Motivation and emotion/Book/2021/Transactional analysis and emotional literacy

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Transactional analysis and emotional literacy:
How can TA help to develop emotional literacy?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Emotional literacy is the fundamental ability to correctly label and name feelings. This brings emotional awareness, which is the building block of emotional intelligence and provides the emotional stability to face life challenges. Through understanding these emotions for ourselves, we are then able to emphasis and understand the emotions of others. Transactional Analysis or TA for short, provides techniques to teach emotional literacy to those who struggle to acquire emotional awareness and there has been only a few research studies to support this. Claude Steiner developed a training program that will enhance this called Emotional Literacy Training[factual?].

This chapter examines emotional literacy is and the levels of emotional awareness. It also discusses the importance of learning emotional literacy. It then talks about Transactional Analysis and how it is used in therapy, with further discussion on how TA can help develop emotional literacy with supporting cases.

Emotional literacy[edit | edit source]

from Wikipedia
Figure 1: Human emotional expression

Emotional literacy is emotional vocabulary and about you handling emotions. Coined by Claude Steiner in 1979, it provides you with the fundamental ability to correctly label and name feelings. With specific feeling words, feelings can be understood more psychologically and provide meaning that you and others can understand, relate better with and convey. This understanding then leads to the ability to predict feelings in advance (to perceive), because you have the resource of words, which allows for description, expression and communication. To describe, is to be aware, a knowing of which feelings are present and to articulate fluently. Emotional literacy brings emotional awareness, that which we create within oneself the ability to see the cause and effect of having emotions work for you, instead of against you (personal power). This is the steppingstone, the basic building block of which intuition, emotional intelligence and healthy relationship developed from. This means, the greater the development of emotional literacy, the better you are at describing, understanding and responding to the emotional states coming up in yourself and others. It puts a word to the feeling, to the experience, to the knowledge and builds your internal capacity. you are more likely to be listened to and have emotions expressed in a productive way (EQI, 2021; Steiner, 2003; Jane, 2021).

    "To know, to be, to do"

We become emotionally illiterate when we have suffered and continue to suffer emotionally painful experiences. We shut down, numbing to neutralising the trauma. It is our defense system and wall. this then separates us from relationships and our feelings. this emotional powerlessness comes in two forms, and we can oscillate between them both (Steiner, 2003).

1.     Absence - where the person is out of touch with their emotions, they control them tightly or they ignore them.

2.     Hypersensitive - is where emotions are excessive, loosely expressed, to aware and responsive of them.

How to develop emotional literacy.[edit | edit source]

It[spelling?] order to demonstrate emotional literacy, you must be able to identify, understand, and respond to your emotions and the emotions of others and be comfortable in doing so. Once you can talk using feeling words, then, you can fulfill your emotional needs, because you attitude and social skills become adaptable, adjusting to garner the support we need from others and give this emotional support to others. It also help set the path towards intuition, healthy relationships and emotional intelligence. As such, Steiner (2003), identified the following five principles in developing emotional literacy:

  1. knowing your feelings
  2. Having a heartfelt sense of empathy
  3. learn to manage your emotions
  4. repair emotional damage
  5. putting it all together - emotional interactivity

10 Levels of emotional literacy.[edit | edit source]

Table 2: The emotional Awareness scale (Steiner, 2003)

10 - 100% Awareness
9 - Emotional Intelligence
8 - Interactivity
7 - Empathy
6 - Causality
5 - Differentiation
4 - Verbal Barrier
3 - Primal experience, Chaos
2 - Physical Sensation
1 - Numbness
0 - 0% Awareness

Transactional Analysis[edit | edit source]

Transactional Analysis (TA) is a social psychology that looks at a person’s relationships and interactions, so that the human social environment can be improved. It started out in psychoanalysis, then moved to deal with what goes on between people externally, not inside them. Developed by Eric Berne during the 1950's, it's theory is based off of "ego", from Freudian's theory of: id, ego, and superego. Berne explained that there were three distinct ego states we act on, at any given time: Parent, Adult and Child. They have their own language and function, making these complex interpersonal transactions, understandable. From these three states we are able to communicate allowing us to function effectively (English, 2014; Murray, 2021)..

