(I+ U+ Planet+)
This article is not peer-reviewed. Instead, this is an independent piece of work that is open to the public for review, discussion and comments. #freethenet #uncolonizeacademia
Abstract: This article applies Transactional Analysis theory in addressing the phenomenon of “Othering” as a transgenerational script that could have roots in hunter-gatherer and survival culture. It suggests that this script is maladaptive in the twenty-first century and a vehicle for third-degree games with catastrophic environmental payoffs. A script of “Inclusion” is introduced to avoid potential species extinction and environmental catastrophe. The inclusive encounter incorporates the existential life position of ‘I+ U+ Planet+’ that can cultivate a sense of collective radical belonging.
This article presents a series of speculative connections in which psychotherapists may consider the personal, community or global therapeutic script changes to deepen therapist-client relationships. Since time began, marginalized communities have been impacted by divisions such as war, genocide, culturally-sanctioned violence, and labor exploitation, combined with destructive actions to the environment such as factory-produced environmental toxins that disrupt ecosystems.
In this article, an expanded understanding of trauma is explored in terms of transgenerational scripts (Gayol, 2019) defined as trauma that persists as individual, familial, or group trauma from generation to generation–that reach past our parents and grandparents to our primordial existence as humans of the ice age. The concept of traumatic ice-age scarcity as sense memories is used to speculate on how being members of non-dominant groups might trigger ancestral memories of why they were initially treated as outsiders in isolation from other more dominant groups or dehumanized for their differences. Also, members of dominant groups may have sense memories of ancestral group supremacy that contribute to today’s perpetuation of oppressive behaviors.
This article also explores what might be in humanity’s collective script that has enabled us to perpetuate global scale “third-degree games”, as described by Eric Berne. These are relational patterns with severe outcomes involving tissue damage (Berne, 1964). It is suggested that ‘othering’ psychology (e.g., racial oppression and subjecting the non-conformist to exclusionary aggressions) can be understood from script theory. Historically, script theory in Transactional Analysis has been defined differently by various theorists. Fanita English described this as ‘Survival Conclusions’: a running script from early childhood that a client might carry to determine their sense of surviving a difficult situation (or not) as an adult (Erskine, 2019). Using this definition of Script theory, ‘othering’ psychology is discussed to speculate about its connection to the hunter-gatherer culture or traumatic ice-age scarcity.
Othering as Discounting
“Othering” can be understood as a reductive practice of defining a person as someone who belongs to a socially subordinate category of the ‘Other.’” This phenomenon also excludes persons outside of the norm of the self-identified social group (Bullock, Trombley, & Lawrie, 1999). By integrating TA psychotherapy and evolutionary psychology, we can extend our awareness of how ‘othering’ can happen as part of an earlier lineage.
Othering can be understood in two ways. The first way is the psychological determination that a person with a different skin tone or cultural practice is inferior or not part of the in-group. This sense of superiority then leads to dehumanizing thoughts and behaviors. Superiority could include deciding that the ‘other’ group is deserving of fewer resources, violence, racial discrimination, or abuse. Some examples of this are racism, classism, or xenophobia.The second type of ‘othering’ happens within the in-group, where a member has traits or displays behaviors that do not conform to cultural norms. This individual is then seen as less than or not part of and therefore dehumanized, rejected, shamed, in need of punishment or correction. This kind of ‘othering’ is evident in the 71 countries of the world that criminalize homosexuality (Avery, 2019).
Using the theory of Discounting, ‘othering’ means a person is seen as part of the dominant group i.e., having more access to power, privilege, and status and having a sense of superiority over non-dominant groups. Bhonsle (2018) explains that in Transactional Analysis, “Discounting” is an “internal mechanism which implies that a person is unconsciously undermining, minimizing or disregarding some aspects of the self, others or the reality of the situation.” This article suggests that ‘othering’ is synonymous with the Discounting of others. Some clear examples of these are the acts of colonialism or enslavement from the 1500s to the present time, where some aspect of self-superiority has been exaggerated to justify objectification like “orientalism” (Reider, 2008) or other dehumanizing behaviors. This grandiosity has, in essence, unconsciously absolved the ethical responsibility for these acts. In 2012, the murder of a Black American teenager Trayvon Martin by a White American police-officer illustrated this notion of ‘grandiosity’ in Discounting others. This event propelled the social-media hashtag “#blacklivesmatter” and later grew to become a powerful socio-political movement (Guynn, 2015).
