What Do You Say After You Say Hello (1975) introduces Eric Berne’s theory of “childhood scripts” that are set up by parents and that determine people’s destinies.
- Exec Summary
- FULL SUMMARY
- Limited-application theory: most people don’t have strong script
- Fails evolutionary psychology: there’s no “trash” we learn, just humans
- Conflates numbers with rigor and veracity
- Eric Berne is not a scientist…
- Berne’s “system” is too destiny-like deterministic…
- Assigns too much power to parents’ words
- Berne’s solutions via fairytales make no sense
- We all have scripts that govern our lives and that were set by our parents
- Our scripts are our destiny
- Most people are unaware they’re living out scripts
- The only way to be free and live out of free will is to become aware of our scripts
About the Author:
Eric Berne was a Canadian psychiatrist and founder of transactional analysis, a theory of social interactions to explain human behavior.
Berne is also the author of the more accessible, famous, and popular Games People Play.
What Do You Say After You Say Hello seeks to answer four questions:
- How do you say Hello?
- How do you say Hello back?
- What do you say after you say Hello?
- What is everybody doing instead of saying Hello?
- To say Hello, you first get rid of all the trash accumulated in your head ever since you came home from the maternity ward, and then you recognize that this particular Hello will never happen again.
- To say Hello back, you get rid of all the trash in your head and see that somebody is standing there or walking by, waiting for you to say Hello back. It may take years to learn how to do that.
- After you say Hello, you get rid of all the trash that is coming back into your head; all the after-burns of all the grievances you have experienced, and all the reach-backs of all the troubles you are planning to get into. Then you will be speechless and will not have anything to say. After more years of practice, you might think of something worth saying.
- Mostly, this book is about the trash: the things people are doing to each other instead of saying Hello. The first problem in answering the other three questions is to see what is trash and what isn’t.
What’s transaction analysis
Transactional analysis is a theory of personality and social action, and a clinical method of psychotherapy, based on the analysis of all possible transactions between two or more people, on the basis of specifically defined ego states, into a finite number of established types (nine complementary, 72 crossed, 6480 duplex, and 36 angular). Only about 15 of these commonly occur in ordinary practice;
And anything that does not analyze single transactions into their component-specific ego states is not transactional analysis.
What’s a “game”
Games are sets of ulterior transactions, repetitive in nature, with a well-defined psychological payoff. Since an ulterior transaction means that the agent pretends to be doing one thing while he is really doing something else, all games involve a con
After the ‘mark’ is hooked, the player pulls some sort of switch in order to get his payoff. The switch is followed by a moment of confusion or crossup while the mark tries to figure out what has happened to him. Then both players collect their payoffs as the game ends. The payoff, which is mutual, consists of feelings (not necessarily similar) which the game arouses in both the agent and the respondent.
Just because something repeats, it’s not necessarily a game.
For example, if a patient is worried and asks the therapist for reassurance and he replies with an honest “thank you”, it’s not a game because the patient was honest and straight.
However, if another patient asks for reassurance and then uses the response to make the therapist look stupid, that’s a game:
For example, a patient asked: ‘Do you think I’ll get better, doctor?’ and the sentimental therapist replied ‘Of course you will.’ At that point the patient revealed her ulterior motive in asking the question. Instead of saying ‘Thank you’, as in a straight transaction, she pulled the switch with: ‘What makes you think you know everything?’
This reply crossed the therapist up and threw him off balance for a moment, which is what the patient wanted to do.
Then the game ended, the patient feeling elated at having conned the therapist, and he feeling frustrated; and those were the payoffs.
My note: the “game” was a simple one-up
Basically, what Berne calls a game here is a one-up power move.
The math behind the game
This can be represented by a formula.
C + G = R → S → X → P (Formula G) C+G means that the con hooks into a gimmick, so that the respondent responds (R). The player then pulls the switch (S), and that is followed by a moment of confusion or crossup (X), after which both players collect their payoffs (P).
Real intimacy is game-free
Beyond games lies the other limiting case of what can take place between people, which is called intimacy. Bilateral intimacy is defined as a candid, game-free relationship, with mutual free giving and receiving and without exploitation. Intimacy can be one-sided, since one party may be candid and freely giving, while the other may be devious and exploitative.
What’s a script
A script is an ongoing life plan formed in early childhood under parental pressure.