Modern transactional analysis[edit | edit source]

Modern transactional analysis theory has expanded from the original theory, incorporating positive and negative aspects. It can operate in three ways, either as a: Personality theory; Communication model; or Method of studying repetitive behaviour. It has been divided into seven theoretical conceptual clusters, see Table 1.

Table 1.

The five conceptual clusters for transactional analysis (Steiner, 2003; English, 2014)



i'm OK, your OK The positive experience of self.

The person's existential experience that comes in four positions.

Strokes Units of interpersonal Recognition that is physical or verbal.

Can be either positive or negative stimulation.

Rackets and racketeers A substituted feeling.

Phony feelings are attitude

life Scripts Human experience and behaviour.

Pre-conscious life plan that governs life.

Games people play Socially dysfunctional behavioural patterns.

Repetitive devious transactions.

Ego States Fundamental activity of Transaction Analysis.

Entire systems of though, feeling and behaviour, from which we interact.

Transactions Communication exchange between people.

Any indication (speech, gestures or other nonverbal cues) that acknowledges the presence of another person.

Contracts Permission


Transactional Analysis in therapy[edit | edit source]

Transactional Analysis is talk therapy and was used as psychotherapy in group treatment. As it grew, it became clear that it could be used in other settings as well, like counselling, education, organisational work, and child therapy. Because it deals with the here-and-now it is great at treating people's interactions, personality, and communication problems. The idea is, that every individual is valuable, and all individuals have the capacity for personal growth and positive change. As Steiner (2003) mentioned it about building loving connections (English, 2014).

There are 10 steps a therapist uses with TA. Some of these steps are done sequentially, while others can be done simultaneously. with all these steps, Transactional Analysis focuses on the individuals Adult state, and helps the individual gain and maintain autonomy.

Step One: Contracts.

Here, is the introduction to the therapy and with the clients Adult, goals are determined for therapy. It spells out what wants to be achieved and how the therapist is going to go about it. this may require the client to take responsibility for the events that will take place during therapy (English, 2014).

Step Two: Character type and preferred ego.

It is based off of the preferred ego type.

Ego State

Here the focus is on the inner life of the client and how they interact with those around them. Parent, Adult and Child ego states. The P-A-C diagram is shown here see Figure 2 developed by Berne.

  •       Child (felt concept) - creative emotional side. This state likes to be playful and spontaneous (natural) a positive. But it also can be vengeful, depressed or be in despair (adaptive) a negative. Is all of the brain recordings of internal events (feelings and emotions) linked to the external events seen by the child during the first six years. lacks conscious memories. It is relatively stable and can only be changed through Adult. Operate through emotions.
  •       Adult (learnt concept)- rational human computer. Most independent. Our intellectual. This part thinks things out and makes rationally derived decisions based off of facts and the three ego states. " The period which the child develop the capacity to perceive and understand situations that are different from what is observed (Parent) or felt (Child)". It validates data that the Parent has stored. But it does get contaminated by the Parent and Child states. Adult changes itself, by adapting to new information and changing circumstances.
  •       Parent (taught concept)- the protective attitudes towards people learnt from parents and authority figures that happened in the first six year of life. Where values and fixed ideas sit, on how things should be. Very prejudice. Anything heard or experienced from birth is stored as code for living. Any person in this ego state will behave like their parents did in the same circumstances. Either can be nurturing (positive) or critical (negative). It is relatively stable and can only be changed through Adult. Operates through truth.

An individual may assume any of these roles in transactions with another person or in internal conversation. We need these states to function. They are part of us, and it benefits us when these ego states align with the situation we are facing.


There are two types. and these are established in childhood, between the ages of 2-6.

  •      Type 1: The Undersure. They want help and guidance all the time, regardless of if they are capable in doing it themselves or not. They tend to function a great deal in the Adapted Child ego state. Persons that have developed this character have had to deal with domination by caregivers either by the caregivers being critical or smothering. They learnt that it is better to obey, adapt and depend on leadership, than to become independent themselves. when they do assert themselves, they will do it through rebellion. (Child to Parent of the other)
  •     Type 2: The Oversure. They insist on their values or view of the world. Spends their time in Parent ego state and gives advise as a Rescuer or Critical Parent. They developed this character because they had to take on more responsibility than they should have had to for their age, or they were pushed to excel and prove themselves and to show off, beyond what they needed too. now they only find value in rescuing and getting other to follow them. (Parent to Child of the other).

