Looking to the Brexit from Transactional Analysis

Ever since last Friday morning we haven’t been able to avoid it: Brexit is now a fact. Via all possible media channels we were informed about the (to me startling) outcome of the British vote to ‘Leave’ or to ‘Remain’.

In all the commentary, my attention was drawn to an article in the Guardian by Julia Ebner and Janet Anderson.

 I’m an Austrian in the UK – I don’t want to live in this increasingly racist country

Julia lives as Austrian in the UK and Janet lives as British in the Netherlands.

Their personal stories touched me and in this blog I analyse what they wrote from a Transactional Analysis (TA) perspective.

TA is a theory to understand communication and personalities. TA helps us understand how it is that people sometimes have the feeling of being blocked and feel unsafe, insecure or lost. TA also gives very specific ways to get yourself moving again.
Heraclitus (535-475 BC) already knew that “everything is in motion”.

In TA we talk about five ways of positioning, the five ways in which we communicate. These five positions each have their own impact on our communication.
We behave as Structuring Parent when we communicate from our own values.
When we care about someone, we act as a Nurturing Parent.
When we are looking for solutions we act as an Adult.
We communicate as a Free Child when we focus on our emotions. These emotions tell us something about our basic needs.
When we communicate as an Adapted Child or a Rebel, we are either ‘obedient’ or just the opposite: we do not obey expectations.

If all is well, our communication is both inspired by our basic needs (Free Child), and our values (Structuring Parent).
From our Adult, we will then communicate solutions and set a course based on both our needs and our values.

In order to communicate -to function- we need security and to feel this security, a number of requirements have to be met.
We have (among other things) the need for clarity and predictability. We want to belong.
If this requirement is not fulfilled, we feel insecure and lost.

Because of Brexit, some people are not having their basic needs fulfilled.
It’s making many people feel unsafe, insecure and lost.

Julia writes:

“the Britain that I had known and valued ceased to exist for me. The Brexit vote has deprived the UK of all the values that made it attractive and enriching for continental Europeans such as me.”

Julia writes:

“This need for security and predictability is a very important need. We want to know how things work. What exactly are the expectations? Who belongs together? What is going to happen and how do the things fit precisely?”

To ensure security and predictability, there is – in a positive manner – a choice to adapt to the ‘other’.

Julia writes:

“I have given Britain all I could: my tuition fees, my taxes, my time and my trust…. I have adapted to standards of British politeness”.

Janet writes:

“I accept the ups and downs of freelance employment, pay my taxes and my VAT, squeeze into rush-hour trains and cycle to and from appointments in this vibrant small geographical area. But I’m not Dutch. I’m British.”

The need to belong is also essential:

Julia writes:

“I have done all this to belong in a country that I no longer wish to be part of. I invested all my time, money and energy in a marriage that is now doomed to fail – because no matter what the concrete consequences will be for EU migrants residing in the UK, the atmosphere has changed. I no longer feel welcome here”.

The need to feel welcome, and thereby to belong, is also an important need.

Julia writes:

“…but the referendum result indicates that concerns were genuine for the majority of British citizens, whose vote has been a clear expression of their anti-EU migrant attitude.”

And in a shop, being spoken to like this by another customer:

“You won’t stay here for long anyway. Tomorrow you can pack your suitcase”

She writes how it was said without any eye contact or consideration about the possible impact of these words. Shocking.

A describes our Parent: Creating our values are part of our Parent Position. We need to know which values are important to us. They are, in a sense, the compass by which we align our lives. These values and norms we have, in part, taken from our parents and from the culture in which we grew up. Partly these values are the result of personal choices.

Our generation (50+) grew up with values that – to this day – are obvious. Peace, solidarity and tolerance. And those values are now – very close by – more and more being questioned.

No longer being able to live according to values that were previously obvious, brings with it a sense of insecurity and -therefore- stress. Not only for British people living in the EU and for EU nationals living in the UK, but for anyone who lives today in the EU or in the UK.

Julia writes:

“I no longer want to live in a country that has become increasingly racist and that has decided to turn its back on the single most important postwar project of peace, solidarity and tolerance.”

Many people ‘On the Move’ for whom Brexit has a direct impact, are now asking themselves the question. Do I still want to live here? Do I feel at home? And for many, this may indeed mean the beginning of a new move, a new period of uncertainty, a readjustment. Our need for certainty and predictability will definitely be compromised by any move, letting go of the known and trusted, and starting anew elsewhere.

Both Julia and Janet write honestly about their personal process in light of the Brexit.

Julia writes:

“This morning, my hopes of a future in this country were wiped out and my illusions of a united, peaceful Europe scattered. I am starting to ask myself where else there is to go.”

Janet writes:

“But it brought home to me the depths of my personal insecurity.
I have a British passport, a British education and a British identity. I came to live here out of love. But I was joyfully clear that I had the right to live, work and make a life here. On my own terms.”
“I’ve lost ease and comfort. And I have gained uncertainty”.

Janet and Julia are both ‘expats’, both People on the Move. What distinguishes them from others ‘On the move’ is that they can articulate their distress and uncertainty through their writing.
What they have in common with others ‘On the Move’ is that they are far from home and longing for security, clarity, recognition and belonging.

The Brexit means for many people the loss of security, and the automatic feeling of welcome.
For some of them, this will likely translate into stress and trauma-related complaints.

Often such an also experience will also hark back to previous loss or trauma experiences. The stress of these changes can bring the pain back of older trauma injuries which also have to do with a ‘sense of belonging’ or ‘security’.

In my practice, I sit down with people and look together at what affects them and how it is possible that they have lost their balance. And then I look at the possibilities and their own resources are to deal with these issues.

TA provides a model to examine and to help people to move on.
Heraclitus (535-475 BC) already knew that “everything is in motion”.

If you want to learn how to help people to move on, to pick up the threads after a stressful or traumatic time, you are welcome to join the Program Transactional Analysis which will start in October 2016.

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Linda Hoeben
+32 474 920 877
Rommersom 1A, 3320 Hoegaarden