Sunday, August 31, 2014

Transactional Analysis: Introduction for the Layman and Analysis of Seinfeld's "The Opposite"

Transactional Analysis introduction

This is Part 1 Chapter 2 of my new non-fiction book How to Repair the World. The chapter is titled Transactional Analysis: A Psychological Lingua Franca. You can read the introduction to the first part here, and the first chapter, Elementary Jungian Theory, here.
In this chapter I'll explain the basic principles of Transactional Analysis (TA) and demonstrate them  on one of my favorite Seinfeld episodes, "The Opposite". 

Transactional Analysis - The Theory

Transactional analysis was invented by Eric Berne, a psychologist who became disillusioned with Freudian practice and who thought he could formulate a more accurate and more easily understood psychology (needless to say, he was shunned by the psychological community[1]). Berne is most famous for his best-selling book Games People Play, although the most popular presentation of his theory was written by his colleague, Thomas Harris, in the bestselling "I'm O.K you're O.K"[2]. I will mostly be referring to the more simplified theory as presented in that book.

This book is an attempt to understand our interactions with others and with ourselves. It points out, explains, and defines basic psychological phenomenon. Thus it provides a vocabulary that helps us name things and once we have the words, we can communicate with ourselves and others and attempt to understand and eventually change the interactions. It is simple enough to be understood by most people, but still complex enough to be accurate.
T.A. recognizes three basic states of mind[3]: The Parent, The Child, and The Adult. All of these states are formed by the age of five through observation and incessant recording and interpretation of events by the child, and are for the most part unconscious. Every state is accompanied by specific vocabulary, tone of voice, emotional and informational content, and behaviors.

1 - The Parent
Contains all the information we received, and did not receive from the people we were dependent upon as babies and small children. The Parent is the voice of authority, the giver of rules and laws, customs and regulations. The Parent has an ideal picture of an ideal world and we must live up to that ideal, or else the Parent will stop taking care of us and we will not survive.

Common Phrases: You must (or mustn't), Don't (or Do) do it!, You should (not), always, never, everybody (does it), and most famously "Thou shalt not…"

Emotional Tone: The Parent is always judgmental. The judgment can be positive or negative but the evaluation is always there. The Parent cannot be reasoned with and it does not refer to reality. The Parent Knows and that's it. You either do as it says and receive approval, or suffer it's disapproval, which for the baby is equivalent with being disconnected from the life-giving Parent, in other words – equivalent to death.[4]

Content: The content of the Parent can be inexhaustible. It includes mundane details such as how beds should be made, how to entertain guests, how and what to eat and how to feel about it, when to go to sleep and how (Brush your teeth! Say a prayer!), as well as prejudices, religious information (God is watching) as well as non-information (God is a fairy tale), our political outlook and probably our views about most everything in the world. The Parent is an endless store of emotionally-laden directives, laws, admonitions, and real-life examples that we follow, for the most part, unconsciously.
Consequences: As adults we follow the Parental injunctions, feeling that we must but usually not recognizing the force behind it. More importantly, we do not understand why it is so very difficult to disobey the command and do the opposite.

Example: Your parents. Teachers, policemen and military officers also have very dominant Parents.

Basic Life Stance: I'm OK - You're not OK.

2 - The Adult
This is the rational, unemotional player. The Adult receives information, analyzes it dispassionately and files it away or acts upon it. The Adult deals with reality as it is, without any preconceptions and prejudice. The Adult is a data processing computer, gathering information from within and without, checking its utility and filing it away.

Common Phrases: Statements of fact. This is true, this is not. This accords with the facts as known to me, this does not. The facts of the case are these…

Emotional Tone: none, of course.

Content: The information that the Adult objectively (non-judgmentally) observes and catalogues.
Consequences: A strong Adult means that our activities will be effective since they are connected to reality. A strong Adult is constantly learning from experience and adjusting accordingly. A weak Adult means a weak connection to reality, and action dominated by the Parent's decrees and prejudices or by the emotions of the Child.

Example: Famous fictional detectives Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot. The Terminator and most other sci-fi robots.

