Memory and Transactional Analysis

Memory and Transactional Analysis
Tony White
13th December, 2013

If one is going to discuss memory one has to include the concept of the unconscious. As we know the human psyche operates like this.

Unconscious iceberg Jpeg

The vast majority of things people ‘know’ are unconscious. There are relatively few things that people can easily remember in their conscious or pre conscious. In terms of the three ego states, this theory does not lend itself easily to the concept of the unconscious as it was never designed to. Ego states were defined as, “an ego state may be described phenomenologically as a coherent system of feelings, and operationally as a set of coherent behaviour patterns.” (p23) (Games People Play). This does not address the idea of the conscious and unconscious.

However it should be noted that Berne actively addressed the concept of the unconscious. A duplex transaction includes a conscious social transaction and an unconscious psychological transaction. The life script is by and large unconscious. We all have a life script but relatively few are aware of what theirs is. Instead it is held in their unconscious and they go along in life living it out without even realizing they are.
So how can it be incorporated into ego state theory? These are some of my ideas. We all had breakfast this morning, we experienced it and can remember it. This is a function of the Adult ego state it seems safe to say. All experiences we have are integrated and processed by the psyche and then it becomes a memory. Eventually these memories disintegrate in quality over time and we forget them.

However a lot of what we forget we have not forgotten it’s just they are in the unconscious and we cannot access them. Hypnosis allows us to retrieve some of them. Indeed in counseling when a client becomes regressed they start to remember all sorts of things they thought they had forgotten. As Berne noted Wilder Penfield discovered that by touching an electric probe on a person’s temporal cortex, then he could awaken all sorts of past memories from long ago.

So it is suggested that when we forget, the memory goes into the unconscious because often or at least sometimes we can remember things which our conscious mind cannot recall. If one accepts this then it is probably best to say that there is a conscious Adult ego state and an unconscious Adult ego state. The Adult ego state includes both the memories easily retrieved and the memories that are difficult to achieve because they have been placed in the unconscious. Thus one could explain memory from a TA perspective this way. However there is more.
So far I have only discussed how the Adult integrates and assimilates ‘normal’ events. When a person experiences a traumatic event the assimilation and integration does not work normally so we are left with a different type of memory. With traumatic events one of two things happens. The memory is repressed and quickly dispatched to the unconscious. Or the memory strongly resists integration or assimilation and is recalled vividly. That is, it is not placed in the unconscious and forgotten.

To theoretically explain this one could say that these are not Adult ego state memories but Child ego state memories. Either the Child refuses to forget and the trauma is vividly recalled or the Child strongly forgets and represses the memory of the event into the unconscious and it is not recalled at all. Memory or forgetting in this case is not a function of the Adult ego state but of the Child ego state. One could say that there is a conscious Child ego state and an unconscious Child ego state for memories of traumatic events. Memories in the unconscious Child ego state can also be retrieved but with more difficulty than unconscious Adult ego state memories. But anyone who has worked with trauma will have observed that with careful regression people can again recall traumatic memories that have been repressed into the unconscious. They can remember the traumatic event again but with more difficulty than normal events that have been forgotten.

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