Othering is a Collective Transgenerational Script
This section describes how othering is a pattern of biased, prejudiced, and dangerous processes originating earlier than we can imagine. Epigenetics is how a condition in the environment like trauma triggers a change of gene expression. According to Henriques, “The field of epigenetic research has begun to study gene expression and changing environmental conditions.” It is “theorized that… experiences such as traumatic events could be linked to the turning on or off of certain gene expression” (Henriques, 2019). One could look at Henrique’s explanation and examine ‘othering’ as a transgenerational survival conclusion that involves epigenetics.
Furthermore, Henriques (2019) explains the implications and effects of epigenetics for one’s family in decades or potentially centuries to come:
if these epigenetic changes acquired during life can indeed also be passed on to later generations, the implications would be huge. Your experiences during your lifetime — particularly traumatic ones — would have a very real impact on your family for generations to come. There are a growing number of studies that support the idea that the effects of trauma can reverberate down the generations through epigenetics.)
Perhaps, human violence could be arguably a full embodiment of psychological ‘othering’ and accompanied by the trauma of resource scarcity since the ice-age. Allen et. Al. 2016, explains how “examining patterns” work when brought to prehistoric situations such as “lethal trauma among hunter-gatherer populations...” Rather than focusing on modern historical contexts such as “political organization” to explain this trauma, “this study reveals that violence is explained by resource scarcity.” By looking at how resources were or were not available starting with pre-historical times such as the Ice Age, we can better understand the possible relationship between resource scarcity and violent ‘othering,’ creating a more significant threat of mass death and extinction. Furthermore, Allen, et. al; continues to explain, “This finding provides a clear rationale to understand why violence may be greater in specific times or places through human history, which can help predict where and when it may arise in the future” (Allen, Bettinger, Codding, Jones, & Schwitalla, 2016).
Scarcity as a traumatic condition might therefore occur concurrently with ‘othering’ or human violence. In itself, the experience and sense memory of needing essential resources such as food, water, shelter, and having to go without could also be seen as an ancestral memory of scarcity that triggers an epigenetic adaptation. For example, Renee Friedman explains that the world’s first race war took place 13,000 years ago during a period known as the Big Freeze. A lack of water, vegetation, and food scarcity forced many ethnic groups to relocate to the Nile. This river was the only water source still available. Renee Friedman, the curator of the skeletons, is quoted to have concluded that “(n)obody was spared: there were many women and children among the dead, a very unusual composition for any cemetery almost half bore the marks of violent death. Many more may have died of flesh wounds, which left no marks” (Smith, 2014). Learning about this pre-historical situation, the trauma of the ethnic groups involved, and how they were forced to migrate for essential resources help us analyze the modern-day version of these situations.
With the trauma of ice-age scarcity, the anthropological evidence of the surge of violence/othering, and an understanding of epigenetic adaptation, could we then assume that “othering” or discounting became a transgenerational script?
Applying the connections above to the present day, sociological theories and studies postulate a relationship between scarcity, modern-day racism, and other forms of injustices. For example, studies conducted by Krosch, Tyler & Amodio (2017) suggest that a sense of economic scarcity or ‘zero-sum’ situations are co-related with “anti-Black resource allocation bias.” The findings indicated that the perception of scarcity could produce racial bias in the distribution of economic resources and contribute to the racial inequities during economic stress. We see here a clear relationship between scarcity and ‘othering.’