It is the psychological force which propels the person toward his destiny, regardless of whether he fights it or says it is his own free will.
A script requires:
- Parental directives
- A suitable personality development
- A childhood decision
- A real turn-on to a particular method of success or failure
- A convincing attitude (or a credible stance, as they say nowadays)
Preventive medicine based on understanding the script
if we know some of the elements of the patient’s script, we can predict with some confidence where he is heading, and head him off before he meets with misfortune or disaster. That is called preventive psychiatry, or ‘making progress.’ Even better, we can get him to change his script or give it up altogether, which is curative psychiatry, or ‘getting well.’
The 4 Positions of Transactional Analysis
I +, You +
This is the ‘healthy’ position (or in treatment, the ‘get well’ one), the best one for decent living, the position of genuine heroes and princes, and heroines and princesses. People in the other positions have more or less frog in them, a losing streak put there by their parents, which will drag them down again and again unless they overcome it; in extreme cases they will waste themselves if they are not rescued by a miracle of psychiatric or self-healing. I + You + is what the hippies were trying to tell the policeman when they gave him a flower. But whether the I + is genuine or merely a pious hope, and whether the policeman will accept the + or will prefer to be – on this particular scene, is always in doubt. I + You + is something the person either grows into in early life, or must learn by hard labor thereafter; it cannot be attained merely by an act of will
Men in this position (I + You +) make good leaders because even in utmost adversity they maintain their universal respect for themselves and those they lead.
I +, You –
I’m a prince, you’re a frog. This is the ‘get rid of’ position. These are the people who play ‘Blemish’ as a pastime, a game, or a deadly procedure. They are the ones who sneer at their spouses, send their children to juvenile hall, and fire their friends and retainers. They start crusades and sometimes wars, and sit in groups finding fault with their real or imagined inferiors or enemies. This is the ‘arrogant’ position, at worst a killer’s, and at best a meddler’s for people who make it their business to help the ‘not-OK others’ with things they don’t want to be helped with. But for the most part it is a position of mediocrities, and clinically it is paranoid
I -, You +
This is psychologically the ‘depressive’ position, politically and socially a self-abasement transmitted to the children. Occupationally, it leads people to live by choice on favors large and small and enjoy it with a vengeance, that being the poor satisfaction of making the other pay as much as possible for his OK stamp. These are melancholic suicides, losers who call themselves gamblers, people who get rid of themselves instead of others by isolating themselves in obscure rooming houses or canyons or by getting a ticket to prison or the psychiatric ward. It is the position of the ‘If Onlys’ and ‘I Should Haves.’
I -, You +
This is the ‘futility’ position of the Why Notters: Why not kill yourself, Why not go crazy. Clinically, it is schizoid or schizophrenic
These positions come from childhood and tend to be stable.
The change must come from within, either spontaneously or with some therapeutic influence: professional treatment, or love, which is nature’s psychotherapy.
- 1a. I + You + They +. democratic community position of a neighborly family, a sort of ideal to be striven for in the eyes of many people, stated as ‘We love everybody.’
- 1b. I + You + They –. prejudiced snob- or gang-position of a demagogue, stated as ‘Who needs them?’
- 2a. I + You – They +. the agitator or malcontent, and sometimes of missionaries of various kinds. ‘You people here are no good compared to the ones over there.’
- 2b. I + You – They –. the solitary, self-righteous critic, the arrogant position in pure form. ‘Everybody must bow before me and be as much like me as inferior people can.’
- 3a. I – You + They +. self-punishing saint or masochist, the melancholic position in pure form. ‘I am the most unworthy person in the world.’
- 3b. I – You + They –. the servile position of people who choose to work for gratuities out of snobbishness rather than necessity. ‘I abased myself and you rewarded me well, not like those other inferior ones.’
- 4a. I – You – They +. servile envy, and sometimes of political action. ‘They hate us because we are not as well off.’
- 4b. I – You – They –. This is the pessimistic position of cynics or of those who believe in predestination and original sin. ‘We are none of us any good anywhere.’
Then there are the insecure or unstable ones:
For example: 1? I + You + They ? This is an evangelistic position. ‘I and you are OK, but we don’t know about them until they show their credentials or come over to our side.’ 2? I + You ? They –. This is an aristocratic class position. ‘Most other people are no good, but as for you, I’ll wait until I see your credentials.’
