the Adult taking care of the Parent, so that

*the Child is not afraid,

*because the Adult is processing the Parental data "with regard to what is real."

Harris' Adult processes generalizations and platitudes which deny the validity of the person's specific reality.  He provides the taboo explanation to all teenagers with this problem, with the goal of helping them become "affectionate and outgoing with [their] parents."  This further belies the intrusion (contamination) of Harris' own value system:  Who says it's ideal to be affectionate and outgoing with parents?  What is wrong with reserved and contained?!

D: Parental data is dated, you know.  What age?

S: [At the age of] three?

D: That's right, and that's entirely different from what's real today.  And besides, as we both know, you have a handsome daddy and when I see you two together and I see him looking at you I can see that you are the pride and joy of his life.

S: I'm not.  I'm so rotten it's pathetic, sometimes.

By doling out therapeutic syrup and cajoling Sally that she is the pride and joy of her father's life, Harris again misses the point that it might not be good for Sally to be the "pride and joy" of her father's life.  I have encountered many a patient who has been in this type of "centerfold" position in the family, and experienced it more as a crippling burden than the grand blessing Harris implies it to be.  Sally's "handsome daddy" needs to supply his own pride and joy rather than looking to his daughter for it. She obviously resents his excessive attention but can only feel "rotten" about it, because, after all, who wouldn't want to be the pride of joy of such a handsome daddy?  Instead of helping her out of the emotional bind with her father, Harris feeds her further into it.

D: Well, why are you rotten?

S: Because I have given him such misery.  I feel sorry.  He's a sucker.

D: Well, you probably love him so much that you -- you told me once that you have to do these things in order to sort of keep a distance, not get too close.

S: We've always been close, too close, really too close, actually too close.

D: Well, you're his only daughter.

For Harris, "you're his only daughter" explains and justifies the whole situation.  The father is apparently pressuring Sally for a closeness she is not comfortable with, and it is all just fine because, after all, she is his only daughter.  Again and again Harris advocates the sell-out of the child in favor of the parent. This is exactly how neurosis gets started in the first place.  The parental behavior goes unchallenged, and all the unconscious need and pain is thrust upon the child.  In the name of filial duty (or family ties, or whatever) the child has little choice but to fulfill the needs and demands of the parents.  A father's need to have his adolescent daughter display affection toward him is his need, which then gets distorted into being the daughter's responsibility.

Sally is suspended in a painful double bind, which Harris is doing his best to reinforce and maintain:  if she acts in the way her father wishes, she is punished inwardly by the denial of her own feelings of discomfort and resentment; and if she acts in the way she wishes, she is punished outwardly for her supposedly ungrateful behavior.  In all likelihood the problem here is with the father, and the daughter's acting out behavior is merely a reaction to his projections.  But we never get a chance to find this out because Harris simply supports the father's behavior and at the same time asks his young patient to accommodate herself to it.  The irony is that in accommodating her father's neurotic needs by denying her own, she is laying the foundation for her own adult neurosis.

Sally next brings up her fears of sexual advances from boyfriends.  Harris examines the issue of teenage sexuality from the revolving roles of the Parent, Child, and Adult:  the Child wants to play (i.e., do it!), the Parent comes on with a barrage of moral dictates not to "play," and the Adult does the reality processing by evaluating the dangers, risks, and consequences. This means, according to Harris, that Sally can "play the game up to a point" and then call it off.  Even getting to that point, however, is frightening to Sally, and she says so:

S: Oh, that scares me, I could never let that happen, unless it was by force because it scares me, I don't want anything like that.

D: Why be scared?

S: I don't know but it scares me.

D: Maybe you have to be scared in order to keep your Child from getting out of control; but once you develop confidence in this Adult of yours, and you have a good Adult, you have it made, because your Adult can handle every transaction, even though the Child is enjoying the transaction the Adult still is calling the signals and this is what will save you.

S: I see my time is up.  I'll see you when the group starts again.  Goodbye.