Fanita English theorizes that psychological scripts are developed as ‘survival conclusions.’ She introduces the notion of a ‘survival conclusion’ (Erskine, 2019). She writes:
“The function of the Survival Conclusions is to supplement survival instincts (that animals have to a greater extent than humans) and to generate appropriate fear and caution in certain situations. For instance, a child must learn to be careful of fire, and Survival Motivator will register strokes (whether positive or negative) that establish the necessary conclusions and consequent ‘automatic’ caution of the fire (p. 65–66).”
These conclusions may no longer be useful in today’s contexts. The Child ego state may have derived conclusions about how best to survive early authority/parental figures or early situations, but these “Survival Motivators” may be maladaptive in the here and now (Erskine, 2019).
When applied to our human ancestors of the ice-age and the conclusions they drew in a time of resource scarcity, one can begin to imagine the Survival Conclusions that emerged. The first known genocide and race war 13,000 years ago could indicate that early humans ‘discount’ members of other groups as an adaptation or survival conclusion. Othering may have made it possible to dehumanize and kill for survival in a world with highly limited resources. These genocidal events potentially had a traumatic effect on these ice-aged humans’ psyche, which carried into the minds of people today.
Theories already exist describing transgenerational trauma as traumatic narratives handed down across generations. It is hypothesized that trauma is intrapsychically introjected between the Child and Parent ego states of family and community members. These introjected traumatic narratives can be projected in present-day relationships. These lead to reenactments of trauma across generations. Gayol, 2019 further postulates that developing awareness of this transgenerational script offers clients the opportunity to be liberated from the lineage.
In applying the theories of ‘Survival Conclusions’ and ‘Transgenerational Scripts’ (Transgenerational Survival Conclusions) to our understanding of ice-age scarcity and present-day ‘othering,’ one can speculate on the following list of declarations:
- Humanity developed a Survival Conclusion at the time of the ice-age scarcity that Discounting Others was necessary.
- Discounting Others as a decision made it OK to dehumanize and objectify Others.
- Discounting Others allowed for a sense of dominant groups’ ‘grandiosity’ and entitlement over resources.
- ‘Others’ are to be feared, hated, or eradicated.
- The process of discounting the possible consequences of extinction started when dominant groups discounted others.
Examining these Transgenerational Survival Conclusions through the lens of Existential Life Positions theory (Berne 1962) allows for an understanding of how the ‘I’m OK, You’re Not OK,’ or I+ U-/Irrelevant position has become the most profound problem in a globalized and intricately diverse world. Each existential life position is associated with a specific behavior (Fine & Poggio, 1977).
There are examples of discriminatory behaviors that adopt the I+ U- position during the COVID-19 pandemic. There have been reports of a sudden rise in hate crimes towards Chinese Americans in the United States of America. A warning of its severity was announced by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI & CSI, 2020). This type of response is explored as “prospection” by Shustov & Tuchina (2019). “Prospection” is understood as a “vehicle for transgenerational trauma transmission and as a means of organizing and predicting future experience in line with “memories of the future” based on clients’ historical experience (Shustov & Tuchina, 2019).” Could the pandemic be eliciting “prospection” as fear of infection from the “other,” resulting in violent and discriminatory responses? Could it be in our prehistoric sense memory that contact with different human groups spells danger or fatality? Othering psychological mechanisms continue to persist as xenophobia.
Modern-day dehumanizing (I+U-) could be an inter-generational script or epigenetic maladaptation. What is significant about the I+ U- position in the context of Othering is how ‘U’ is often reduced to very basic categories, such as country of origin, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender. This dehumanizing essentially reduces a multi-dimensional human being into a single story. This proclivity stems from an ancient way of being between-group pressures across human evolutionary history (Wilson, 2019)
By understanding the psychological processes involved in ‘othering,’ we can examine the consequences of these inter-group dynamics or what Eric Berne termed as third-degree games.
