Richard G. Erskine
In Eric Berne’s writings there are two different explanations of psychological functioning: the ego, composed of separate states, with intrapsychic dynamics among the states; and ego state terminology applied to descriptive behavioral roles. Subsequently, throughout the transactional analysis literature, two views of transference and transactions exist that, when applied clinically, are at variance with each other.
One purpose of this article is to draw a distinction between Berne’s two theories of ego states and to describe how each theoretical perspective creates a significantly different concept of transactions and transference. The practice of transactional analysis in psychotherapy is markedly different with each of these two theories.
A second purpose is to demonstrate that consistent use of Berne’s developmental, relational, and intrapsychic theory of ego states in understanding the internal dynamics of transactions can lead to a sensitive and effective response to transactions and transference and to a comprehensive and integrative psychotherapy.
Transference within Psychoanalysis
Freud’s (1905/1955) identification and specification of the transference dimension of the psychotherapeutic relationship is his most fundamental discovery (Langs, 1981). For the past 90 years psychotherapists have struggled with the problem of understanding patients’ communications and clarifying the difference between transactions that are solely in response to the current situation and those that are an expression of archaic relationship conflicts.
In the case of Anna O., Breuer and Freud (1895/1955) discovered the phenomenon of transference when they tried to uncover childhood traumas that were the roots of hysterical symptoms. They first considered transference as resistance to the uncovering of repressed childhood traumas. However, by 1905 Freud described the importance of working with the transference and considered transference and resistance (defenses) as the two main elements of psychoanalysis.
Freud (1905/1955) described transference using the metaphor of new editions or facsimiles of old emotional experiences. In transference patients replace the emotional experience with an earlier person with a similar experience with the psychotherapist. Within psychoanalysis this description of transference remains the basis for treatment. It was echoed by Greenson (1967), who described transference as the emotional experience of a person that does not befit that person and which actually applies to another. A person in the present is inappropriately reacted to as though he or she were a person in the past.
Freud’s hypothesis about the origin of transference was based on the assumption that each individual, through the combined operation of innate disposition and influences brought to bear during early years, acquired a somewhat fixed method or set of methods of living which were evident in all relationships. The patient in analytic treatment was seen as repeating these attitudes and reactions. Freud understood transference as the displacement of behavior and feelings onto the therapist, feelings that were originally experienced and directed toward significant figures from childhood (Freud, 1912/1958, 1915/1958). This early psychoanalytic concept of transference is the one most compatible with Berne’s (1961) original writings on ego states and their application to a theory of transactions and transference.
In the 1910s and 1920s Freud shifted his focus away from a theory of relationship conflicts of early childhood, as represented in his original ideas (1905/1955), to a theory that emphasized innate biological drives. Anna Freud (1965), working within this drive theory model of psychoanalysis, described the defensive, projective aspects of transference as the externalization of instinctual drives. She wrote that many of the transference situations encountered in her work were because the person of the analyst is used to represent one or another aspect of the patient’s personality. In this view, transference and projection are drive theory concepts that describe the defense against awareness of a specific biological drive.
For example, a patient may project a drive of aggression onto the therapist, thus subjectively attributing it to the therapist while experiencing the self as the object of aggression from the therapist. The patient then experiences the disowned and split off drives as being in the other person (Berg, 1977; Novik & Kelly, 1970). This drive theory concept of transference is not compatible with either Berne’s (1961) intrapsychic or descriptive theories of transactional analysis.
Winnicott (1965). Spotnitz (1969) described the object relations theorists’ view of transference as “the patient’s attempt to reveal the basic maturational needs for objects that were not met in the course of his development” (p. 139).Berne’s (1961) descriptions of transference phenomena are more closely linked to those of psychoanalytic object relations theorists such as Bollas (1979), Fairbairn (1952), Guntrip (1971), Khan (1974), and
Greenberg and Mitchell (1983) described in detail the bifurcation of current psychoanalytic theory between a relationship perspective and an instinctual drive perspective and the correspondingly differing views of transference. Anna Ornstein (1989) described transference as “current” resistance: “Transferences contain many elements of the past, but they are not only made of archaic reactions, they also contain a current reaction” to the therapist. When the transference is used to investigate the intersubjective field between patient and therapist, the behavior and unconscious intrapsychic processes of the therapist become an important source of information for use in understanding the patient. From this perspective, what looks like transference is at times a current reaction to the behavior and affect of the therapist (Stolorow, Brandchaft, & Atwood, 1987). Such insight into the meaning of the transference requires an empathic acceptance by therapists of their own childhood experiences and emotions (Brandchaft, 1989).