D: OK, and remember, I'm OK -- You're OK.  (End of Interview)

Once again Harris obliterates a portion of Sally's reality. Being scared, according to Harris, may be the only tool of control for her Adult.  So, rather than dealing with the realness of those scared feelings, Harris dismisses them as necessary adjuncts to the development of a "good Adult" who can call all the signals and save the day.  Not surprisingly, Sally responds by noting that their time is up and exists.  She is eager to get away from this insensitive dogmatism.  Harris then concludes the session by dutifully chanting, as if at the end of a cheesy TV show, "I'm OK -- You're OK," despite the fact that during the session he has accused her of...playing nervous, of being lazy, of not wanting to grow, of refusing to use her P-A-C, of letting her Child take over, of feeling rotten unnecessarily, of hurting her father unnecessarily, and of unnecessarily being fearful of sex.

In reality, Harris has given her nothing but not OK messages -- none of her internal reality has suited him.  Still, she is sent out the door with a flippant "I'm OK, You're OK!"  It is like the parent who repeatedly criticizes the child and then says, "You know, I love you, and never forget that, you're the greatest!" Harris' TA here appears to be a kind of pseudo-therapeutic hypocrisy where the patient is truly OK only when conforming to Harris' formula.

This transcription of an actual case report well demonstrates how learning the right answer is the illusionary measurement of progress in TA.  Once the TA patient learns the right answer, he is judged to be making progress.  "It's my Parent," he offers, and the answer will supposedly make him well.  This is tantamount to asking, "What is causing your cold?" and believing that the reply "It is a virus" will cure the cold!  This analogy may seem a bit of a stretch, but it really isn't.  Neurosis is as much a biologic disease as it is an emotional disorder, and it produces biochemical and electrical changes as measurable as those caused by a virus. That is why psychologic theories which make no reference to underlying neurology must go astray.  Eventually one must come to the question, "Where is the Adult, the Parent, and the Child?" Where are the physiological counterparts to these psychologic entities?   And how can we be sure that there are not four or five such entities or agencies in our minds?

Harris admits that the I'm OK -- You're OK stance is "a position and not a feeling," and that "the not OK recordings in the Child are not erased by a decision in the present." (p. 52)  He explains that is why the I'm OK -- You're OK position must be repeated and repeated in the hope of gathering a collection of OK recordings sufficiently strong to outdo the not OK recordings.  So strong are these not OK recordings, in fact, that nothing short of a "conversion experience" to the I'm OK -- You're OK position is required to dethrone them. (p. 50)

On this point Harris and I agree:  TA does indeed require conversion.  The difference comes in that I don't think therapy is about conversion to anything.  It is about a recovery of the self -- of those completely private experiences that have nothing to do with terms, positions, or decisions.  Conversion, on the other hand, requires the assimilation of someone else's reality, be it to a system which  purportedly explains psychological dynamics or one which defines life in religious terms.  Conversion implies belief, not consciousness.  When conversion occurs, the self is hybridized. Ideas come rushing in to absorb Painful feelings.

Feeling, by contrast, requires only a fullness of individual being.  This must mean the self is preserved.  We must stand on personal reality and any therapy that leads away from that reality into terms and preconceived answers is in the end a delusion -- a fanciful, quasi-philosophical diversion away from the only real hope of healing.

P-A-C:  Is It Valid?

Now that we know the basics of the Transactional Analysis system, let's consider the validity of it:  How real are his Parent, Child, and Adult?  Do these divisions, as conceived and drawn by Harris, really exist within us?  Is there a kind of global Child who "comes on," a Parent who "hovers around," and an Adult who "takes over"?  Can we really so clearly separate a Parent from an Adult from a Child inside of us?

The fact is these parts or aspects which Harris so discretely personifies are really all interlocked.  They form a unit -- a unit composed of historical specifics, not metaphorical labels.  The Child in us is really made up of specific traumatic experiences left unresolved from childhood.  The Parent is really made up of specific experiences with our real parents, which we internalized and incorporated.  But that doesn't mean there is some self-contained entity called the Child or the Parent functioning inside of us, each either thinking or feeling.  The Child contains ideals and false notions as well as feelings, and the Parent contains feelings as well as ideas and false notions.

Furthermore, whether it is the Child or Parent coming on now is secondary to what the total human being is experiencing now.  It is the specifics we must deal with or we can never get anywhere. For it is the specifics -- the feeling and meaning of each repressed Pain -- that hold us back and bind the neuroses into our personalities.  What we label an experience is secondary to the content of the experience.  For the decisions we make as total human beings are inevitably determined by unresolved childhood Pain.  It is the Pain that is crucial, not the label we attach to it.  Once we understand that traumas -- major ones such as parental abuse, divorce, or being raised in foster homes, and minor ones such as day-to-day problems at school, with siblings, and parents -- are the determining factors in adult neuroses, then we can come to terms with what has to be done.  And analysis of our "transactions" is not it.

