Time Structuring

This is how Transactional Analysis defines our use of time. It is an example of the simplicity of TA because whatever we are doing, it falls into one of only six categories. More importantly, knowing that these steps form an effective social procedure and that each of the first four elements is necessary for constructive, engaging interactions, will improve how we relate to each other and create more effective connections.

  • Withdrawal
  • Rituals
  • Pastiming
  • Activity
  • Games
  • Intimacy

If we link each stage to the garnering of attention (Strokes), we can see that as we move from Withdrawal towards Activity and Intimacy, the amount and the intensity of the strokes increases. (It also becomes clear why game playing is so common, because games are such an effective way of harvesting strokes.)

The best way to explain the early stages is to imagine people arriving at a gathering. This may be a meeting, a conference, a party etc.


Some people sit or stand around on their own. Maybe they are shy, bored or tired; or maybe they’re having a tough day and would rather be somewhere else or just left alone. Or maybe they are just preparing themselves mentally to join the group. Whatever their reasons, they are withdrawn. Therefore, the only strokes the person gets are ones they give to themselves. These can be positive or negative strokes.


The next step is to interact. Beginning a conversation follows certain, unwritten rules. We use pleasantries such as ‘How are you?‘, ‘How’s your day going?‘ or ‘Lovely weather for the time of year?‘ These are the rituals, without which we find it difficult to move to the next level of interaction. Furthermore, if we don’t use them we make life difficult for the other person. Imagine if someone just came straight up to you and simply said “I’m lonely…”. Without the rituals it can be a little too much to handle and we would need a few seconds or minutes even, to adapt before we could react appropriately.


Making small talk, or passing the time is the next stage. This is conversation at a superficial level which allows us to gauge the situation and the other person without any great commitment to the relationship. As I wrote in the entry from 11 years ago, I used to spend too much time in withdrawal waiting for conversations to get interesting before joining in. Nowadays, I realise that pastiming is necessary in order to open the door to interesting conversation.


Describes interactions of a more intense nature. This could mean an evening out with friends, cooking a meal at home, working together with a colleague, or just a more involved conversation which goes beyond the small talk but one which, as with all other activities, is goal-oriented.


These are psychological games, and they refer to behaviour which is more manipulative than straight. They are interactions we should avoid instigating and getting drawn into. We play these games in order to gain Strokes, reinforce and perpetuate our Script, prove a belief we have about ourself or the world, or to reinforce our life position (e.g. ‘I’m Okay, You’re Not Okay’). Games are where the Drama Triangle roles of Victim, Rescuer, and Persecutor are played out.

One of the most common games is the ‘Yes, but…’ game. The ‘aim’ is to focus the attention on oneself by initiating a series of suggestions from other people for how we can resolve an issue. Each suggestion is then rejected with a counter argument, which invites more suggestions, or sympathy for our plight, or frustration (negative strokes). By the time the other person is annoyed with us, we have received so much attention that the game is easily worthwhile. The more we observe this kind of game, the clearer it becomes that the instigator is not actually interested in resolving their issue, but in attracting attention, receiving strokes and, perhaps, giving credence to their belief that life is hard.

Remembering the script – that we attract the kind of people into our lives whose scripts will help perpetuate our own – we can conclude that game players will always find people to play their game. The actors may change, but the script and the roles remain the same. Nothing will change unless there is awareness of their behaviour. The beauty is that when we start to see our behaviour for ourselves, change is already taking place.


This is the most intense form of interaction and is defined by Stewart & Joines (1987) as people ‘expressing authentic wants and feelings without censoring‘. It is most commonly experienced with our loved ones, but can also be felt in the midst of impassioned arguments in which we say things without thinking.


This day, 11 years ago: Planning for a Night Out

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