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Africa Girl – A Psychological Enquiry Linguistic Analysis of Biographical Self-Description
In this article I will be examining a single case of biographical insight interpreted through the technique of linguistic analysis as process closely aligned to Transactional Analysis terminology. This article will first look at the structure of language in psychotherapy as an insight into parental injunctions and commands which later influencing the developing personality. This method of psychoanalysis in written form saves time in the therapeutic hour, allows insight through the educational attainment of the clients writing and usage of words.
When a client come to therapy usually the first meeting is taken up with a venting of the client’s story. The therapist listens, notes and clarifies for understanding. By the time this initial story is told the first hour has already passed and a second appointment is being arranged in which a more in-depth look at the clients presenting problems will occur. However in between this homework is a good start to the client’s own self examination. This is done by asking the client to write a short biography of their development. One A4 page is all that is required and no longer. This helps the client focus on only significant events and not to go off at a tangent to illustrate points of reference. The first third of a page should be, I was born… , I grew up… , this is my family… , the second part should be the developing years where the client experiences education, conflict, trauma etc… the last third should be the, “here and now” situation and what brought them to seek therapy. This has three purposes, first the client has an opportunity to self reflect and review their own version of their early life experience, the second that it helps them to recall in therapy more clearly early forgotten episodic memory and finally the therapist can conduct a linguistic analysis from the written form. The written form should be sent via email for analysis before the client comes to the next session. When this document is received the therapist should be fully conversant and trained in linguistic analysis and transactional terminology. The therapist then analyses the biographical review for the third therapy session.
While the process of linguistic analysis is as much an art as a method of inquiry, it takes quite a bit of practice to develop the technique for working on biographical material. The main thrust of the analysis is not the actual content of the biography but the words and expressions used to explain situations and relationships. In Transactional Analysis the use of terminology such as, parental injunctions, commands, drivers, life positions and life script process are all useful terms in which to examine the word and phrase content of the biography in terms both the therapist and client can understand and reflect upon. While cognitive therapy is useful in challenging faulty thinking it has little therapeutic power in analysis and humanistic methods are mostly unsuccessful except for personality growth and have little clinical support. Only T.A. has the integrated power of analysis that can properly understand linguistic analysis as a method of insightful introspection for the client in therapy.
The client for this example was an African girl of 23 years old from East African. The client volunteered to have her biographical analysis published and reviewed. While her name is withheld the biography is exactly as she has written it and entrusted to the therapist. While it is normal to disguise, change names and change some locations for privacy in publishing, the client has agreed to allow the possibility of recognition in this publication.
In this section I will first print the sections one at a time and then show the analysis. Of course, culture, social standing and economics can all influence a persons reflecting of past events and this should be noted in any biography. They are not an accurate reflection of real events but the recall of episodic memory from that person’s perspective as an adult today.
Part One: Early Childhood
I was born in 1990 in the hospital called Lubaga hospital. I don’t know much about my childhood but will tell you a little I know. Well me my childhood was not easy and at the same time it was not difficult. I don’t remember seeing my mother at any one time all I know she died a month after giving birth to me. My dad died when I was about a year old. I have two sisters (Barbra and viola) and am the youngest among them, but my dad had two wives who also passed away a year after he died. One of the ladies gave birth to three children two girls (Rita and Silvia) plus one boy called Drake, the other one gave birth to two boys (Andrew and Kennedy) but since my mum didn’t give birth to a baby boy, after dad passing away the relative decided that the youngest boy to be the hair of all our dad’s assets and that was Drake.
Andrew is the eldest and he has three children now followed by Kennedy who doesn’t have any kid, my sister Barbra is the next and she has one baby girl then viola who is just expecting a baby girl then me myself,and I don’t have any child neither am I expecting. Then Rita follows me she has two children now followed by drake and he has none and lastly is Silvia who refused to study and decided to get a job in the barbers shop.