Harris' divisions are too distinct, too personified, and too analogical.  Creating a metaphorical scheme to portray the actions of neurosis is fine as long as it corresponds with the real neurological actions of the neurotic system.  Harris' metaphor does not refer to the levels of consciousness as neurological realities, but instead personifies them as actual, separate entities.  At best, these terms should be terms of convenience -- heuristics --but instead Harris has enshrined them with the quasi-theological stature of dogma.  Indeed, his analogy becomes repeated and reinforced to the point where patients do look around for their Parent, or their Child, or whatever.  "I'm OK -- You're OK" becomes a slogan religiously repeated at the end of each session. Identifying which of the P-A-C trio is coming on, at what moment, becomes an artificial and overly self-conscious ritual conducted throughout the session.  So much energy goes into identifying and analyzing that there is none left over for simply feeling.

Moreover, Harris fails to ask a crucial question:  Why do the not OK "tapes" replay and replay?  Why is it that pleasant tapes do not plague us compulsively, but negative tapes do?  What is the difference between stored material that is pleasant and over which we have control, and stored material that is negative and over which we have no control?  Stored memories do not engage us against our will unless they contain unfinished Pain.  Harris' Not OK tapes are in reality reverberating neuronal circuits which, when triggered by present-day situations, go off again and again seeking to complete the circuit -- full around to the Pain.  Behavior repeats itself for a reason:  the fact of repetition in itself indicates meaning and purposeNot OK tapes repeat themselves because they are unfinished, because like everything else in nature they strive toward completion.  The young child who is truly listened to does not badger the parent with endless repetitions of the same story.  He tells the story, is listened to, and is satisfied.  But the child who is not listened to may become a compulsive talker in an attempt to get someone to listen.  Later in life that means trying to get anyone and everyone to listen.  It is no longer a mutual relationship; it is a monologue, a dumping of one's needs on others.  That (the so-called "not OK tape") when the basic need of the child is frustrated.

It seems to me that the TA point of view is the same as the Freudian, which is the same as a conventional religious one.  That is, we are basically bad or evil or inferior, inhabited by demons however you label them, demons which must be conquered.  Let's say it once and for all:  There is a dwarf running around the brain which is basically bad and needs retraining.  Now let's rephrase it:  There are imprinted, concrete events from childhood which are not resolved and which require resolution.  The former idea is a fantasy; the other is a material fact.

Harris believes that three "people" exist in all of us and that they "are not roles but psychological realities." (p. 18)  He claims that his Parent-Child-Adult schema is not an abstraction like the Id, Ego, and Superego, but is really there.  Where?  His answer is in the playback of recorded data of real events, places, and people.  Then why not refer specifically to the content of that recorded data, instead of reifying it into images that apply to everyone and thus to no one?

The machine-type analogies of human functions -- such as that the brain functions as a "high-fidelity tape recorder" -- seem particularly open to this abuse.  Frustration with the ineffective treatments so far developed for neurosis has caused us to turn an envious eye toward the knowable and predictable functioning of machinery.  The machine has the additional advantage of being an object; it is something outside of us, detached from the subtle weave of biology and psychology, which conforms to distinct mathematical and physical principles.  So when we compare ourselves to compact, single-function machines such as tape recorders, we make objects of ourselves while the deep waters of subjectivity dry up.  Animation is linked only to purpose -- it can be made to work or not work, switched on or off at will.  The choice over what goes in and what is erased is ours.  We are in control.  All that is required is knowledge of how the machine works.

We must be careful of reducing ourselves to fit an analogy, however prized or apt it may be, rather than finding an analogy which fits us, especially if the analogy is to be the centerpiece of psychotherapy.  In some respects the brain-mind is like a tape recorder.  Perhaps the tape recorder owes its existence in part to an analogous reference to human hearing and memory.  But whatever the similarities, the brain-mind is not a tape recorder.  Nor can any of its processes be considered in serene isolation from the others just to suit the theorist's fancy or desire for clarity. Above all, what we must remember about a tape recorder is that it does not feel.  It may record the sounds -- the evidence -- of feeling, and even reproduce it quite faithfully; but it cannot reproduce the feeling itself.  Likewise it can "recall" via replay, but it cannot remember or relive.

