Transactional Analysis And How It Can Help

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Your age is only a marker along the Cycles of Development, says Anna Chandy, counsellor and top Transactional Analysis practitioner. Sandhya Rajayer meets her to discuss how Transactional Analysis can help as we age.


It’s official: Age is nothing!

First the good news. There’s no official retirement age. Not just because you are only as old as you think you are but, more importantly, because psychologically each of us is going through a cycle of developmental stages beginning right from the moment we are born to our last breath, explains Anna Chandy.  Chandy is an acclaimed Transactional Analysis (TA) practitioner, author of Battles in the Mind, and Chairperson of The Live Love Laugh Foundation. So yaay for all those hobbies you thought you could never cultivate, skills that you thought you were past the age of acquiring and oh! running that 5 Km marathon just became a possibility; a slim one that needs to be gradually grown from a few steady steps to breasting the finish line, but a possibility nevertheless.

The bad news? Well, it’s all up to us folks; we’ve actually got to take advantage of this information and act on it. No pain, no gain.

So what is TA and what does it teach us about ageing?

Transactional Analysis, a model for understanding human personality, relationships and communication, was first developed by Dr Eric Berne and became popular with the publication of his book Games People Play. As described in the book TA Today, by Ian Stewart and Van Joines, TA’s theory of personality gives us an idea of how people are structured psychologically and how their behaviour is a manifestation of this structure. The TA theory of communication gives a method of analysing systems and relationships, both in personal life and in work situations. TA’s theory of psychopathology delves into personality development patterns and strategies that originate in childhood and which we tend to continue to replay in grown-up life even when these produce results that are self-defeating and painful. Thus TA offers a system of psychotherapy that helps treat all types of psychological disorders, from everyday living problems to severe psychosis. TA is used in educational settings and also as a tool for organisational analysis and training. Basically, TA can be used in any field where there is a need for understanding of individuals, relationships and communication.

Anna Chandy quotes Pamela Levin, TA theorist who articulated the Cycles of Development theory to further explain the Transactional Analysis (TA) perspective on ageing:

There are essentially seven stages of development:

 0 – 6 months: Being or just experiencing the world;

 6-18 months: Doing or exploring the world;

18 months – 3 years: Thinking or reasoning things out for ourselves;

3-6 years: Creating identity or writing the storyline we will fit our life to;

6-12 years: Skill development relevant to the identity we want to create;

12 – 18 years: Integration of all the previous stages, in addition to thinking about sexuality.

In the seventh stage of the development cycle i.e. during our 18th year we begin the second cycle in this spiral of development, known as the recycling stage. And we continue to revisit the various stages throughout our life.

Suddenly the retirement years that chorus with ’I wish I had’ feel like living in possibility. “Let me give you an example,” says Chandy, “if you came from a home that was very authoritarian, had a definitive structure which therefore gave no space for exploring other avenues; when you are in the exploratory stage of the development cycles you may want to try out painting. You may never become an artist but at the very least you will get a sense of what is it you want to get from painting. So rather than being in the space of ‘oh I always wanted to learn painting but my parents were so strict so I never did’; just begin your journey wherever you are.”

How TA looks at Age & Sexuality

Elders may struggle with the idea of an active libido as it clashes with our traditional beliefs regarding age. A  72-year-old client of Chandy was struggling with the same. “He was disturbed that while he was sexually active, his wife was not. It also troubled him that he liked to look at women in their 30s and 40s because it clashed with his value system and therefore he felt ashamed.”

Here’s how using TA helped him: “During our conversation we became aware that he saw his sexuality with a particular lens where he measured his physical ability through his libido. So his sexual drive made him feel youthful and he did not want to give it up because it helped him cope with physical ailments. We also worked on his belief system in which thinking sex at 70 is something to be ashamed of. Then we examined what he did as a young man and he was able to see that those were very natural thoughts. We analysed how our belief on ageing is also a cultural hand-me-down. Eventually, he became comfortable with the idea that he and his wife were at different stages in the cycle of development and the odd time he has a sexual need he would masturbate in his privacy and not thrust himself on his wife whose need in this area was over.”

Handing Over The Reins: The TA way

At a certain age our children start making the decisions for us and we end up resisting this change vehemently. TA offers a different coping perspective. “I think there are two aspects to this: we are losing physical independence, not psychological independence. What you think cannot be controlled but where you live, how you live these are being controlled by the next generation. There’s a tussle going on because the two groups – parents and children are not on the same page in how they view the situation. If there are unresolved issues between the children and the parents these are bound to surface at this time. So it’s important that parents exchange thoughts and feelings and engage with children on these issues when they are still healthy so that differences are ironed out.

