Do others look up to you? Or down at you? Or see you as an equal?

Eric Berne's Transactional Analysis
Eric Berne’s Transactional Analysis

Parent, Adult, Child

Eric Berne used the term Transactional Analysis to talk about how we interact with one another. Let’s think about people in your family, workplace or church.

When I’m with you I take on one of three roles: Parent, Adult or Child. These terms (Parent, Adult, Child) are used in a specific way and are not meant to mean exactly the same thing as in normal use. For example, in Berne’s use of the words, when two parents are talking as equals, they are both playing the Adult role.

Both the Parent and Child roles have negative and positive manifestations.

If I take on the role of Parent I might help, nurture, provide structure for you. But I could end up spoiling you, or maybe watch with a critical eye, look down on you, or become too controlling.

In the role of Child I could learn from you, adapt to you and be cooperative or playful. But on the negative side I could remain immature, or just become compliant.

The Adult role combines the positives of Parent and Child and is rational, assertive and understanding.

Know your role –and those of others!Father Holding Daughter's Hand

Using Berne’s use of the words, in family life a baby instantly takes on the Child role, but 30 years later might be seen by his parents as an Adult equal. In another 30 years he ends up playing the Parent role – with his own parents taking on the role of a Child!

But it all gets a bit tense if we get our wires crossed. What if I act like a parent to you but you don’t respond as a child? This is why it’s important to think about what role you’re playing in a relationship and what you expect of the other person.

Over the next few days, I’ll be thinking about the three roles of Parent, Adult and Child as a way of helping you to understand and improve your relationships.

You can’t wait, can you.

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