Eric Berne defined Transactions as a basic unit of social discourse - basically a way of understanding communications between people. Simply put a transaction occurs when one person offers up a stimulus, usually verbal, and the other person responds. Hence we understand transactions in terms of stimulus and response.
Person 1 (Stimulus) - ‘Hi, how’s it going?
Person 2 (Response) - ‘Good thanks, how are you?”
We can understand this further if we look at ego states:
So in the above example, the first person initiates from their Adult ego state addressing the second person’s Adult. In this way we get a Complementary Transaction which is what occurs when the ego state addressed is the one that responds. This can go on indefinitely.
Complementary transactions can also occur between Parent and Child ego states. See the diagram below:
Husband (Parent, in caring voice): ‘Oh you look shattered you poor love’
Wife (Child, in tired voice): ‘Oh I am, I’ve had an awful day’
In this case the transaction is a complementary P-C transaction
Manager (in Parent, aggressively): ‘You’re late again! What time do you call this?’
Employee (in adapted Child, adapted and cowering slightly): “I’m so sorry, I’ll make sure it doesn't happen again’
Manager: ‘You said that last time, this simply isn't good enough!’
Employee: ‘I’m really sorry, I’ll stay later after work this evening’
Again we have a P-C transaction.
As mentioned, these transactions can go on indefinitely, and not just in one conversation - they can go on for years. Do you know someone with whom you always feel that you are in your Child ego state or maybe you know someone who you always feel nurturing and Parental towards. Have a think about which ego state they may be coming from and which one you respond from - are the transactions complementary?
It may be that in your long term relationships with friends or partners you are ‘stuck’ in a complementary transaction whereby one of you is often in the Parent role addressing the other’s Child or vice versa. For example, they always put you down making you feel like a child and as such you respond from your Child ego state, acting angrily or adapting to them. Or maybe you know someone for whom you always have to do everything because they seem so helpless in doing it themselves - here, you are in Parent and they are in Child.
One way to get out of this is to cross the transaction.
A crossed transaction is one where the ego state that responds is different to the one addressed.
See the diagram below:
Irate customer shouting to shop assistant (P - C): ‘This is unacceptable, I’ve had to wait for 20 minutes to be served!’
Shop assistant (calmly from Adult addressing his Adult): ‘I am sorry sir, yes you have had to wait a long time, we’re short staffed today. Maybe you’d like to fill out a complaints form?’
Customer (backing down to A or even C): ‘No its, ok, I’ll leave it for now’
As you can see, by crossing the transaction, it can help to shift the person out of the ego state they were in.
See the following example:
Partner to wife (P-C): ‘Here let me do that for you, you’re useless!’
Maybe the husband and wife have been locked in this kind of pattern for years where the wife feels put down but rather than assert herself, she puts up with it, adapts and believes that she is useless.
However maybe through change she becomes aware of the pattern and she decides to assert herself, instead crossing the transaction from her Adult with something like:
Wife (A-A): ‘Thanks but its ok, i’d like to do it myself and take my time’.
or she could even cross the transaction from her own (angry) Parent with something like
(P-P) ’Don’t you dare speak to me like that! I am not an imbecile!’
Clearly in such a situation, this may rock the status quo which is something worth being aware of and ensuring that support is in place if such changes are going to be made.
A third kind of transaction is an ulterior transaction. This is where the social message conveyed hides the psychological, covert message hidden underneath.
A guy says to his friend (A-A):
‘Fancy a game of pool?”
However the ‘secret’ message meant for the friend’s Child ego state is
‘Fancy a night out on the town?”
To which the friend responds from the Adult (but covertly form their Child)
See if you can think of other examples of ulterior transactions - in particular ones that you might make.