The Psychology of Human Relationships, according to Transactional Analysis

Using Transactional Analysis in the Workplace | ReadyToManage

Human-beings have this eternal problem of what is to be done with their waking hours! Essentially at an egoistic level, humans are always stimulus-hungry, recognition-hungry and structure-hungry. All waking hours are used in managing these three requirements in this world.

Stimulus-Hunger: this is to avoid sensory starvation

Recognition-Hunger: this is to avoid emotional starvation

Structure-Hunger: this is to avoid boredom

If a person just is by himself with no social contact, then eventually the ego of the person will struggle in satisfying the above three requirements. A solitary person can structure time in only two ways: an activity or a fantasy. By activity here, it means to do something constructive in the material world with material engagement. On the other hand, a person in company of one or more people can structure time in rituals, pastimes, playing games, intimacy, and activity with these other people.

The goal of each member then in company of other people is to obtain as many satisfactions as possible from each other members of the group. The more accessible the person is, the more the satisfactions he or she can obtain. Hence, a stroke may be used as a fundamental unit of social action. An exchange of strokes is a transaction which is one satisfaction each for either party in the transaction. For example, a person calling out ‘Hi’ is a stroke provided from his part to the other, and an exchange of such strokes ‘Hi-Hi’ is a transaction. The requirement to be stroked is a fundamental requirement in human-beings primarily by its ego. A movie actor might need several strokes per week from anonymous and undifferentiated admirers, whereas a scientist might need only one stroke per year from a reknowned academician.

  • Example of strokes in conversation between two people:
  • 1A: “Good Morning!”
  • 1B: “Good Morning!”
  • 2A: “How was your weekend?”
  • 2B: “Went out to xx place”
  • 3A: “That must be nice, enjoyed?”
  • 3B: “It was good, but the second day was a spoiler as it rained the whole day”
  • 4A: “Oh! Oh!”
  • 4B: “Yeah”
  • 5A: “Okay then, rushing into a meeting, see you later”
  • 5B: “See you”

If two or more people encounter each other in a social situation, then sooner or later one of them will speak acknowledging the presence of others. This is the transactional stimulus. The other person will then respond in some way related to this stimulus, and that is called the transactional response. Now, how the transaction goes in a series in an emotional way depends on which ego-states the individual people are in while doing the stimulus and response. We’ll see what exactly are ego-states below.


The same individual behaves and speaks differently during the course of a day or a few days depending on the situation. Any person can observe in others or in oneself consciously the changes in behavior over a few days, and when that happens it is often accompanied with changes in voice tonality, vocabulary, viewpoints, expression, and other behaviour. Most often, these behavioural changes in a person are definitely accompanied by changes in the person’s feelings and emotions internally (unseen). Therefore, an ego-state is defined as a coherent system of feelings and behavior associated with that change in a person.

The list of ego-states in any person typically comprises of:

  • ego-states resembling the behaviour of his or her parents
  • ego-states autonomously developed and directed by the individual towards reality (seems like rational behavior and emotionally mature behavior to the outsider)
  • ego-states representing archaic behaviour fixated in childhood

In common terms, these are Parent, Adult and Childhood ego-states in a person. Each person while engaging in a conversation will be in control by one of the ego-states and will keep shifting among these ego-states. “You are now responding as if one of your parent would respond”, “You have now made an autonomous and objective appraisal of the situation at hand”, and “You are now responding as it would’ve been when you were a child” are the examples of your behaviour in various ego-states.

It is important to note that the parent or the child ego-state is not wrong. In fact, none of these ego-states are wrong. All of them are good and have equal weight in appropriate behaviour in human-beings. Therefore, it is not that a child ego-state is considered inferior to a parent or an autonomous ego-state. The complexity actually starts in the multiplicity of this structure in relationships and conversations.

Each of these ego-states, Parent, Adult and Child, is entitled to equal respect and has its legitimate place in a person’s life. A child ego-state is very useful and will contribute to an individual’s life exactly how an actual child can contribute to family life: charm, pleasure and creativity. If the child in the individual is confused and unhealthy, then the consequences can be unfortunate, but something should be done about it. There are people in which the Child ego-state will take over inappropriately or unproductively, but all such individuals have a completely developed Adult ego-state too. This is why you may feel that certain adults seem immature and impulsive in certain contexts, it is their child ego-state taking over inappropriately in a situation. Conversely, “mature” people are people in whom the adult ego-state is in control for most of the time, but occassionally the child ego-state takes over for fun and creativity. In the child ego-state resides the intuition, creativity and the zeal for spontaneous enjoyment. The Adult ego-state is necessary for survival. It processes all data and elements necessary to deal with the outside world. It also indulges in own gratifications such as the joy of skiing, driving, flying and shooting. The Parent ego-state has two main functions: firstly, it enables people to act effectively as parents of actual children, and secondly, it makes many responses automatic and conserves a great deal of time, “that is the way it is done and that is the right way to do it”. Thus, all the three ego-states have a high functional and survival value to the individual allowing the individual to gain the maximum yield from any particular social situation requirement.

Transactional analysis is concerned with diagnosing which ego-state implemented the stimulus stroke and which ego-state implemented the response stroke. The simplest transactions are the ones between Adult-Adult ego-states and the next simplest are the ones between Child-Parent ego-states.

An Adult-Adult conversation can quickly become a Parent-Child conversation and can escalate into an argument, this is because the ego-states have changed in the two people conversing about a particular topic.

Transactional Analysis and Power Distance | EuRA
The Essence of these games and delay-gratification

Because there is so little opportunity for intimacy in daily life, and intense forms of intimacy is impossible for most people, the bulk of the time in serious social life is taken up with playing these games. Therefore, social games are both necessary and desirable, and the only problem at issue is whether the games played by an individual offer the best yield for him. All people are playing these games knowingly or unknowingly. In this connection, it should be remembered that the essential feature of a game is its culmination or payoff. In playing these games, the preliminary function of the individual is to setup his moves so as to maximize this payoff, but it is also to harvest maximum possible satisfaction at each transaction or step as a secondary payoff. This is the immediate gratification that adult ego-states get while delaying gratification: while it looks a person is delaying gratification with rational behavior on one matter that we see in reality, their actual immediate gratification is in the form of these games.

Games are passed from one generation to another in parenting, knowingly or unknowingly. We tell our children how to pick partners, friends, and associates and what are social manners and other such aspects of the game. In the social world, one group of people play these games more seriously than any other group, Jerks. There is a bit of Jerk in everyone. A Jerk is someone who is overly sensitive to Parental influences, hence his Adult’s data processing and Child’s spontaneity are likely to come to his rescue and result in some odd clumsy behaviour sometimes in various contexts.

In conclusion, we all have these three ego-states working in the background day-in day-out. It is important to observe and try to liberate from any unintentional influences. Liberation from unintentional influences is no easy matter. In fact, research says the liberation is only possible if you attain the state of “pure awareness”. For certain fortunate people, there is something which transcends all classifications of behavior, and that is “pure awareness or consciousness”. They rise above the programming of the past or genetics, and it is a form of intimacy that is more rewarding than social games.

Hope this is useful, thank you.

Below are some useful videos that can help in understanding Transactional Analysis better.