Type 1 and Type 2 work great together in a complimentary transaction, until they don’t, and it becomes a crossed transaction, or they feel discounted. This usually happens when motivation to stay with the type disappears.

This is great at finding patterns of harm and repetitive transactions. Eg Third degree level (English, 2014).

Third Degree level

Is a pathological state. It is where people are not flexible and are to rigid. They keep functioning in accordance to their type and not the Adult, who can make informed assessments of any situation and other people. Crossed transaction can lead to dangerous behaviour in complimentary types and in same types: Type 1 can lead to both parties feeling let down at important times and sink into depression or Type 2 can lead to both parties becoming very competitive with eac other.

Figure 2: Transactional Analysis diagram in use to describe ego states and transactions.

Step Three: Communication

Communication is important in our everyday lives, and it part of making us human. All communication is done from our ego states in the form of transactions and strokes. It can happen between any of the three ego states.


Referred to as transactional units or stimulus, as transactions are initiated from here. It is explained in this way to allow clients to understand communication more effectively.

The transaction starts with the first person, who is called an "Agent “or speaker, it is then directed to the second person who is call the "Respondent" or receiver. When the two individuals meet, the respondent/receiver reacts to the transactional stimulus. The success of these transactions lies with identifying which ego state the Agent initiated the transaction in and the ego state the respondent responded with. When shown to the client through a diagram, see figure 2, lines will come from the Agent's ego circle to the Respondent's ego circle(English, 2014).

these lines are then divided into:

  •       Complimentary - is a smooth transaction. The transaction responses is directed back to the ego state of the speaker. Eg Agents "P" to Respondents "C", with the Respondent responding in "C" or Agents "C" to Respondents "A".
  •       Crossed - has heated negative consequences and break downs in communication. the ego state that did not receive the transaction responds. Eg Agents "P" to Respondents "C", with the Respondent responding from their "P" addressing the "C" of the Agent.
  •       Parallel - easiest Transaction. With Adult-to-Adult ego states being the most easiest, because of the typically rational and reasonable nature of the Adult.

Communication will always continue if the transaction remains complementary(English, 2014).

Transactions according to type.

"Type I and Type II persons are likely to engage in what we call "complementary' transactions, whereby Type I will seek advice (Child to Parent of the other) and Type II will be glad to give advice (Parent to Child of the other)".


Strokes are units of care or recognition hunger; they create a sense of existence otherwise we feel discounted. Due to these strokes, we are considered interdependent. As newborns we exhibit the need to be touched, recognized and acknowledged. Those infants that receive less touch, handling and cuddling, were more likely to experience challenges. When Berne applied this theory to adults, he theorizing that adult also experience recognition-hunger and a need for strokes. However, infants need the physical, while adults may be content with other forms of recognition, (Eg such as nods, winks, or smiles). Our continued need for these strokes does not change throughout our lives, just the form these take, as actual strokes or symbolic. Strokes come as both positive or negative, and it is better to receive negative strokes, than no strokes at all. Strokes underlie all communication transactions and provoke some to seek attention at all costs.[factual?]

Crooked Strokes

Are strokes that seem positive but have negative effects[grammar?]. It causes a double bind. Some clients seek these forms of strokes because they grew up with them.

Strokes and transactions fit the ego state you are in at the time and vary accordingly. Eg one ego state may like cuddles, while the others may not. it is also governed by the circumstances that are happening around you. When clients work in groups, it is easier for the therapist and client to see helpful and harmful patterns of transaction (English, 2014).

Step Four: A (Sad) Merry-go-Round.

This is how transactions are initiated. It was discovered by Karpman (1968), and it comes in three types

  •     Victim
  •     Rescuer and
  •     Persecutor

It is called the drama triangle. If transactions are not going to plan, frustration builds and ego states flip, where both parties become Victims. The way out of this pattern is with the help of the Adult of all parties involved, who can identify the parallel transactions that went well and the shifts that led to cross transactions (English, 2014).

Step Five: Survival Conclusions.