When our parents passed away we were all divided among relatives and we grew up in different ways and having different manners. Me my self, Barbra and drake we were taken by my dad’s brother who is now our uncle. Rita was taken alone by an aunt who mistreated her so much and this uncle of ours decided to bring her at his place and by then she was 17years old. Viola was taken to bwaise where she grew up but after her grade six she decided to leave that home to go and rent her own house in makidye since she was not in good term with her brothers and sisters she grew up with. Silvia joined my family after her primary because she had always wanted to be with us so she decided to run away from where she was to come and live with us at my uncle’s place in kitebi. Andrew has his own family and Kennedy turned into a ganja man and as I speak we all don’t know where he is. Among my brothers and sister, am the only one who has made it to the top, as in am the only one who has studied very hard to finish university and graduate. Barbra studied up to university but she never graduated because she had to do a retake. Viola on the other had she tried and up to now she is still trying to finish but she pays her own tuition since she ran away from home and she is staying now with the boyfriend who pays her tuition. Rita stopped in senior four, Drake stopped senior three and Silvia in senior two. Andrew and Kennedy never went to school at all. So that’s my family in brief.
Part One: Linguistic Analysis
The first thing is, frustration illustrated in the lines, I do not know much and you a little I know, the next was, the phrase, was not easy followed by was not difficult, this show an ambivalence to growing up. The phrase, I know she died a month later (mother) shows, fantasy guilt. Then, my father died, I was one year old, both indication feelings of guilt. Then both step parents also died within a month. The message here was to the child, everyone dies? The next phrase, the boy to the heir, feelings of powerlessness in the light of adults now deciding her fate. Life is unfair and this lead to thoughts of fatalism. The next significant phrase was, I don’t have any child or expecting one, this could be wish fulfilment? The last sentence about brothers and sisters all failing educationally, could show the I’m OK they are not OK position as in T.A. terms. The next section talks of the separation of the children to different members of the family. Here show evidence of the client taking the I’m OK they are not OK life position toward the other children, they fail I succeed. She also expresses social comparison in her position towards others. Some elements of nurturing parent emerge here for her mistreated sister. In order to satisfy the adopted new father figure her uncle she adopts the adaptive child position with satisfaction showing pride in achievements over others in the family. Early example from the sister that men are to be manipulated to for money and security, adaptive child’s little professor working on survival with social observation of significant others.
Part Two: Developing Years
I grew up with Barbra and my uncles children and we were all in good term. There was nothing like discrimination at home our uncle and his wife really loved us so much though not equally. But at list me as person am not complaining since they managed to educate me up to university and am what I am because of them. As a child I was very stubborn, I remember one time I went to school without shoes for the whole term because mum was fed up of buying shoes for me every term so she wanted to teach me a lesson never to loose shoes ever again. We used to play around with the neighbours children and we could play all sorts of game you can imagine of. I remember one day we were playing noodles and I stepped on a sharp object which passed from the bottom of my leg to the top and I had to be admitted to the hospital because of that which made me to repeat a class. Back home mum, well like all African parents used to beat us whenever u has done something wrong. She never wanted to see anyone seated or not doing anything, at certain point I thought mum was mistreating me and my sister because she used to make us do most of the work at home leaving her own children to watch TV but now I really thank her so much for teaching to work and to be a very hard working girl because now there is nothing I can’t do for myself.
To be sincere I don’t know my kindergartens name but by then when I was in kindergarten, they used to call it penda but now it has a new name called kitebi new model. During my kindergarten I used to steal other childreens eats since me my guardians never used to give me anything to take to school, I remember one day they caught me stealing and the teacher called my mum at school and I was beaten seriously. After that event mum started giving 100# to take to school since he was so embarrassed. I don’t recall passing my kindergarten.
After there I joined kitebi primary school, it’s where I sat my primary leaving exams. During my primary days I was still the notorious and the most stubborn girl ever. I remember being the cheer leader of my girlfriends, meaning when I was annoyed they shouldn’t play and they used to do what so ever I told them to do. From primary one to six I was ever the last in class if not the second last and whenever I bought a report home I always expected canes from mum for performing poorly. But still I thank her so much for opening my eyes because I changed from being the demist girl to a bright girl. When I reach primary seven I tried so hard to perform well so as to please mum and she even told me that if I fell primary seven that will be the end of my studies, this statement really opened my eyes and I really struggled to perform well and indeed I did, I got a second class and this made my mum happy and dad because they never expected me to get that grand.