“Also, remember that when we were children and our parents were looking after us the engagement was only between our parents and us. Whereas, when we are being looked after by our children we need to remember there is a spouse also who is important to our child. S/he may not feel for us the way our child does and those are realities we need to look at. To expect without understanding context is when there is trouble. Then there may be grandchildren who are going through the complicated process of understanding the world and it’s tough on them when we also expect them to understand someone who is one generation ahead” says Anna Chandy.

Post Retirement Blues: How TA Can Help

Our work provides a definitive structure to our life and also offers us validation. Does that structure get affected post retirement and if yes, what’s the solution?

 “It’s important to cultivate interests and develop hobbies so that these will provide validation and provide structure to our day in the absence of a ‘job’ when we retire,” says Chandy. “The other missing aspect in retirement is mental stimulation as problem-solving is a core activity when you are in the active work force. You may know many people who take up playing bridge after retirement because it’s a brain stimulating activity.”

“For example, you may play chess or bridge every Thursday, walk every evening or morning, exchange ideas with your walking partners for mental stimulation and get validation when someone appreciates your ideas. Even becoming an integral part of a walking group is a form of validation; it does not have to be a commercial contribution. In recent years there is a lot of research being done on the potency and power of volunteering. And our elders can make a key contribution in that for who else has so many life experiences to share?”

Dealing With Social, Psychological and Physiological Conflicts

The anxiety of memory loss and loss of bladder control is the stuff of nightmares for seniors. What can help ease the mind once your body starts giving up and how does TA help in situations like these?

“We associate memory loss with being out of control. Similarly, incontinence with lack of muscular control. We associate diapers with infancy. So when we ask an elder to wear diapers, at a social level we are telling them to ‘take care’, at a psychological level we are telling them ‘you are like a child, you have no control and you may shame us’. This has a lot to do with shaming in early toilet training. And when seniors with senility issues pull down their trousers or even eat with their mouths open, you will notice that adult children are embarrassed because their parents are violating so-called etiquette. So while socially you are saying ‘I’m taking care of you’; psychologically you are saying ‘don’t shame me.’ I would educate the elderly by telling them these are natural processes of ageing because the body is getting old and tired. Also, it’s time we started having conversations among our elderly on what it means for them to become old. We don’t talk about ageing; we just become old,” says Chandy.

Anna Chandy. Photograph courtesy: TLLLF

Anna Chandy.
Photograph courtesy: TLLLF

How TA helps with loss

Losing a spouse is tough because we spend more years with them than with our own siblings. Does TA offer a way towards acceptance of loss? “I think grieving is natural but in TA we talk about ‘physis’. For our elders the loss is two-fold when they lose their partners because it makes them not just lonely but also more dependent on children, with nobody to communicate with or support them emotionally. So yes, it’s true that you have lost the person you have cared deeply for many years but when you are ‘integrating’ (the third stage of the cycle of development) as an adult, part of your journey needs to be about a higher life. Physis means – the force of energy towards a higher life. So whatever form of spirituality attracts us is also the anchor for us because in the end that is the only part that actually belongs to us. This is a key area we need to be dialoguing about with our spouse and rest of the family,” emphasises Chandy.

Could TA be a tool for positive change?

“A simple exercise to do this is to take any experience from the past and ask yourself what does this mean for me now? For example, what does it mean for me now to walk along a straight line? What am I learning from that? I also think what they are doing in Amsterdam is good idea – housing where the old and the young live together. The philosophy behind that is that elder people are seeing younger people at different stages of life. And those young people are also seeing what it is to be old. And it encourages a mutual interdependence in such communities. So instead of living in a senior assisted community you could make the choice of living in a mixed community. For example in Chennai, the international YWCA provides housing where they have single people taking apartments alongside old people so there’s mutual interdependence between the neighbours. Otherwise, we are going to create ghettos of one demographic group. Also set up activity centres in such areas; sports, games, hobbies etc that are not age restrictive,” says Anna Chandy.

Featured image courtesy: Pixabay

About Author

Sandhya Rajayer

Sandhya Rajayer is a freelance writer based out of Bangalore. Her life travels have informed her that people everywhere want the same things: love, understanding and a better way of being. She blogs at http://sandhyarajayer.blogspot.in/