Human infants and children do not have the instincts to avoid danger. They have to be conditioned to approach the danger with appropriate caution by the messages given with positive and negative strokes. These get integrated into implicit memory, as survival conclusions. We do not consciously remember these. They then influence behaviour later, as instincts. As we get older, some of these survival conclusions may be doing us more harm as individuals, because we are now out of the environment that they were required - called archaic survival conclusions. Archaic survival conclusions can also be set when the child was shamed, especially between the ages of 2 to 4 and they carry this even when they do not need to. The Child ego state carries these unwanted inhibitions, phobias, anxieties, symptoms or behaviour patterns and the Parent ego state, reinforces or contradicts at times with remembered instructions. The earlier situations will be visualised by the client, under the guidance of the therapist. The data collected here can help towards modifying the archaic conclusion (English, 2014).

Step Six: Substitute Feelings and Attitudes.

Between the ages of 2 to 6, children learn the words that correspond to their feelings and emotions, so that in the future they can correctly name the feeling and attitude. However, this is not always the case in some families, and they learn to mislabel them or even discount them.

They grow up either:

  1. without the ability to recognize some of their own feelings or emotional reactions or
  2. believing that certain feelings are monstrous, while other feelings or attitudes will gain them approval.

This is how some people learn to substitute anger for sadness, or sadness for anger or fear, or generosity for greed or envy, and so on. when grown up, people will see these individuals as phony, because of how they substitute feelings. Berne called these substituted feelings "Rackets". Because this happens at an early age, the substitution of feelings is done unconsciously(English, 2014).

Step Seven: Emotional Racketeers.

This term is used for those who keep using substitute feelings and attitudes. They are not aware that they are doing this but can sense something is not right with their interactions with others. They keep displaying these phony feeling to gain compensatory strokes. In desperation for strokes, they reinforce their third degree. Eventually they will meet rejection. This causes excessive frustration, which leads to internal chaos that provokes sudden changes in ego state to the opposite state. Which will cause violence if the racketeer is in third degree level. If racketeering is found in a client, they need to feel safe. They then need to be nudged to recognise what they experience under stress, then name these feelings and attitudes for what they are, when stimulated. To acknowledge these harbouring disallowed feelings can be quite frightening for these clients and they need to recognise that they do not need to act upon them but allow their "Adult" to decide on the behaviour in situation(English, 2014).

Step Eight: Unconscious Motivators.

Are important choices that happen in life that are motivated by unconscious drives. They need to be recognised, even more so when the clients is making life changes and commitments. Where past behaviours do not align.

There are three types of Motivators:

  •   The Survival Motivator - individual survival and stimulates feelings and needs for action to ensure survival. Promotes survival conclusions. As such, it brings on attributes such as hunger, thirst, feeling cold, fear, need for protection and strokes.
  •   The expressive or passionate Motivator - species survival and stimulates sexuality, procreation, curiosity and attraction to adventure and risk-taking. which lead us to creative endeavours.
  • The Transcendence or Quiescence Motivator - maintains our quiet connection to the universe. It allows us to transcend daily life through sleep, spirituality and meditation. it helps foster harmony, detachment from overwhelming anxiety, restfulness and finally peacefulness.

They all have distinct functions, that will affect the ego states with their attributes, feelings and yearnings(English, 2014).

Step Nine: Scripts.

These are acquired adaptations from early (between ages 3-6) childhood experiences and reactions, that are carried on as a guide into their future. These scripts are influenced by nature and nurture, the child's inborn tendencies and limited world view that involves the exposure to everything around them. The initial script provides them structure as their "self" emerges, but it is a tentative outline. It continues to be revised throughout life and can up very different from the initial script. it is about connecting past with the future, otherwise there would be a vacuum and no grounding. There're neurotic, psychotic and psychopathic scripts that always end in tragedy due to the possible lack of script formation and then you have practical and constructive scripts the end in great happiness. Treatment hopes to change harmful existential patterns, by working with fantasies and stories to gain understanding about their inner needs and tendencies and creative processes(English, 2014).

Step Ten: Hot Potatoes and Episcripts.

When families are close, a condition may be passed down from one generation to the next, especially when one person believes they are going to be freed from the burden by passing it on. These transactions are like passing on a hot potato. This happens even more so, if a family member is in a powerful position, like an oversure type [missing something?] the an undersure type. The recipient may take these on believing they have done it for themselves. And as such, are called Episcripts. These are not scripts, but are taken on from others outside the self (English, 2014).