From there I join kitebi secondary school; during my secondary school I was as stubborn as I was in primary. In senior one still I kept the spirit of performing well, I never looked back. From being the last in primary days to being the second or third in class during my secondary days. I was ever among the best five in class and in senior three I got a half bursary at school and my guardians had to pay half of the tuition. I remember when I was still in senior two there as his teacher whom we used to call half man because he was so short, so one day I came late and he made me to frog jump from the gate to the headmasters office, then when time came for the morning assembly he called me again to lead the school into the national, school prayers and the school anthem yet I didn’t know how to pray so I refused. Then he caned me from behind a thing which annoyed me so much and I turned backed, slapped him and ran home since I knew mum was abroad and there was no one to punish me. I was expelled from kitebi secondary school when I was in senior two for beating a teacher. My parents decided to take e to bombo brakes school headed by soldiers. So it’s where I finished my senior four.
Later I joined Baptist high school for y advanced certificate. You know life in high school it where most students start boy/girl relationship. So I got myself a boyfriend and life was really so good but his guy was not a student. In high school to contested for a mess prefect and there was this girl I never liked at all, so one day this girl and her friends escaped from school and caught them reported them to the HM and the punishment given to them was too cut their hair off since at school by then we were allowed to grow hair. I passed my high school with good grades and I was given a place at Kyambogo University where I did my bachelor’s degree in guidance and counselling.
Part Two: Linguistic Analysis
The first phrase is, nothing like discrimination, then though not equally, both showing some dissent and dissatisfaction at inequality in the family dynamics. The next phrase, not complaining, educated me up to, still keeping the client in the I’m OK position in comparison with others. The next phrase, I was very stubborn, adoptive mum was fed up, teach me a lesson. Here the client moves to adaptive child in rebellion with critical parent invoking commands, injunctions and the client adapting to survive through her little professor accepting the injunctions leading to attitude changes in adulthood later. The next phrase in this section was, you can imagine, start of happy adaptive child in rebellion out of sight of parents authority. The next few lines of being beaten, like all African families (culture acceptance of violence), thought mum was mistreating me, inequality in the home, some children watch TV she works like a slave. The phrase, not doing anything, leading to the injunction and script decision in later life of, work hard, perfectionism etc. The next section phrases such as, I used to steal, never took anything to school (food) caught me stealing, I was seriously beaten all indications of authority figures in critical parent. Here the client is demonstrating adaptive child (do as I am told in front of authority) in rebellions (do as I like when not observed). Phrases such as, still notorious, leader of other girls, annoyed if not my way, I told them, caning from mother, all indications of rebellious adaptive child. Mother then threatens to end education if she does not address her behaviour. The adaptive child stops rebelling and decides to study. The next phrases, I was stubborn, spirit of performing well, half bursary, all indications of I’m OK position with others in the not OK position, therefore a feeling of superiority to others developed more fully. The, try hard drive is now fully developed. At this point the client is expelled for violence against a teacher and forced by mother to military run school. First boyfriends, lead back to rebellious adaptive child.
Part Three: Here & Now
Life at campus wasn’t easy at all. U know dad gives you little money yet you essentials are more than what he gives you so what do you to survive, you decide to get you self a boyfriend if not a sugar daddy.like any other it’s what I did in order to survive at campus. I was staying in a hostel but most of my friends got pregnant when we were still at campus. We used to club a lot but at the same time we read our books and we passed highly. When I was in my first year I was this innocent girl who didn’t know anything not until Lillian became y friend and she spoilt me she was my roommate then but for her she was in her third year by the time I met her, so she taught me how to club. When Lillian left got a new roommate and to make matters worse she was my OG whom I made to cut her hair when we were still in high school so we weren’t in good terms at all. Everything she did was annoying to me, I hated all her friends and every ting she had because she thought she had it all. We also got into fight with her over TV in the room yet it was my TV but she was ever he controller of everything I the room when her friends were around. But I had to bear with her until we finished campus. I had my three best friends but one of them betrayed me and stole my boyfriend away from me. I remember my days at campus dad only paid for me tuition, hostel fee and giving me pocket money, most of the things I had at campus were given to me by my boyfriends.
