Parent Adult Child – Transactional Analysis – what does this mean…

Transactional Analysis: Parent – Adult-Child

First of all , whilst I can attempt to simplify this model, there are part time courses that last many years to help get to the full detail.

To give you an idea, straight from Wikipedia:

Transactional analysis integrates the theories of psychology and psychotherapy because it has elements of psychoanalytichumanist and cognitive ideas. According to the International Transactional Analysis Association,[7] TA ‘is a theory of personality and a systematic psychotherapy for personal growth and personal change’.

I am not even going to try and explain this one way or another, but provide a simple explanation to the core of Transactional Analysis which is the Parent-Adult-Child model

“Each of us is really three people.” What transactional analysts mean when they say this is that people are able to act in three different ways – as their Parent, as their Adult, and as their Child. These three behaviour modes, each important in its own right are called ego states

The starting point is that  when two people meet and engage with each other , they each take on the role of either the Stimulus or Response at a particular point of the dialog. Transactional Analysis is the method of examining the transaction wherein: ‘I do something to you, and you do something back’.

At any given time, a person experiences and manifests his or her personality through a mixture of behaviours, thoughts, and feelings. Typically, according to TA, there are three ego-states that people consistently use:


This is the state in which people behave, feel, and think in response to an unconscious mimicking of how their parents (or other parental figures) acted, or how they interpreted their parent’s actions. It is our ingrained voice of authority, absorbed conditioning, learning and attitudes from when we were young. We were conditioned by our real parents, teachers, older people, next door neighbours, aunts and uncles.   Our Parent is made up of a huge number of hidden and overt recorded playbacks. Typically embodied by phrases and attitudes starting with ‘how to’, ‘under no circumstances’, ‘always’ and ‘never forget’, ‘don’t lie, cheat, steal’, etc, etc. Our parent is formed by external events and influences upon us as we grow through early childhood. We can change it, but this is easier said than done

Parent is commonly represented as two core dimensions with a positive and negative influence:

Nurturing – Nurturing (positive) and Spoiling (negative).

Controlling – Structuring (positive) and Critical (negative).


Our ‘Adult’ is our ability to think and determine action for ourselves, based on received data.

This is a  state which is most like an artificially intelligent system processing information and making predictions about major emotions that could affect its operation.

Learning to strengthen the Adult is a goal of TA. While a person is in the Adult ego state, he/she is directed towards an objective appraisal of reality.

The Adult has no emotions. People who hear this and who think that the Adult is supposed to be the best ego state may conclude that emotions are not good. But it only means that in order to be logical we need to be able to separate ourselves from our emotions. It doesn’t mean that to be logical is the best way to be at all times.. People will also object: “I am an adult and I have emotions!” and they are right. Being a mature human being or grownup is not the same as being in the Adult ego state. Little children can be in their Adults and happy grown-ups use their Parent and Child all the time. The Adult computes all the facts fed into it. If the facts are up-to-date, then the Adult’s answers will be timely and superior to the Parent’s solution. If the facts are incorrect, the Adult computer will produce incorrect answers.


This is a state in which people behave, feel, and think similarly to how they did in childhood. For example, a person who receives a poor evaluation at work may respond by looking at the floor and crying or pouting, as when scolded as a child. Conversely, a person who receives a good evaluation may respond with a broad smile and a joyful gesture of thanks. The Child is the source of emotions, creation, recreation, spontaneity, and intimacy.

Our internal reaction and feelings to external events form the ‘Child’. This is the seeing, hearing, feeling, and emotional body of data within each of us. When anger or despair dominates reason, the Child is in control. Like our Parent we can change it, but it is no easier.

Child is  commonly represented as two core dimensions with a positive and negative influence:

Adapted – Co-operative (positive) and Compliant/Resistant (negative).

Free – Spontaneous (positive) and Immature (negative).

Another way of looking at the three are:

Parent is our ‘Taught’ concept of life

Adult is our ‘Thought’ concept of life

Child is our ‘Felt’ concept of life


Not forgetting the golden rule that only a very small proportion is the actual words spoken:

Only 7% of meaning is in the words spoken.

38% of meaning is paralinguistic (the way that the words are said).

55% is in facial expression. (source: Albert Mehrabian – more info)

So; we now understand that there are three states – what does this mean?  At the core of the theory is the rule that effective transactions (ie successful communications) must be complementary i.e mirror each.  For example if the stimulus is Parent to Child, the response must be Child to Parent, or the transaction is ‘crossed’, and there will be a problem between sender and receiver.

If a crossed transaction occurs, there is an ineffective communication. Worse still either or both parties will be upset. In order for the relationship to continue smoothly the agent or the respondent must rescue the situation with a complementary transaction.


  Parent Adult Child
Physical Angry or impatient body-language and expressions, finger-pointing, patronising gestures Attentive, interested, straight-forward, tilted head, non-threatening and non-threatened Emotionally sad expressions, despair, temper tantrums, whining voice, rolling eyes, shrugging shoulders, teasing, delight, laughter, speaking behind hand, raising hand to speak, squirming and giggling.
Verbal Always, never, for once and for all, judgmental words, critical words, patronising language, posturing language. Questioning and querying words – why, what, how, who, where and when, how much, in what way, comparative expressions, reasoned statements, true, false, probably, possibly, I think, I realise, I see, I believe, in my opinion. I want, I need, I wish, I don’t care, oh no, not again, I don’t know, things never go right for me.












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