How can TA help develop emotional literacy.[edit | edit source]

Using TA Ten steps above, emotional literacy can be developed. It examines emotional issues in all forms and gave it the tools to examine genesis and communication of emotions. The concept of strokes, introduce the basic emotions of love and hate. Emotional Racketing discusses genuine emotions. Emotional literacy training is an extension of transactional analysis concepts and techniques and was put together by Claude Steiner. He made it so it was more understandable and that it could master our emotional lives (Steiner, 1996). In Steiner (1996)'s article he explained in a little more detail about the four categories of permission, strokes, information and responsibility. He highlights that it works best with two or more people willing to learn emotional literacy.

Case Study:

A Research Study into the impact on Emotional Stability of a Transactional Analysis Training Programme intended to develop increased levels of Adult Ego State in Adolescents in Syria.

A research study was conducted in Damascus with 36 adolescents using a training program based on transactional analysis. They were looking to see if with the focus on the Adult ego state impacted on emotional stability. they found there was a difference between Free Child, Adult and positive feelings, with Free child and Adult developing. Positive feelings had a statistically significant difference between experimental group and control group, when tested post-test. There was a difference between the average pre- and post-test scores for positive and negative feelings that carried well after the study was concluded, with only a 4% drop[explain?]. The study indicated that training based on TA concepts is beneficial to primary and secondary students, especially for adolescents (Taysir Morad, 2020).

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Using the ten steps provided by TA, emotional literacy can be established. With the research conducted in Syria, it was evident that there were changes in emotional stability in the adolescents studied that carried on well after the study had finished. The emotional literacy training developed by Claude Steiner can further enrich our understanding and build connections that are more emotionally stable as well establish strong connect to feelings involved with the linked words. Further study with younger children is recommended. This chapter pointed out that ego states, transactions and strokes are established between 2 to 6 years old. If we can provide a program for this age group that also support the parents involved, it will help with emotional literacy in adulthood.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Bezzina, A., & Camilleri, S. (2021). “Happy Children”A project that has the aim of developing emotional literacy and conflict resolution skills. A Maltese Case Study. Pastoral Care in Education, 39(1), 48–66.

Coşkun, K., & Öksüz, Y. (2018). Impact of Emotional Literacy Training on Students’ Emotional Intelligence Performance in Primary Schools. International Journal of Assessment Tools in Education, 6(1), 36–47.

Davidson, C. & Mountain, A. (2010). Transaction Analysis. Erin Berne. Mountain associates.

English, F. (2014). A Summary of Transactional Analysis I use. International Transactional Analysis Association.

EQI. (2021). Emotional Literacy.

Jane.(2021). What is emotional literacy?. Habits of Wellbeing.

Goodman, M. (2007). Mind, Body, Soul and Spirit in Transactional Analysis: An Integral Approach to Relationships, Transactional Analysis Journal, 37(3), 240-241. DOI: 10.1177/036215370703700309

Murray, H. (2021). Transactional Analysis - Eric Berne. Simply Psychology.

Novak, E. T. (2021). Working in the Terrain of the Damaged Self Core, Transactional Analysis Journal, 51(3), 241-253. DOI: 10.1080/03621537.2021.1950968

Petrosino, C., Choi, K.-S., Choi, S., Back, S., & Park, S.-M. (2021). The Effects of Emotional Literacy Programs on Inmates’ Empathy, Mindfulness, and Self-Regulation: A Random-Effect Meta-Analysis. The Prison Journal (Philadelphia, Pa.), 101(3), 262–285.

Steiner, C. (2003). Emotional literacy: Intelligence with a heart. California: Personhood Press.

Steiner, C. M. (1996). Emotional Literacy Training: The Application of Transactional Analysis to the Study of Emotions. Transactional Analysis Journal, 26(1), 31–39.

Taysir Morad, A. (2020). A Research Study into the impact on Emotional Stability of a Transactional Analysis Training Programme intended to develop increased levels of Adult Ego State in Adolescents in Syria. International Journal of Transactional Analysis Research and Practice,11(1), 4.'

External links[edit | edit source]