Third Degree Games & The Possible Final Payoff
‘Games’ were described by Eric Berne as patterns of transactions that have concealed motivation (Berne 1964). However, the author, (as with other modern TA thinkers (Sue & Alessandra, 2015) differ from traditional transactional analysis when discussing “Games” (Sue & Alessandra, 2015). It is postulated that these are instead relationship patterns that stem from Early Conclusions or Decisions and that have negative payoffs (Erskine, 2019). This article does not attempt to analyze specific Games played by various groups in the 21st century. It instead will highlight the third-degree payoffs that involve both emotional consequences such as collective grief, loss, trauma, pain, rage, etc. as well as tissue damage. In the context of Othering in the 21st century, there are patterns of group to group transactions that are leading to catastrophic consequences for the ecosystem and human life as a whole.
The following scenario is one that illustrates how repeated patterns of othering and oppression could lead to collective third-degree consequences. Multiple scientific studies have shown that human beings are involuntarily ingesting microplastics. These microplastics are in human stool across worldwide samples (Schwabl, et al., 2019). These microplastics are in our oceans, atmosphere, the stomachs, and flesh of marine life as well as land animals. It is an evident disruption to our collective ecosystem. Synthetic textiles account for 35% of the total volume (Horiba). How can we account for a survival conclusion when that which we depend on for basic survival, to eat, to shelter ourselves and clothe ourselves is poisoning our earth, our bodies, and that of our children and descendants to come?
The clothing fashion industrial complex is a global system that involves Othering workers of factories through exploitation as well as environmental pollution. The othering of economically disadvantaged communities and their local eco-systems ultimately harms people living outside of these communities as well. Islam & Hossein discuss how more affluent groups Other by utilizing or exploiting labor in economically disadvantaged areas, with arguably unacceptable working conditions as well as unregulated or non-enforced environmental regulations. These factories have byproducts that harm the local communities and destroy micro-ecosystems. Psychotherapists could lead by promoting global consciousness and developing a visceral understanding of how the lack of environmental considerations harms not only the people that are ‘othered’ but the entire human collective. There is a global third-degree game pay off that includes mass “tissue damage” and “death” as a consequence.
Environmental social justice concerns are enlightening in the same way that global pandemics are. The privilege of having more resources or a desired passport only shields and protects us to some extent. The privilege can become as vulnerable as the most susceptible if the environment continues to decay. In the case of ‘third-degree games’, we experience devastating consequences on a tissue damage level and traumatic emotional payoffs. In fact, in a United Nations report compiled by 1300, leading scientists from 95 countries, we are headed for an ecological disaster in 50 years and possibly the beginning of extinction (Dyer, 2005). Extinction could be humanity’s final negative payoff. Othering is maladaptive. And if ‘othering is a maladaptive survival conclusion as a transgenerational script then what would be an adaptive alternative?
Inclusion & Belonging as Antithesis to Othering
What will shift us away from extinction is a deep understanding of the current scarcity script and a Decontamination of the Adult Egostate about actual resources. Every single group can participate in the global economy meaningfully. Garcia (1984) describes “competition” in the USA cultural script as stemming from the notion of scarcity and results in “war, violence, isolationism, and loneliness.” He describes an alternate cultural script where co-operative co-existence, as well as non-violence, is valued and, also suggests that Transactional Analysis has the tools to facilitate such cultural script change. Other examples of authors who have considered script changes from Othering to Inclusion are, for example, Batts (1983) discussing how the script of racism can be changed. Minikin (2018) advocates for a sense of ‘pluralism’ when encountering differences to tolerate “otherness in ourselves or others”.
In analyzing the history of belonging and othering further, it is believed that non-conforming to group norms would risk exclusion in hunter-gatherer culture. Non-conforming could risk the survival of the group during harsh or violent conditions. Exclusion however meant exiting the group which was essentially a death sentence during the ice-age. People needed to stay in groups to survive. From a transgenerational trauma perspective, this could account for why feelings of exclusion elicit such painful emotions and can be relationally traumatic. It may also account for relational fears around rejection or separation. This perspective makes cultivating a sense of belonging in the therapeutic relationship vital especially from a social justice lens that examines both subtle and blatant acts of exclusion in a client’s lived experience. Human beings across time are demonstrated inclusive behaviors that cultivate a sense of belonging within groups.