When I finished campus tried so hard to get a job and indeed God answered my payers and now I have a job. Am earning my own money and I no longer need any man’s help to support me financially. Now back home I have a problem with my sister who came back from India. She has become a pain in ass and I really want to get rid of her. She came with nothing from abroad and I decided to help her out but now it’s like she is the owner of everything in my room really hate her so much don’t know what I can do to kick her out of my room. Professor the rest of the story you know it allow me to stop here. I thank God now I have a job and am earning my own money and am no longer begging anyone for anything and I also thank my bosses for treating me right and good and for training me via different areas of counselling.
Part Three: Linguistic Analysis
Most of the early phrases here are about survival (little professor), dad gives you little money, what to do to survive, sugar daddy, and order to survive on campus. Other phrases such as, friends got pregnant, lead to recognition of risk. The phrase, I was an innocent girl, leads to suppose adaptive child following parent’s injunctions and command now was introduced through peers to more open lifestyle. The phrase, showed me how to club, adaptive child back in rebellious again. Most of the other relationships are still based on I’m OK you all are not OK as can be seen from the phrase, everything she did was annoying, I hated her, she though she had it all etc. All showing her thinking in the superior position to others. Others could not be trusted as in phrases, bear with her, she betrayed me. Here her adaptive child rebellious starts to use boys as sugar daddies to help her survive university costs and income. Current situation now secure in her own income, phrases such as, no longer need man’s help, owner of everything in her room, show her reestablishment to I’m OK from a position of shame. (Little professor survival strategy). Final phrases, bosses treating me right, new experience of nurturing parent over her experience all her life of critical parents.
Over-all Summery of Linguistic Analysis
The client sees herself often as a victim persecuted by life and others. So she persecutes others and rescues herself through the little professor in her head helping her to survive difficult times. Her early drives such as, try hard and be perfect have enabled her to finish her education to degree level despite all her other brothers and sisters failing leading to both pride and I’m OK they are not OK life position in relation to others. She has an, Until Script meaning that you cannot be happy until you have achieved all your life expectations. However she is single minded in many aspects of her life and possesses a losing script in the sense she narrows her options to only one goal at a time. Most of her life, she has stayed in adaptive child rebellious. Most adult figures have been authority figures as in critical parents. Her little professor led her to give herself sexually for gain from boyfriends as sugar daddies. Recent experience of bosses as nurturing parents has opened her to reparenting possibilities for the near future.
Linguistic analysis is a task that takes a lot of practice and insight into human behaviour best seen through the therapeutic technique of transactional analysis. In the above case you can see how much information can come from just one side of an A4 size paper biographical sketch. These insights are then discussed in full with the client at the next session of therapy. Here the psychologist can give the insights he has gained from the biography as he sees it. The then the client can verify, challenge and enquire further explanation of the analysis. After doing many of these analyses it is surprising how many clients are amazed at what you discover about them. from the words and phases they used in their own writing. Many hidden attitudes, life positions and opinions are expressed through the clients writing that they (the client) are often impressed by how much the therapist saw into their character and life scripts they had developed over the years. This particular client was shocked by just how much of her hidden self came out through the biography; she commented that she thought she had, “left out” significant attitudes but that the therapist had seen them anyway in her writing. Through the analysis the client also felt they could be more open and honest in the therapeutic process as nothing was now hidden whether shameful, pride or her survival behaviour over time.
Linguistic analysis can be an insightful, thought provoking and an intuitive technique that can help both the therapist and client to have a more intense relationship. It can also save hours of therapy time asking for background information and spending precious time trying to understand developmental processes. It takes most clients about two hours of writing and thought, to produce the biography, they often do not realise how much of their personality and attitudes they convey through the process. It can also kick start many interesting and in-depth discussions in counselling that can lead to insightful self discovery. Many clients comment that the very process of writing out the biography helped them to understand past trauma in a new light or reframing the memories they had held dear to them that on analysis changed in character and content.
This form of Linguistic Analysis was developed and taught by Professor Stephen F Myler, from Transactional Analysis as prescribed by its founder Eric Berne. 1. (E.B. died 1970) The majority of counsellors, psychologist and psychiatrists are not trained in this technique formally.
By Professor Stephen F. Myler PhD (Psych)
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