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How to Instantly Read Others' Behavior like a Book

Updated on September 3, 2018
ValKaras profile image

Val is a life-long practically oriented student of effective emotional and attitudinal responses to the many challenges of life.

Book on Human Nature should Look Like a Booklet
Book on Human Nature should Look Like a Booklet

Psychology Minus Academic Cosmetics

"He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened." ---- Lao Tzu


Some time back in 70's during my life long playing a book-worm in the field of human behavior, I came across this interesting little system called Transactional Analysis, or T/A for short. It never really made its way to an academic status, but that doesn't necessarily mean its inferior value.

Namely, those "official" therapeutic modalities being used in the public mental health have shown such a low rate of success that just about any novelty in the field deserves attention. It certainly got mine, and while maintaining a position that those best teachings in the school of life are those simplest, I contend that T/A is in many ways merely a shorter, more concise version of anything ever recognized as a valid interpretation of human behavior.

Due to its simplicity, I don't need a volume of a book to explain its principles---only an article of this size. Namely, many books about a therapeutic modality could be said to contain a main idea which can be presented in just a few pages---and then the rest are fillers to swell the text into a book size, with a lot of artful paraphrasing where the reader may not be aware how he is basically reading the same thing over and over.

So, here I go telling you about this cute little system for reading the people's personalities, and you can become an expert right after reading this article through.

It will give you the guidelines, but it may require some of your observing abilities to recognize the personality types and their characteristics displayed in their behavior.

Child Feeling Supported Equals a Happy Child
Child Feeling Supported Equals a Happy Child

Three States of Mind

"Each person you meet is an aspect of yourself, clamoring for love."

---- Eric Micha'el Leventhal


We are about to explore three distinct frames of mind. Everybody has all three of them, and one is always at the surface easily recognizable. They have names which are approximately descriptive of what they do in our personality make-up.

Let's see the first one, called "Adult". It's a mind's state of a non-judgmental, objective awareness. For example, when your good doctor is examining your boobs for any possible tumor, he is not looking at them as a man, but as a doctor. So, "Adult" is attached to the factual reality of "what is" - period, no position about it, no likes-dislikes. Having intelligence in its lot, it is also involved in learning and logical processing of reality.

The second one is called "Parent", and it conveniently splits into Supportive and Critical Parent. It's symbolized by "position", and mainly means all rules in the game of life. Supportive Parent will express those rules to guide and inform, to encourage, praise, help, and of course, support. Critical Parent will use them to blame, ridicule, intimidate, punish, deprive, and of course, criticize.

The third frame of mind is named "Child", and it's symbolized as "emotion". It also splits into "O.K. Child" and, you guessed, Not O.K. Child. O.K. Child is the part of our emotionality containing capacity for happiness, love, sex, playfulness, also talent and artistic expression, musicality and dance, humor, creative curiosity, and basically everything that feels good. Coupled with a pronounced Adult, O.K. Child results with spirituality.

Not O.K. Child is the emotional site of sadness, anger, guilt, shyness, shame, insecurity, jealousy, and anything else that emotionally feels bad. Not O.K. Child is the result of what Critical Parent does to O.K. Child.

Now, we can easily deduct that O.K. Child, Supportive Parent, and Adult, are the healthiest combo in our mental make up, whereas Critical Parent and Not O.K. Child are the origin of all emotional suffering in the mental repertoire of humans.

All Experiences Sorted and Stored
All Experiences Sorted and Stored

Recorded and Replayed when Triggered

"Know thyself and all will be revealed" ---- Pamela Theresa Loertscher


Let's try to think of these states as mind's programs recorded from the life events in such a way that the nature of event got added to most suitable of three mind frames. For example, all those happy moments, games, and chances of self-expression were recorded to the program of O.K. Child. All events where an authority criticized us, threatened us, or ridiculed us, etc. were recorded on the Critical Parent. And so on, I guess, you got the picture.

Now, not only that the new material keeps getting recorded on any of the three states, but situations also serve as triggers which activate any of those states, depending on the nature of the situation.

So, for example, meeting a man with looks similar to our teacher who made us a laughing stock in front of the whole class will trigger, or "hook up" the whole program of Not O.K. Child registered in us, and we are bound to feel crappy in the presence of him. Of course, it depends on how strong our Supportive Parent happens to be in our particular hierarchy of mental frames. Following is a word about that.

Just Wash Her  - Don't Make Fun of Her
Just Wash Her - Don't Make Fun of Her

Our Dominant Mind Frames

"Each person you meet is an aspect of yourself, clamoring for love."

---- Eric Micha'el Leventhal


We all have our unique way of experiencing the events, especially those that concern us. Siblings who have shared exactly the same conditions and treatment in their childhood will process situations according to their own parameters of assessment.

A sensitive child may take it to his heart if mother makes a funny remark about his face messed up with peanut butter. His brother in the same situation may join his mother in laughing and smudge some more over his nose.

Out of these individual differences we tend to develop some dominant mind frames, and then throughout life, unless we consciously intervene, we are bound to have those mind frames dominant in our set, recording to them more readily from experiences, and responding with them more readily, whether the situation is calling for them or not. Let's call them "trigger-happy" in that sense.

Grownups with a dominant O.K. Child are always emotionally immature. You can easily recognize them for their frequent saying: "I like...don't like... want...don't want", They are as a rule those people who must be hearing a lot: "Get serious".

