Personal Development through TA

By Aparna Vaidik, Professor of History, Ashoka University

July 25, 2023

Start of my TA journey
I am an educator, a writer, a parent, and a householder. I have been teaching for over two decades in different universities. I live with my husband and two children, aged 11 and 12 years. My TA journey started when I did an educational workshop on grief therapy. I was grieving the loss of my mother at the time and a few hours into the workshop, I was breathing easier and my sense of well-being had improved. During the workshop we did Eric Berne’s life script questionnaire (Berne, 1972) which gave me insights into my ‘script’ defined as “an on-going programme, developed in early childhood under parental influence, which directs the individual’s behaviour in the most important aspects of his life”(Berne, 1972, p.418). The instructor drew my attention to my orphan/loner and loveless script. As I worked through my emotions regarding my parents, my attention turned towards myself as a parent. Until now I had not considered the question of how my children experience me. This was a significant turning point for me and hereafter started my journey with TA.

How I experienced TA
Viktor Frankl, psychotherapist and holocaust survivor, says in his Man’s Search for Meaning: the central motivational force of human existence is search for life’s meaning. I was able to feel this power of meaning-making as I acquired the TA concepts. TA provided a deep and yet accessible language to encode the non-verbal/pre-language experiences and the unconscious patterns. Learning the TA materials was like doing autotherapy with its concepts serving as surgical tools. Each TA session deepened my insights about my and the general human psyche. The awareness of the repetitive life patterns led to a rather rapid, almost imperceptible, shift in my thought patterns, everyday behaviour and relationships. A part of the reason for the firm and expeditious changes was that I had come to TA as a seeker, as someone already searching for answers about self and the world. Finally, learning TA is bringing with it a greater sense of autonomy (that is, ‘the release or recovery of three capacities: awareness, spontaneity and intimacy’, Berne, 1964) and authenticity in my interactions with people around me.

Awareness of Life Script
My racket feelings were the first to come into awareness. They are ‘stylized repetitions of “permitted feelings” which were stroked in the past. They are expressed each time a real feeling … is about to surface. (English, 1972, p. 23).’ According to English, the substitution occurs because the individual has trained themselves ‘to be not aware’ of certain prohibited feelings. Racket feelings also work as payoffs and thereby become reasons for the psychological games one plays (Sills, 2016). My racket feeling was of loneliness. Despite a rich life with friends, a loving spouse and children, I felt lonely and unloved; and therefore experienced an inexplicable ‘incompleteness’ and ‘not having enough’. Many times I was aware that the feeling of loneliness was not proportionate or an appropriate response to a given situation but couldn’t understand why I felt so.
My awareness of my racket feelings began with learning about Group Imago that Eric Berne defines as ‘any mental picture, conscious, preconscious or un-conscious, of what a group is or should be like’ (Berne, 1963, p. 321). I discovered that each time I was in a group I re-enacted my family group imago. In this imago I located myself in a tiny corner if not completely outside the amoeboid-imago while my parents and sibling formed a closely-knit unit.

Figure 0.1: Group Imago (Clarkson, 1991)

Figure 0.2: My Group Imago

This revealed two things. First was the Don’t Belong injunction that kept me from feeling that I belonged to groups. Injunctions are non-verbal negative messages that one has received from one’s care-givers (McNeel, 2010; Hay, 2013). The Don’t Belong injunction showed up in my history of not being part of or quitting family, friends and work-place groups claiming that I was being asked to bend to unfair rules or simply feeling disconnected and lost in a group situation. It also manifested in overdoing things in order to be accepted in the group, seeking validation for the work done and then leaving in a huff claiming that I hadn’t received my due. I desired intimacy but did not know how to be intimate. A familiar and safer location was always outside the group from where I could watch the group with no compulsion to participate or having to share my vulnerabilities or articulate my needs. The script payoff that I collected each time I left or stayed away from a group were feelings of hurt and sadness from feeling unloved, lonely and misunderstood (‘I have no friends, I feel so lonely’).

John McNeel in his work on injunctions says that a child in response to injunctions makes two decisions – defiant and despairing. That is, “The despairing decision represents the conclusion by the child faced with an injunctive message that something is wrong with him or her. The defiant decision is the child’s best attempt at health, a creative way to resist the injunctive message and master the circumstances” (McNeel, 2010, p.160). My despairing Child Decision was ‘I can’t show how much I care’ [because the child felt that ‘No one cares for me’; ‘Who am I to be showing affection’; and ‘It won’t be received even if I show affection’] and the defiant decision was ‘I don’t care about others’ and the bitter response was ‘No one likes me’. These decisions were directly co-related to my drivers [counterinjunctions that impart a sense of conditional okayness to us (Kahler, 1975)] Be Perfect (‘I am unloved therefore I should be perfect to get people to love me’; ‘I am not enough and therefore I need to do more’); and Be Strong (‘I don’t have needs’, ‘I can do this on my own’, ‘I don’t need to depend on people’, ‘I am not allowed to complain because my pain is not big enough’). My goals were always set high and any deviation from the path of growth was perceived as a failure. I consequently escalated the goals and then felt inadequate (I am not enough) and this helped maintain the belief ‘To be deep, one must struggle’ and valorised the struggle that came with feeling unloved and having to prove oneself.