Basic Stance: I'm OK - You're OK

3 - The Child

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Elementary Jungian Theory

Enso: The Symbol of Wholeness in Japanese Zen-Buddhism

This is the first chapter in the first part of a new non-fiction book dealing with World Repair. Thank you for reading. Any comments and questions regarding the text are greatly appreciated! You can read the introduction to this part here: Introduction to Part 1: A Basic Psychological Tool Kit For Everyone.

Elementary Jungian Theory

For our purposes here, it is possible to state that Jungian theory rests on two primary concepts: the development of the ego as the determining experience of every individual and every collective, and the idea of projection. For the sake of brevity and in an attempt to keep things as simple as possible, I will forgo a detailed discussion of two more important concepts in Jungian theory: archetypes and the collective unconscious.

Individuation: The Development of the Ego

Based on the analysis of the dreams and visions of his patients, which corresponded in a seemingly impossible manner with the myths and conceptions of much earlier epochs, Jung was forced to the conclusion that the central issue in human psychology, everywhere and at any time, is the development of self-consciousness and that this development occurs universally in certain pre-determined stages, which will be described here in brief.[ii]  
The initial situation from which the ego, the organ of self-consciousness, arises, is a situation of complete unconsciousness. In this unconscious, ego-less state, there is no light because there is nothing that can see, and no knowledge because there is nothing to record it. All knowledge and all action are completely instinctual and as such are completely effortless, because there is nothing to record an effort, nor to resist an impulse. By the same token, there is no suffering since there is no self-consciousness to record it; no time, since there is no self-consciousness to mark its passage, no thoughts, no longings, no frustrations, and no barriers between this unconscious creature and the rest of the world; all is one, and the one is all. This is the natural, perfectly instinctual life of an animal.
In the next stage the ego begins to take shape. Out of the primordial and infinitely powerful sea of unconsciousness, a very weak but highly significant phenomenon makes its first appearance: the ego.

At first the ego drifts in and out of consciousness; it is too weak to keep awake for long. It rises above the waves of the sea of unconsciousness for a short time and submerges again into the perfection and effortlessness existence of the unconscious. This period in the development of the ego corresponds in human history to the ascent and dominance of matriarchal society, which is the first culture everywhere in the world. From the point of view of the ego, which is the only possible point of view because nothing else in the psyche is self conscious, the unconscious is seen as "mother", which is identified with the earth and nature and – still – with an effortless existence. At this stage the ego is just strong enough to experience existence, but not yet strong enough to counter instinctual life and set out a path of its own. The ego is, so to speak, a more or less helpless passenger, a spectator and instrument in the progress of instinctual life. In the current parlance of post-modernity, there is no "agency", yet, and everything that humans do at this stage is attributed to Mother Nature. Humans are driven and controlled by a larger force.

But after a long while, after the ego develops to a sufficient degree, it strikes out on its own. The ego severs its ties with the unconscious "Mother" and for the first time views the world on its own terms, working independently with its own energy. The initial view, as the reader probably knows, is not pretty. In all the civilizations that have reached this stage of development, it is described in disastrous terms: as a "fall of man", as "punishment", as banishment from a state of perfection, from the garden of Eden. And indeed it is. From a psychological point of view, in order to achieve this degree of independence, the ego had to erect a solid barrier between itself and the rest of the unconscious. Therefore, there is no going back. Any regression means loss of consciousness, which is, in plain terms, madness. The ego is on its own, alone in a hostile world, and from thereon, women are condemned to a painful existence: "in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children", as is man: "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread."[iii] This is the way things stands, more or less, to this day. Man's ego has developed and gained even more strength, but in the process, the disassociation between the ego and the unconscious parts of the psyche has grown even stronger.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Introduction to Part 1: A Basic Psychological Tool Kit For Everyone

This will be, eventually, the introduction to the first part of a book dealing with World Repair. Thank you for reading. Any comments and questions regarding the text are greatly appreciated!