A survival conclusion of ‘not belonging’ may also be a transgenerational adaptation that may no longer serve the present. As TA therapists, developing insight around exclusion as ‘othering’ we could consider the injunction of ‘Don’t Belong’ in the therapeutic relationship. The experiences of being excluded and excluding may be transgenerational traumas from our early ancestors. These traumatic experiences are likely felt in the Somatic Child Egostate. And yet not all exclusionary based survival conclusions are relevant in the present. Would non-conforming threaten the survival of the group anymore? The legalization of same-sex marriage, for example, is the perfect illustration of a collective script change that challenges the hunter-gatherer fears of the non-conformist.
The Inclusive Script involves alleviating fears and inviting the ‘other’ into your in-group. This script is essentially a story of existential or spiritual belonging. As we decontaminate the Adult Egostate further, we may peel off layers of Othering script beliefs and cultivate an Ibynclusive Script. Extending the in-group limits beyond comfort zones calms the Child Egostate in the face of differences and perceived limited resources. A 21st-century inclusive script allows for the regular practice of inviting what has traditionally been the perceived ‘other’ into your in-group.
Thought beliefs around scarcity may have to be challenged to let go of the scarcity script. Shifting from othering to inclusion includes decontaminating the Adult ego state around notions of scarcity. For example, the scarcity of food is a myth. Othering causes the problem of global hunger, not food scarcity. The world is producing enough for 10 billion people, the estimated population by 2050. Communities that are suffering from the lack of resources are those that make less than $2 a day (Holt-Gimenez, 2014). The scarcity script is no longer relevant.
A proposed existential life position that can include the planet is ‘I+ U+ Planet+’. In the theoretical history of Transactional Analysis, humanity’s connection to the planet has been discounted. All human beings, animals, vegetation, our eco-system, and the planet can be considered a single “group”– all of us belong. An encounter with the eco-system that enables us to appreciate the connections within could help us let go of ancient scarcity-oriented survival conclusions to embrace a sense of collective belonging. This expands the encounter and inter-subjective experience of the therapist-client relationship. This article calls for Transactional Analysis practitioners to expand script change experiences with our clients and organizations. It proposes that we invite the experience of the planet, recognize the impact of the relational experience on the eco-system, and view script change as a broader inclusive encounter.
Humanity may have decided upon an ‘Othering’ script at the time of the hunter-gatherer ice-age where resources were scarce and in-group survival was adaptive. Today, the Transgenerational Othering Script has become maladaptive. It also perpetuates patterns of Transactions between groups as Third Degree Games. These Games result in negative pay-offs that involve massive tissue damage, mass graves, the systemic destruction of the planet’s eco-system, and our ultimate species extinction. This article suggests letting go of the ‘Othering’ script and adopting the ‘I+ U+ Planet+’ existential life position to cultivate “Inclusive” scripts that facilitate a sense of collective belonging. These therapeutic perspectives have applications not just in environmental, social justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion organizational consulting, but also in the therapist-client encounter.
“A person is a person through other persons.” — African Proverb (Mungi, 2020)
By contemplating and deepening the I+ U+ Planet+ encountered in practice and personal growth, my inquiry has taken a non-Eurocentric path. I was introduced to the South African philosophy of ‘Ubuntu’ and it is with the deepest respect that I am describing it as it relates to this notion. Ggomane Mungi (2020) describes this philosophy simply as “I am only because you are” (Ngomane & Tutu, 2020). This state of being is quite different from the Transactional Analysis’s ‘I am OK, You are OK’ life position. Ubuntu assumes an interconnection between the self and the other. Mungi’s book explains that Ubuntu philosophy teaches that every human being is of equal value because our collective humanity is interconnected (Ngomane & Tutu, 2020). When humanity is interconnected it can truly encounter the magnificence of the earth’s ecosystem. This encapsulates “I+ U+ Planet+” as an existential position. I believe this existential re-connection is humanity’s salvation from extinction and potentially carries therapeutically expansive gains for the therapist-client encounter.
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