Kohut (1971) distinguished two types of transference: those based on instinctual drives and those representing early developmental needs such as approval, mirroring, and echoing. Kohut called the transactions that expressed fixated developmental needs “selfobject transferences” (p. 23) and ascribed to them a necessary reparation function within the therapeutic process. In Kohut’s (1977) self psychology the therapeutic goal of working within the transference is the completion of interrupted developmental processes. This is a very different goal than the classical psychoanalytic interpretation of transference as an expression of instinctual drives.
Other psychoanalytic writers have explored the therapeutic relationship, questioning what distinguishes transference from nontransference. Some argue that transference pervades the therapeutic relationship (Brenner, 1979; Friedman, 1969; Langs, 1976), while others argue that there are neutral or rational relationships in therapy (Greenson, 1967; Lipton, 1977).
Baker (1982) described the crucial variable in psychotherapy as “the transference, which involves components of both the real relationship between patient and therapist and the more irrational components displaced, projected and externalized from the patient’s history” (p. 196) of relationships with significant people and their internalized representations.
Greenson (1967) described two types of relationships in therapy that should not be equated with transference. Both the “working alliance” (p. 191) and the “real relationship” (p. 217) are nonarchaic and involve the patient’s reasonable ego. The working alliance is the patient’s cooperation in the therapeutic tasks and may be tinged with elements of archaic motivation (transference). There is, however, an observing ego that can stand back from the experience temporarily and reflect on it. The “real relationship is genuine and reality oriented or undistorted as contrasted to the term ‘transference’ which connotes unrealistic, distorted, and inappropriate” (p. 217). An example of the realistic relationship may be a patient’s concern for or criticism of the therapist. Lipton (1977) used the term “cordial relationship” (p. 255) to describe the nontransference transactions between patient and therapist. In his 1961 theory of transactions Berne implied the ideas of both a transference and nontransference relationship between therapist and patient.
For the past two decades psychoanalysis has been undergoing a major reevaluation regarding practice and theory. Berne (1961) predated much of the current theoretical reframing of psychoanalysis when he dispensed with a theory based primarily on innate biological drives and instead viewed human functioning as based on relationships. Berne (1961, 1966) continued to acknowledge primary innate human motivations such as stimulus hunger—with its sublimation into recognition hunger, and later structure hunger—but each of these were manifestations of the need for human relationship. Berne’s primary contribution to advancing knowledge of psychotherapy theory was his description of states of the ego and the use of these concepts to identify which transactions were transference and which were nontransference.
As reflected in Transactional Analysis in Psychotherapy (Berne, 1961), transactional analysis began as a reaction to and an advancement of psychoanalytic theory. Today there is much that transactional analysts can gain in theoretical perspective and clinical application by reexamining from an intrapsychic and integrative perspective both Berne’s original theoretical conceptualizations and the current theoretical and methodological debate within psychoanalysis.
Berne’s Original Concept of Ego
Berne’s (1961) original conceptualization of ego states appears to this writer to be a logical and creative extension of psychoanalytic structural theory. He expanded on Federn’s (1953/1977) concept of ego and elaborated the concept of the archaeopsychic and exteropsychic states of the ego. In so doing Berne paved the way for an explanation of intrapsychic conflict that is relational and developmental rather than relying on Freud’s drive model of intrapsychic instinctual-societal conflicts. Berne (1961) eliminated the theoretical concepts of id (pp. 61, 194, 198) and superego (p. 32) by postulating that these psychological dynamics are functions of an ego composed of three states of psychic organization: fixations from childhood, introjections of elements of the personality of others, and an integrating state in full contact with what is currently occurring internally and externally. He hypothesized that “an ego state is the phenomenological and behavioral manifestation of the activity of a certain psychic organ, or organizer” (p. 24).
Based on the references and footnotes found in Transactional Analysis in Psychotherapy (Berne, 1961), one would deduce that Berne was building theoretically on the writings of psychoanalytic authors Breuer and Freud (1895/1955), Fairbairn (1952), Federn (1953/1977), Freud (1949), Klein (1949), and Weiss (1950) and the child developmentalists Piaget (1932, 1951, 1954) and Erikson (1950). Berne (1961) thought of ego function as, in part, composed of archaeopsychic states: “the ego state of the actual child” which “has organization, unified will, logic and, certainly, negation” (p. 198). These archaic ego states consist of fixations of earlier developmental stages. They are the entire personality of a person as he or she was in a previous developmental period of time (pp. 54-55, 192, 1964, p. 23). The archaic ego fixations occurred when critical childhood needs for contact were not met, and the child’s use of defenses against the discomfort of the unmet needs became habitual (Erskine, 1980). These fixations became egotized or, in other words, formed separate ego units or states. The archaic or Child ego states (Berne, 1964, p. 23) are maintained in later life through the current use of defense mechanisms (Erskine & Moursund, 1988).
