It’s not about a toy farm David.

The big story for a number of months on the Archers has been around the proposed development of a new road. Reaction has tended to be of this nature. On Friday in what was meant to be an emotional moment of realisation, David Archer, the only eponymous farmer left in the show, realised he could not sell the family farm to the developers.

Earlier in the week David “heard” his dead father speaking about the farm, and his decision was made with the support, and input of his mother. This is important as he has a partner, who he has not spoken to of his feelings, or consulted about deciding not to sell. (I am not a lawyer so am unsure if both parties in a marriage have to agree to a sale, things are further complicated by the fact the farm is in fact owned in part by siblings, who have not been consulted.)

We are all products of the messages we receive from our parents and other significant adults in childhood. Transactional Analysis calls these scripts.  We create our life scripts out of the messages we get from childhood. There is some similarity with the Negative Automatic Thoughts of CBT for those who are more familiar with that approach, and of course from a person centered perspective we talk about conditions of worth.

However you label it we as adults are often reacting to the beliefs consciously and unconsciously fed into us as children. Ideas such as;

  • Big boys don’t cry
  • Be seen and not heard
  • Clean your plate, there are starving children in China
  • Don’t touch yourself there, its dirty
  • Men are pigs
  • Women are deceitful

When we are acting under the influence of negative patterns of thought we have absorbed as children we are rarely operating at our best. Very often it can lead to destructive behaviours, self hate, low self-esteem and so forth. Even something as seemingly innocuous as “big boys don’t cry” can be devastating in a society where men’s mental health is so often ignored and suicide rates are soaring.

In reaching the decision to not sell Brookfield David does not seem to be acting as an Adult, he is concerned what his dead Father will think of him. He expresses a sense of self that is not based on how he feels about himself, but about how others, and particularly his parents feel about him. He expresses thoughts that might be more in keeping with a child, where the childhood home acquires an almost mythic quality. The search for the toy farm indicated how deeply unresolved his feelings are.

Transactional Analysis can be exceptionally helpful for understanding if we are reacting from a place of calm adult understanding or out of a reaction to the messages we received from our parents and the scripts we wrote about who we are. Berne originally described three ego sates, Adult, Parent, Child, which could be in the driving seat at any time. This diagram is a basic depiction of this.

{Image description, Three circles are shown, arranged vertically in the center of the diagram, The first is Purple and contains a capital P, beneath this is a yellow circle containing a capital A, below that is a green circle containing a capital C)

If we look at David’s behaviour in deciding not to sell the farm it becomes clear he is in the ego state of the Adaptive Child. This in itself is not a problem, especially as Jill is stuck in the Ego state of Nurturing Parent. Her entire existence, her conditions of worth, are based around looking after others. This is what is termed in TA a complimentary transaction.

An example of a complimentary transaction;

Remember this is 2 adults talking, even if one of them is in a Child ego state, and the other a Parent ego state.

AC: we don’t have any milk and its raining and I am feeling really blurgh today

NP: would you like me to go to the shop and get you some milk?

AC: (smiling) yes please, oh and some chocolate.

One party here, yes me, was in a Child Ego state when I had this conversation about an hour ago with my partner. One of the things we know about our relationship is that they can quite easily fall into Nurturing Parent and try to “look after me”. I can try to exploit this, after all it is cold out and I want a cup of tea!

In our relationships with others when we act from either the Child or Parent ego state we are allowing our past to dictate the present and the future, we are also playing games (as I did) rather than being authentic and congruent adults. Lets replay that conversation adult to adult.

A1; We have run out of milk.

A2;if it stops raining I was going to go to the shop, shall I get some milk?

A1; Actually I am feeling a bit off, the walk will be good for me, shall we both go to the shop or would you like to stay home?

A2; I will decide when the rain stops.

Can you see the difference? In the first conversation I was game playing, aware I was a little low, and hoping to bring out my partners nurturing parent. Instead of acknowledging this however I acted in a way which past experience had taught me could get them to “look after me”. However my Adult ego state knows that this is not actually ideal. Fresh air and exercise are far more likely to have a beneficial effect. In the second conversation the lack of milk is expressed as a fact, there is an adult to adult conversation about this fact, and an authentic recognition of how I am feeling.

Back to David.

In his Child ego state he is paired, successfully, with Jill, in her Parent Ego state. They are both providing a number of strokes to each other, reinforcing these positions. Jill has clearly struggled with what her life would be if she is not the Nurturing Parent, and is relieved that she has a Child again to define herself against. However David is not married to Jill.

Ruth, the Adult.

Ruth, David’s wife, has been dealing with the stresses of what has been termed the sandwich generation. Looking after an aging parent and growing children, whilst working herself. The threat of the new road cutting Brookfield in two caused Ruth as much pain as it did David. However she has, acting from the Adult ego state, looked at the facts, and how things can be adapted to work. She has been self-aware and congruent about the stress not being near her aging mother brings, and unsentimental in accepting circumstances bring inevitable change.

When someone in an Adult state interacts with someone in a Child ego state it can lead to a crossed transaction.

Back to the milk saga.

AC; we don’t have any milk and its raining and I am feeling really blurgh today

Adult;if it stops raining I was going to go to the shop, shall I get some milk?

AC; I suppose so, if it’s not too much trouble (sighs). I really wanted a cup of tea

In this hypothetical example I did not receive the strokes I wanted, that my lack of milk is important and my partner will instantly leap to the rescue. Crossed transactions can push people out of the state they are in;

Partner (now in Critical parent state); I don’t even drink milk, why don’t you order an extra bottle, this keeps happening.

AC; Why are you blaming me, it’s not my fault, you are being so mean!

I am sure you can picture rows in your own life when something as trivial as a bottle of milk has escalated like this.

David and Ruth.

How is Ruth going to feel when she returns home? Her partner has not been honest about his feelings, and has made a life changing decision without consulting her. He has done so from a Child Ego state, whilst being enabled by his mother, who has not encouraged him to look at things from an Adult Ego state. The raising of practical issues, as well as the hurt Ruth will no doubt feel, will most likely push him into being the resistant child, a wholly negative outlook, whilst Ruth in turn may respond from the state of the critical parent.

Following our heart, as Jill praised David for doing, is not always to be discouraged. There must be room for the free child, the creative and the inspired. However when we are guided by emotions it is so important to consider the roots of these emotions, for they often bear poisonous fruit.

If you would like to know more about transactional analysis I highly recommend Counselling for Toads. I should point out that I am not a trained TA therapist, however my course is pluralistic which means we study a variety of schools, and I have found it exceptionally useful personally.

I promise I have no intentions currently of writing about Shula, Dan and the Oedipus complex 🙂



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