“Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you will help them become what they are capable of becoming” Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
It is somewhat ironic that the roots of transactional analysis come from the mind of a cocaine addict, lying as they do in Sigmund Freud’s theories of personality. Freud believed that the human personality has three components, all of which must work together to enable our complex behaviour: the Id, Ego, and the Superego. According to Freud, these need to be balanced to produce ‘reasonable’ mental health and stability. The Id functions in the irrational and emotional part of the mind, the Ego as the rational part, and the Superego is thought of as the moral part. Each individual mind possesses all three and they frequently collide with each other. The collisions and interactions between these elements of personality manifest themselves as an individual’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviour.
Transactional analysis, developed by Eric Berne, is a form of modern psychology that examines a person’s interactions and relationships. Inspired by Freud’s theories of personality, Berne combined them with his own observations of human interaction to develop transactional analysis. In therapy, it is used to address a person’s interactions and communications to establish and underpin the idea that every individual has value and has the capacity for positive change and growth. Transactional analysis is based on the idea that a person’s behaviour and social relationships reflect an interchange between the Superego, the Ego, and the Id. These aspects of personality are established early in life.
The application of transactional analysis to rehab and other recovery programmes is comparatively straightforward. The first thing the professional does is establish an agreement with the client – that they are going to address their addiction – to ensure that the two communicate as adults during their sessions. The professional then strengthens the client’s ‘adult’ and observes the transactions the person has with others. This can be used to discover how their personal issues might be causing their addiction. Transactional analysis helps during alcohol and drug recovery by allowing the person to make rational decisions rather than relying on the irrational elements of their mind.
When I remember the crazed version of me that arrived at my first appointment at the Inclusion Drug and Alcohol Service, I am glad that there was at least one adult in the room. I had taken a drink or two before I arrived, telling myself it was for Dutch courage. I was rumbled almost immediately, breathalysed, and warned that I had to take my treatment seriously or it would be withdrawn. In other words, I had to approach my recovery as an adult. Lesson one.
Every addict lives as a child. It is a desperate and cruel existence, but is inherently selfish and self-serving. The addict gives childish excuses for their childlike behaviour. Simply telling an addict that they have to grow up would probably provoke an unpredictable and potentially violent reaction, but the simple truth is that recovery is the realm of adults. The time has come to put away childish things. It is a process of learning, or relearning, that problems and issues must be faced before they can be addressed and solved. Recovery is a process of learning that anything is possible.
This is why I love all my new sober friends. They are adults. They look life in the eye and say, “You haven’t beaten me before and you’re not beating me now.” They have all experienced true rock bottom. Every person in recovery is my hero. They all still undergo the struggles and travails that are part of the human condition, but they are also closely in touch with their capacity to win. In Japan, broken objects are often repaired with gold. The flaw is seen as a unique piece of the object’s history, which adds to its beauty. It also adds to its strength.
“Awareness requires living in the here and now, and not in the elsewhere, the past or the future.” Eric Berne, Games People Play