Transactional Analysis (TA) is a set of tools for understanding people and their relationships; this article continues our series on key TA concepts.

When Eric Berne published Games People Play in 1964, he thought he had written a technical book for psychotherapists acquainted with his earlier work, Transactional Analysis in Psychotherapy. He had little idea that the book would be a nationwide best seller, and the concept of psychological games would become part of the everyday language of human behavior.

Berne originally developed the idea of games to explain why people engaged in repetitive patterns of behavior that predictably resulted in bad feelings. He carefully described and categorized the patterns he had observed, and attempted to understand the reasons for them and to identify what could be done to change them.

Unfortunately, popularity led to oversimplification; the reasons why people play games were ignored, and the discussion of what to do about them was lost. An originally precise concept was distorted into a kind of generalized insult: “You’re just playing games!”

Berne described a game as a recurring set of transactions, with a concealed motivation, leading to a predictable outcome of bad feeling. The games were given creative names so that they could be recognized easily.

Patterns called “I’m Only Trying To Help You,” or “Now I’ve Got You, You S.O.B.,” or “Why Don’t You — Yes But,” for example, become easy to spot once they were named.

People play games to win, but they are not “winners” if they succeed; they don’t have more of anything positive. People play games in order to achieve some psychological advantage they believe they need, or they don’t know how to get any other way.
In general, people play games to structure time (literally, to have something to do); to get attention (negative attention is better than none); to act out and reinforce early childhood decisions about themselves and others (“Nobody cares what I want!”); and to fulfill a sense of destiny (“This is where I’ve been going all my life”).

These patterns are called “games” because they follow a set of rules and steps, not because they are playful. The steps in a game can often be identified by asking, “What keeps happening over and over; what do you do or say, and what does the other person do or say? How does it start? What happens next? Then what happens? How does it turn out?”

When these questions are answered clearly, it is easier to see the points where either person could’ve chosen to say or do something different, something that would break up the pattern of the game and prevent the familiar bad feelings.

[tags]Self Help, Self-Improvement, Personal Growth, Transactional Analysis [/tags]


For further information about Transactional Analysis, visit the websites for the International Transactional Analysis Association (ITAA) and the USA Transactional Analysis Association (USATAA).

There is a major TA Conference scheduled for San Francisco in August, 2007; details HERE.