Underneath my loneliness, the default go-to racket feeling, was a great deal of suppressed anger and resentment regarding experiences of past transgressions along with fantasies of future transgressions (Thomson, 1983). What brought me in touch with my anger was my grief at my mother’s passing. I wanted her to be unlost. There was a lava-like outpouring of anger. The stamps of anger were finally being encashed in full measure (Berne, 1964). Little did I know that I was not grieving for the person who was not there but for what was never there to begin with. The process of working through my anger began with asking myself – In what way is my anger helping me? Who would I be if I let go of my anger? Before I could arrive at answers to these questions I needed to understand what the disavowal of anger had done for me.

Richard Erskine has shown ‘when anger is disavowed, a valuable aspect of the self is lost: the need to be taken seriously and respectfully, and the need to make an impact on the other person. One’s self-worth is diminished’ (Erskine, 1994). This creates a pull toward compliance with the introjected criticism and/or humiliation. This in turn produces shame and a deep sense of unlovability. My sense of not-okayness fed the drivers Be Perfect and Be Strong (‘If I’am good enough my needs will be met’, ‘I am okay if I am perfect’, ‘I am okay if I don’t feel’) created a fantasy of self-righteousness which provided what Erskine calls ‘pseudo-triumph over humiliation and an inflation in self-esteem’ (Erskine, 1994). This was reflected in my friendships which were negotiated as: I am okay-You are not okay. This allowed me to feel that I am enriching their lives while they didn’t have (or were not good enough) to enrich mine; it gave me a sense of control and a sense of being needed and at the same time allowed me not to need them (and thereby feel lonely, loveless and misunderstood).

So I was dealing with not just disavowal of anger but a deep sense of shame which was in turn tied to my grandiose and a rebellious personality. Vallejo describes rebellion as ‘an active attempt to control our surroundings, to obtain from them what we need to survive, and to avoid, at the very worst, helplessness (Vallejo, 1986). Getting in touch with my anger had opened the doorway to understanding my beliefs, behaviours and fantasies, in sum, my entire life script.

Changes in Personality
The first major shift was in my group imago. From being in the corner of the amoeboid-imago I began to practice seeing myself in the middle surrounded by my loving family questioning my Don’t Belong injunction. While drawing my 6-piece story (Lahad, 2013), I had initially drawn myself alone on an island but while redrawing, I placed myself in a beautiful location with friends and family.

Figure 0.3: My Original Imago

Figure 0.4: My Redrawn Imago

Second, I have started articulating my needs to family and friends, graciously receiving their affection and letting myself believe that I am loved and cherished. I now ask to be complimented for my accomplishments, not make myself small when being praised, accept my vulnerability and make an effort to let people know that they are important to me. This has helped me repair my relationship with my academic guide and mentor whose contribution to my life I never acknowledged in a way that would have been meaningful to him.

Third, my anger and the inability to take praise and acknowledge success (and the attendant belief that love and affection were in short supply) had created a negative balance, a sense of famine, and a lack of abundance. There was a resultant hoarding, storing up and clinging to pain instead of choosing to discharge and release. I lived out the belief ‘I will be bigger (open, broad-minded, forgiving) than other people around me’ in flesh by being overweight. Since I realised that one’s body weight and well-being are also script decisions, I started paying attention to somatic dimension of healing. I give myself permissions ‘I’m okay even if I am vulnerable’, ‘It’s okay to desire’, ‘it’s okay to take care of myself’, ‘It’s okay to rest and need comfort’ and ‘I’m enough’. This reflects in not overdoing things at work and home and a judicious use of my emotional and physical energy. Now I make a conscious effort to exercise and eat well. I ensure more sleep, rest and comfort and have developed a greater sense of abundance. I don’t worry about finances, enjoy what I have and celebrate every achievement.

The other day while lying in bed at night my boys asked me why I do ‘Trans-analeesis’ as they call it. I asked them if they experienced any change in me. They said that I was calmer (not aggressive like before), I looked at solving things whenever there was an issue, and that I was great fun to be with. They likened me to ‘Dumbledore’, a great wizard and the kind, old Principle of Hogwarts from the Harry Potter series. I was so pleased to hear that. I told them this is why I do TA. I am becoming a person they and I like being around. I wish to continue my advanced TA training, reading, learning and practicing TA in personal and professional sphere. I wish to share my learnings and insights with the world through my writing.

About the author:

Dr Aparna Vaidik is a historian of South Asia and Professor of History at Ashoka University, India. She has previously taught at Georgetown University, Washington DC and University of Delhi. A recipient of grants from the British Academy and Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, her publications include – Waiting for Swaraj: Inner Lives of Indian Revolutionaries (Cambridge University Press, 2021), My Son's Inheritance: A Secret History of Lynching and Blood Justice in India (Aleph 2020), Imperial Andamans: Colonial Encounter and Island History (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010). She can be reached at


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    One response to “Personal Development through TA”

    1. Kunal Gupta says:

      Very sweet story of how you changed yourself by working inwards.

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