The predicates are what you compare about
For example, one may discriminate, and feel “more of” or “less of” on a whole host of “features” such as religion, money, race, sex, etc.,
These are called “predicates”
Predicates determine the lifestyle, but have nothing to do with the outcome.
Your position is your destiny
Your set of positions determines your script -or destiny-.
For example, I + You – They – (2b) will almost always end up alone, no matter what he feels superior about: religion, money, race, sex, etc.
And I – You + They + (3a) end up miserable and perhaps suicidal no matter what particular qualities he feels unworthy about.
Black and white thinking VS nuances
The most dangerous positions for society are based on a single pair of OK-not-OK adjectives: Black-White, Rich-Poor, Christian-Pagan, Bright-Stupid, Jew-Aryan, Honest-Crooked.
The more adjectives included in each + and –, the more complex and flexible the position becomes, and the more intelligence and discrimination is required to deal with it securely. Sets of adjectives may be added together for emphasis (not only, but also), subtracted from each other for softening (but at least he also), weighed for fairness (but which is more important?), and so on. Thus to some black people, Rich Crooked White may be very not-OK (he’s all bad – – –) compared to Rich Crooked Black (at least he’s Black – – +), or to Rich Honest White (at least he’s honest – + –), or to Poor Crooked White (at least he’s poor like us + – –).
Limited-application theory: most people don’t have strong script
Keep this in mind:
Berne developed his theory with people in his practice.
And those were a lot more likely to have stronger scripts -and issues- than the average person.
Berne himself is aware of it when he says:
Psychotherapists know more about ‘bad’ scripts than about ‘good’ ones because they are more dramatic and people spend more time talking about them. Freud, for example, cites innumerable case histories of losers, and about the only winners in his works are Moses, Leonardo da Vinci, and himself.
And indeed, Berne’s work applies most people with very strong scripts and on “fanatics”.
Or, at least, people who feel strongly about something -the “predicate”-, and feel strongly superior or inferior based on that.
However, a large portion of people you meet aren’t fanatics, and don’t particularly feel superior or inferior to others.
Hence, transaction analysis wouldn’t seem the best instrument to analyze them.
Fails evolutionary psychology: there’s no “trash” we learn, just humans
Berne wasn’t alive to see evolutionary psychology become as popular as it did.
So it’s normal that Berne doesn’t fully appreciate that human beings don’t really learn what he calls “trash”.
What he calls “trash” can’t be easily discarded because it’s deeply embedded into the human psyche and it’s simply part of “who we are”.
So his goals and ideals also seem naive when he says that his approach will cure all human ills:
The way people speak who are learning to say Hello is called ‘Martian,’ to distinguish it from everyday Earth-talk, which, as history shows from from the earliest recorded times in Egypt and Babylonia to the present, has led to wars, famines, pestilence, and death; and, in the survivors, to a certain amount of mental confusion. It is hoped that in the long run, Martian, properly learned and properly taught, will help to eliminate these plagues.
To me, that also feels like an “I’m better than you teacher frame” while talking down on people.
Yeah, you go, Eric, teach us how you failed to bring about your superior man revolution then…
Berne forgets that people have innate drives + adult life experiences
The child knows, because he is so taught, whether he is going to be a winner or a loser, how he is supposed to feel about other people, and how other people are going to treat him
But that’s not fully true.
Many children are born with innate high self-esteem or confidence.
And some others may be taught they’re losers or winners, but as soon as social and adult life begins, they’ll quickly find out whether those teachings are true or not.
Conflates numbers with rigor and veracity
Says the author:
The reader may wonder why there are so many numbers in this section. There are three reasons (…) is to demonstrate that transactional analysis is more precise than most other social and psychological theories.
However, adding numbers per se do not guarantee precision -and neither do they guarantee soundness, usefulness, or correctness-.
As a matter of fact, adding numbers may be a power move to come across as more authoritative and make the theory seem more conving through over-complication.
Basically, Berne was himself pulling a game/power move on his readers.
Eric Berne is not a scientist…
Because he defends and “sells” his theory, rather than being ready to falsify it.
Berne says transaction analysis is “efficient”, “very effective” because no examples have been found among thousands or millions of interchanges between human beings which could not be dealt with by the model, and “rigorous because it is limited by simple arithmetical considerations”.
In truth, it sounds to me like Berne wants to prove his theory right, while a scientist should be always open, or even seek to prove a theory wrong.
