In Hay (1995, 2012) I wrote about how there were stories in the early TA literature that were metaphors intended to help people shift out of script. My descriptions of the stories are below. I followed them with a story that I had invented when I realised that the ‘monkey story’ will appeal to someone who processes kinaesthetically, the ‘parrot story’ would work for someone who processes through the auditory representational system, and there was nothing directly targeted at anyone who processes visually. Obviously, all of us can hear the various stories and imagine using visual, auditory and kinaesthetic channels but it seemed to me that it would be good if we had a story that was written to prompt visual processing.
Eric Berne’s (1968) version refers to a monkey.
However, when he grows up he begins to notice that some people seem to have no monkey. They can do whatever they like. So he thinks he will see about getting the monkey removed.
He goes to a doctor, who looks carefully at the knots in the string holding the monkey in place. The doctor then says that the knots are very complicated and will take many months to unravel. The man decides that sounds too expensive and decides not to bother.
Time goes by and the man gets more and more uncomfortable about the restrictions imposed by having the monkey. So he goes to another doctor.
This doctor examines the knots very thoroughly. The doctor then says that the knots are very complicated, and have been there a long time. They may even take years to unravel. Again, the man decides not to bother, although this time he feels disappointed.
More time goes by. Eventually, the man goes to yet another doctor. This one takes out a large pair of scissors and cuts the string. The monkey bounds free.
Brian Allen (1971) provides a similar story, except that instead of a monkey there is a parrot.
Simon then put the parrot onto Suzy’s head. Now he could play and read and do whatever he wanted to do without having to pay attention to Suzy all the time. The parrot did it for him.
When Suzy grew up, she still had the parrot on her head telling her what to do and what not to do. This interfered quite a lot with her life. The parrot often objected to her making friends or being confident or enjoying herself. Suzy often felt miserable when she followed the parrot’s instructions.
One day, Suzy went to a doctor and asked for help. The doctor told her it would take many years to cure her and gave her some pills. Suzy felt even more depressed.
Eventually, Suzy went to another doctor for help. This time, the doctor said all Suzy needed to do was get rid of the parrot. Suzy was doubtful about this because she was used to having the parrot there. She thought also that the parrot’s claws were tangled into her hair and it would be painful to pull them out.
However, this doctor smiled and said Suzy just needed a little help. Then the doctor reached out, grabbed the parrot and threw it out the window. It squawked once and flew away for ever.
Berne’s story has a kinaesthetic base - the monkey metaphor invites the listener to connect the story to the way they feel. Allen’s story relates directly to our auditory channels, as we recognise the voices in our heads that we replay from the past.
In this story, the first doctor would want a lot of time to work out how to remove the bubble. They will need to look at it from many different angles, and to understand the potential consequences of removing it. The second doctor would know that the bubble can be burst without any ill effects. The person will then be able to see reality clearly, good and bad.
Note that for a story to represent the casting aside of script messages, we need something that does not belong. The monkey, parrot and bubble are obviously not naturally attached to people. If the visual story were based on special spectacles, or even a hood, it would not be as effective because people do really wear these.
It is also important to word the stories so that the grown-ups are providing these imaginary objects to be helpful and protective. However unskilled and misguided parents are, they do the best they can. We can help people feel free of the limitations without any need to blame someone for what happened in the past.
Allen, Brian (1971) Suzy and the Parrot Transactional Analysis Journal 1:3 36-37
Berne, Eric (1968) (writing as Cyprian St Cyr) The Gordon Knot Transactional Analysis Bulletin 7: 25 35
Hay, Julie (1995) Donkey Bridges for Developmental TA Watford: Sherwood Publishing
Hay, Julie (2012) Donkey Bridges for Developmental TA 2nd edit Hertford: Sherwood Publishing
© 2018 Julie Hay
Julie is a fan of open access publishing so feel free to reproduce any of these blogs as long as you still attribute it to her.