I agree that we have specific recorded events locked into our systems.  But it is those specific events that must be addressed, not some generalized archetype drawn from the speculations of one or two men.  Harris spent a chapter describing neurosurgeon Penfield's work to establish the fact that events are recorded.  It should have followed that it wasn't Harris' Child that was played back under Penfield's probe, but specific events from individual human lives.

Ultimately Harris is caught by his own panacea -- his claim that the Transactional Analysis framework has brought us "a great deal closer to the secret of human behavior than we have ever been before." (p. 15)  He believes that language is the key to this secret and that "agreement on the meanings of words plus agreement on what to examine are the two keys which have unlocked the door to the mysteries of why people do as they do."  (p. 13)

Naturally, in the investigation of neurosis, we must agree on what to examine and must ultimately find common terms to describe what we discover.  But first we must uncover the reality of neurosis.  The language of neurosis can only emerge with validity and precision out of that reality -- a reality imprinted in human experience, not in language.  Pain, not language, is the key to neurosis.  Pain and neurosis both predate language.  Language can serve us in understanding, but it alone does not serve in healing. If misused, it may well confuse us more.  "Agreement on the meanings of words" does not unlock the great human mysteries. Language only describes them.  Feeling contains the mysteries, and consciousness unlocks them.

While Harris cites Penfield to show that "tape recorded" experiences from the past can be relived, Transactional Analysis does not facilitate or even value this reliving.  Instead of calling for the patient to return to childhood, it encourages him to suppress it.  Thus it contributes not to rationality but unreality.  Because the Child is eminently rational and real. Indeed, it is the last repository of what is left of reality inside of us.  When we feel our Child "coming on," we get real very fast. But as long as one believes the Child (or childhood feeling) is basically negative, one is bound to ascribe all "negative" feelings to this psychological entity.  And as long as we believe it is something to be watched over and held in check, there is no possibility of the true feelings actually coming to the surface. Under such surveillance, what Child would dare express itself?

You have to be a child before you can grow up properly.  If you are made to grow up before your time, a child is what you remain.  The adult has to hold his childishness in check and live under the regime of an imposed adulthood and its rational ways. The child aspect remains, sadly waiting to enjoy completion, a completion that would have happened if being a child had been allowed.  It now interferes with adulthood where he finds it difficult to be rational in spite of his best efforts, because so much of his personality is caught in the pre-rational stage of development.  So he goes to TA which helps him recognize these interferences for what they are but then commits him to more of the same by teaching him new ways to combat the Child.

In fact, he has symbolically returned to his parents for another dose of what left him part-child in the first place.  He is admonished for not growing up and is then denied the means of doing so.  Instead of allowing the "Child" fully into consciousness, he has to put on another layer of unreal, contrived maturity.  Instead of experiencing the wounds created by having to grow up prematurely at the command of the so-called rational world, he has to make himself a better adult mask.

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[1]_Gysa Jaoui, "Transference Process and Transactional Process." Transactional Analysis Journal, 21(2), April 1991, pp. 108-111.

[2]Thomas Harris, I'm OK -- You're OK.  (???), p. xiv.

[3]See Berne, What Do You Say After You Say Hello?, p. 23.

[4]Petruska Clarkson, "The Interpersonal Field in Transactional Analysis."  Transactional Analysis Journal, 22(2), April 1992, pp. 89-94.

[5]Goulding, M.M., & Goulding, R.L., Changing Lives Through Redecision Therapy.  (New York:  Brunner-Mazel, 1979), p. 31.

[6]Jaoui, op. cit., p. 109.

[7]Clarkson, op. cit., p. 93.

[8]Ibid., p. 93.

[9]Susanne Ligabue, "The Somatic Component of the Script in Early Development."  Transactional Analysis Journal, 21(1), January 1991, pp. 21-30.

[10]Bertrand Russell, The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell. (Boston:  Little Brown, 1967), p. ??

[11]Muriel Jones & John James, Passion for Life:  Psychology and the Human Spirit.  (New York:  Dutton, 1991), p. 25.

[12]James & James, op. cit., pp. 22-23.

[13]See I'm OK -- You're OK, pp. 186-195.