The fact that “no example has been found that cannot be dealt with by the model” doesn’t necessarily mean the model is efficient, but it may as well mean that the author is looking for ways to make it work, thus forcing anything through the lenses of his little brainchild baby-model.
Berne’s “system” is too destiny-like deterministic…
… And doesn’t take into account the huge inputs and constraints of the external world.
Each person decides in early childhood how he will live and how he will die, and that plan, which he carries in his head wherever he goes, is called his script. His trivial behavior may be decided by reason, but his important decisions are already made: what kind of person he will marry, how many children he will have
Even if you think Berne’s theory is possible or even likely, there’s the major issue that, at least the way the author presents it, it’s not falsifiable, which makes it un-scientific.
The second and even bigger problem is that it’s not very logical.
I don’t buy the “early decisions”.
First, life and the world are too complex, and people and events are too fluid to follow any script.
Second, the world simply doesn’t work on decisions but works a lot more on opportunities and limitations.
For example, Berne says that people already “decided” who they will marry.
Little issue is that many men cannot follow any early decision on who to marry because they don’t have dating choices to pick from, independently of what they decided. So they’ll just marry whoever is available.
At the very least and in the best-case scenario for Berne’s theory, that self-evident truth already throws a major exception.
Assigns too much power to parents’ words
Parents DO have enormous power to share their children.
Yet, there is a limit.
And especially so with simple words and requests.
But to Berne, there seems to be no limit.
He says that:
For the child, his parents’ wish is his command, and will remain so for the rest of his life unless some drastic upheaval occurs.
And then even suggests may turn their children into homosexuals with just their words:
(…) a boy who is told ‘Don’t mess around with women’ may take this as a permission to mess around with other boys, or in some cases with sheep or cows, and in a legal way of thinking he is in the clear, since he is not doing anything his parents have forbidden.
But it doesn’t really work that work.
Or, at least, not for most people.
My sister-in-law for example always told and expected my nephew to pick one girl and stick with her.
And she was furious when she saw him making out with a girl in front of her place that wasn’t exactly her girlfriend.
Just a simple story to show that parents’ wishes aren’t commands and do not turn guys gay.
Berne’s solutions via fairytales make no sense
Berne’s work, similarly to Jordan Peterson, is based heavily on myths, tales, and fairytales.
In order to find the script illusion, we need the fairy tale which corresponds to WRM.
But that makes no sense!
What if there is no similar fairy tale?
What if we lived in a world, or in an age, where nobody had written (yet) any fairy tale? The transaction analysis can offer no solution?
No serious medical approach can be based on external limitations such as “available fairytales”.
Overall, there is MUCH wisdom here.
And I believe that the “script theory” makes a lot of sense.
It is true for many people and, in smaller doses than Berne make it out to be, it’s true for probably most people.
Besides that wisdom, this is what you’ll love about it:
Great mix of information + entertainment
MARTIAN REACTION One day LRRH’s mother sent her through the woods to bring food to her grandmother, and on the way she met a wolf. What kind of a mother sends a little girl into a forest where there are wolves?
Grandmother lives alone and leaves her door unlatched, so she may be hoping for something interesting to happen, something which couldn’t happen if she were living with her folks. Maybe that’s why she didn’t move in with them, or at least live next door. She was probably young enough to be ripe for adventure, since LRRH was still a little girl.
What Do You Say After You Say Hello is a good book to better understand interpersonal relationships and with plenty of golden nuggets even for intermediate and advanced students.
On the downside, albeit some of Eric Berne’s original ideas are valid, he embraced and championed them as commandment-like, self-evident truths.
He failed to find exceptions and nuances, turned into an advocate and defender of his theory, and ultimately sold a genius-like intuition very short.
Berne also appears to speak with a certain air of superiority -and with strong teacher’s frames-, and that didn’t help to spread the message.
That’s a pity because his original thoughts are revolutionary and his theoretical work of analyzing interpersonal relationships and interactions also mimics TPM’s more practical approach.
This why, in my opinion, transaction analysis in itself can be even more enlightening if we remove its founder.
For example, Thomas Harry’s I’m OK, You’re OK was the main theoretical backbone for our concept “the judge“.
So, overall: mediocre system and theory built upon genius-level original intuition.
And, if you know how to move beyond the main issues, there is more than enough wisdom to make it worth it, and potentially even therapeutic.