It is my opinion that we now have the psychological knowledge necessary to understand ourselves and our fellow men. In other words, human behavior and even human history need not be a mystery anymore. Furthermore, considering the knowledge that is now available, there is no excuse for continuing to manage our personal and collective affairs in our current, costly ignorance. Our good intentions – and we have many, as individuals and as a society – are constantly foiled by our inability to act correctly, that is, in a manner that brings into account our entire personality: both the conscious and the unconscious parts. Socrates famously argued that the unexamined life is not worth living, but he had no practical theories that would enable his fellow men, as well as himself, to fathom the entire range of the human psyche. Such knowledge is now available and should become common knowledge; anything less is simply irresponsible. To that end, this section will detail three, basic psychological theories that I consider essential and appropriate for understanding and discussing human behavior and cognition. My assumption is that the reader is a layman and therefore the explanations will be, as much as possible, in plain and simple terms.

Understanding human beings has been a primary goal of humanity, but until the 19th century this endeavor was limited, in the West, to philosophical musings. But at that time, the scientific revolution begun by Galileo and Newton finally made its way into the study of the human psyche and a new, empirical science was born: psychology. Since the advent of modern psychology in the late 19th century, many different theories of human behavior have been presented. The three fathers of psychoanalysis, the only field of psychology that focused specifically on the study of the unconscious, are considered to be Sigmund Freud, who was a cultural staple  in the West for many decades[i], and Carl Gustav Jung and Alfred Adler, both of whom were who colleagues and students of Freud but who eventually went their separate ways. When they did so, Freud "excommunicated" them from the psychological community and they have remained on the sidelines ever since – unjustifiably so, in my opinion. Here I have chosen to highlight Jungian theory, since in my own experience it is completely correct and can explain many human affairs that may appear baffling at first sight. Another advantage of Jungian theory is that it has reached the same conclusions about human nature as Buddhism did, though in different terms and with different methods. This is not a coincidence. A correct understanding of human nature must be a universal one, which is something that Freudian psychology never achieved. Adler's focus was on the family and I will refer to it in the chapter dealing with family issues.

The second theory presented here is Transactional Analysis. This theory was formulated by American psychologist Dr. Eric Berne - the author of the popular and still relevant "Games People Play" - and later popularized by his colleague, Dr. Thomas Harris in the book I'm OK-You're OK". Transactional Analysis is a simple way to analyze and understand the discourse that occurs between humans and that exists both inside our minds and outside of them. Transactional Analysis provides laymen with the language necessary to discuss human behavior and their own thoughts and feelings in accurate and empirical terms without overcomplicating things and without falling into the common psychoanalytical trap of missing the forest for the trees.
The third and final theory presented here is Imago theory, created most recently by Dr. Harville Hendrix as a result of his own experiences as a divorcee and marriage counselor. In my opinion, Imago theory represents the culmination of a one hundred years of scientific research of the mind, distilling the accumulated findings and understandings that Western psychology has achieved since its inception. The genius of Dr. Hendrix is in his ability to piece together the various strands of evidence from different fields of psychology to create a coherent picture of the human psyche. As far as I know, this is the most compete and up to date picture we have of the human psyche. The accuracy and detail of this picture are unprecedented and constitute a real hope for the future of mankind. This is due to the fact that the only way to navigate a territory successfully- even an abstract one such as the human psyche - is with an accurate map. In Imago theory, mankind finally has this map.
Together the three theories provide three different and complementary lenses through which to understand human behavior, culture, and history at the individual and collective level. With the help of these theories, we can gain a profound and accurate understanding of ourselves and the human environment we live in. It is my hope that such an understanding will enable us to act correctly to promote our own personal well being as well as that of our loved ones and, eventually, society at large. Correct action begins with correct understanding. So let's begin…

Related posts:
The first chapter in the first section: Elementary Jungian Theory

[i]  In the 20th century, Freud appeared 3 times in on the cover of Times Magazine. See: Duane P. Schultz and Sydney E. Schultz, A History of Modern Psychology (Belmont, California: Wadsworth/Thompson Learning, 2004), 391.

About the author
Joab Cohen is the author of the psychological thriller The Jewminator and
the vegan action hero novel Captain Tofu and the Green Team (coming soon!)

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