In Berne’s (1961) words, “The Child ego state is a set of feelings, attitudes, and behavior patterns which are relics of the individual’s own childhood” (p. 77). When functioning in the Child or archaic ego states the person perceives the internal needs and sensations and the external world as he did in a previous developmental age. Although the person may appear to be relating to current reality, he may actually be experiencing what is happening with the perceptual, emotional, intellectual, and social capacities of the child at the time of repression and fixation. It is this theoretical notion of the continuing fixation of Child ego states and the manifestation of a fixated Child ego that serves as one of the cornerstones for a transactional investigation of transferences.
Building on his own clinical observations, Berne extended Federn’s (1953/1977) and Weiss’s (1950) concept of the “psychic presence” (Berne, 1961, p. 19) of parental figures that influence an individual’s current behavior. He postulated the existence of exteropsychic ego states. The exteropsyche or Parent ego states are the manifestations of introjections of the personality of actual people as perceived by the child at the time of introjection (Loria, 1988).
Since the child’s perceptions of the caretaker’s reactions, emotions, and thought processes will differ at various stages of development, so also will the actual content and intrapsychic function of the Parent ego state vary in relation to the developmental age when the introjection occurred. (Erskine, 1988, p. 17)
Introjection is a defense mechanism (involving disavowal, denial, and repression) frequently used when there is a lack of full psychological contact between a child and the adults responsible for his or her psychological needs. The significant other is made part of the self (ego), and the conflict resulting from the lack of need fulfillment is internalized so the conflict can seemingly be managed more easily (Perls, 1978).
Introjected elements of another’s personality may become egotized and theoretically form an exteropsychic ego state. Berne’s theoretical premise of the existence of exteropsychic ego states is a second cornerstone in an intrapsychic and integrative understanding of transactions and transference.
Berne (1961) contrasted the exteropsychic and archaeopsychic ego states with a neopsychic ego state (Adult) that accounts for and integrates: (1) what is occurring moment-by-moment internally and externally, (2) past experiences and their resulting effects, and (3) the psychological influences and identifications with significant people in one’s life. This Adult ego state consists of current, age-related motor behavior; emotional, cognitive, and moral development; the ability to be creative; and the capacity for full contactful engagement in meaningful relationships. This neopsychic state of the ego functions without intrapsychic control by an introjected or archaic ego.
Berne’s original definitions of ego states provide the conceptual basis for an integrating psychotherapy (Clarkson & Gilbert, 1988; Erskine, 1977/1979, 1987, 1988; Erskine & Moursund, 1988; Loria, 1988; Massey, 1989; Moiso, 1985, 1988; Novellino, 1985; Trautmann & Erskine, 1981) that distinguishes nontransference transactions (neopsychic ego in origin) from possible transferential transactions. It is my understanding that transferential transactions are externalized expressions of internal ego conflicts between exteropsychic and archaeopsychic ego states.
Berne’s Illustrations and Descriptions
In each of his writings Berne (1961, 1964, 1966, 1972) augmented his precise theoretical definitions of ego states and intrapsychic function with illustrations and behavioral examples. Evolving from these explanations was a distinctly different theory of ego states which he called “descriptive” (Berne, 1972, p. 13). Although his original definitions of ego states emerged from both clinical experience and an extrapolation of the ideas of psychoanalytic authors, his descriptions of ego states relied not on his theory of “states of mind,” but on metaphors that tended to emphasize “their related patterns of behavior” (Berne, 1961, p. 30).
In providing illustrations of ego state theory in clinical practice, Berne shifted from a relational and developmental theory to a descriptive and behavioral understanding of ego states. He equated ego states with roles or specific behavior typical of those roles. For example, Berne (1961) used the phrasing “a Parental response” (p. 44) and “the parental role of comforting” (p. 95) to imply that the person was transacting from his or her Parent (exteropsychic) ego state. Another time the behavior “rational” (p. 132) was equated with the Adult ego state (p. 132). There are many other examples of ego states descriptively identified (pp. 128-135, 1964, p. 30, 1972, p. 14).