A dominant Not-O,K. Child is a "victim" type---complaining, prone to anger, depression, anxiety, guilt...well. all the assortment of crappy displays of a dark emotionality.

A grownup Critical Parent is easy to spot for his obsessing with "right-wrong", with rules being broken, and his favorite themes are critics in any form.

A Supportive Parent is the type in whose company everybody feels instinctively good, because he appears non-judgmental, accepting, tolerant, and as such doesn't make you mobilize your defenses.

And, of course, an Adult will be another type who makes a great company, as he is on top of his mental frames, overlooking them consciously and allowing O.K. Child and Supportive Parent their expression---when the situation is calling for it.

Thus, he may be playful, and humorous, artistic, and musical, or supportive, understanding, and tolerant, or you can have a fair discussion with him, where he won't insist on "who" is right, but "what" is right.

It's only a Tie  -  Why Fuss?
It's only a Tie - Why Fuss?

Where Is the Blue Neck-Tie?

"No man is free who cannot command himself." ---- Pythagoras


Now it's time to have some fun with examples. I am sure you will easily recognize people of your life, probably yourself as well in one of the typical responses presented in the examples. In the following situation we have a husband asking his wife a simple question. Let's run all possibilities of the wife's dominant mind frame.

The husband's question is: "Honey, where is my blue neck-tie?"

Wife's O.K. Child (playfully): "I think I saw the cat playing with it."

Not O.K. Child (feeling as a victim): "Why do I always have to know where things are in this house"?

Supportive Parent (helpful) : "Let me find it for you."

Critical Parent (Lecturing) : "You should keep your stuff where it will be easy for you to find them."

Adult (stating a fact) : "It's hanging on the left side of the closet."

Can't we all relate to this situation with one of the responses being familiar and describing someone close to us?

It's Amusing to Recognize Characters in those Short Verbal Exchanges while in an Elevator
It's Amusing to Recognize Characters in those Short Verbal Exchanges while in an Elevator

Elevator Talk

"When people talk listen completely. Most people never listen."

---- Ernest Hemingway


Let's have another example; this time it's a bunch of tenants in the elevator of a high rise apartment building commenting about the hot weather.

Someone breaks the unpleasant silence with the typical theme of the weather:

"It's quite hot today, isn't it?"

"O.K. Child: "Yes, it would be great to be on a beach now."

Not O.K. Child: "I can't stand this heat; and my air condition had to die on me too."

Supportive Parent: "I have a spare fan; maybe that would help a little."

Critical Parent: "It's all our fault for this climate change with our creating those ozone holes".

Adult: "What's the temperature anyway?

It's All Her Boss' Fault
It's All Her Boss' Fault

Apparently---All Kinds of Bosses out There

"We nurture our creativity when we release our inner child. Let it run and roam free. It will take you on a brighter journey." ---- Serina Hartwell


One more example, with a bunch of ladies in the hair salon talking about their bosses.

O.K. Child: "My boss is a sexy guy, you should see him, a George Clooney type."

Not O.K. Child : "My boss has favorites in the office and always dumps the worst on my desk."

Supportive Parent: "My boss has too much on his plate, and I don't mind helping him out."

Critical Parent: " My boss is a dumb ass, doesn't have a clue what he is doing."

Adult: "My boss got a transfer, and we are getting a new one."

There Are Still Few Good Things Left in this World (Signed: O.K. Child)
There Are Still Few Good Things Left in this World (Signed: O.K. Child)

Prevent Being "Hooked-Up"

"I am a really good parent to myself sometimes, and I do things that make me learn and grow." ---- Fiona Apple


So, what's really the benefit of recognizing those three mind frames? It can be of a great value in our interacting, as we can clearly see where a person is "coming from".

Furthermore, once when we know that, we can avoid an unwanted development of interaction by not "getting hooked up", as I like to call allowing someone's frame of mind to trigger either our Critical Parent or our Not O.K. Child.

Ideally, we should practice staying in our smart Adult, have the emotionality of an O.K. Child, and letting our Supportive Parent supervise and guide our O.K. Child.

"Hook-up" happens so easily that sometimes we are not even aware of it - or, our Adult is out of commission polluted by excessive activity of either Child or Parent. So, once hooked up, we are often displaying our Not O.K. Child or Critical Parent, either criticizing or complaining.

These days, at this unique pre-election time marked by a ruthless dragging through mud the candidates' names, we can see a typical mass-hook-ups going on, as the media is hooking up that worst in us, then we perpetuate it with our comments. What would a typical Adult say? - Everybody just save it all for the voting moment - then vote for your candidate, as none of this is affecting the outcome one bit.

I hope you can use this little version of Transactional Analysis, and don't forget to derive some fun out of it as well. So go ahead, start analyzing members of your family, your friends and co-workers, anybody you are getting in contact with.

And don't forget about "hooking"---there will always be one of those dominant T/A types who will try to get you hooked into his favorite repertoire. Keep your cool Adult on alert, but more than anything, have fun observing.

As for a little "bonus" detail---everybody is treating others' Child the way they treat their own. So, go easier on those Critical Parents around you, they are secretly tormenting themselves.

Your Own Inner Hierarchy

Who in you is the quickest to claim right to respond to a new situation:

See results

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