by Justin Standfield
All of the reasons we have heard in the media about why the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union have a ring of truth to them – the working man/woman is sick of not feeling listened to, they want to govern themselves, they feel a loss of control that they want to regain particularly with regards to immigration numbers, they want to feel more pride in being British that has dwindled in recent decades….
Listening to all of the reports and interviews since the referendum result came in with a mixture of shock and fear, excitement and hope, it struck me that this could be an example of the classic ‘parent/child’ dynamic from Transactional Analysis (TA). Put simply, TA uses a model developed by Eric Berne that presents different ‘Ego States’ that we all have within us, that we use in different situations to negotiate the best possible outcomes for ourselves. The three Ego States are:
- ‘Parent’ – knows best, is in control, can be benevolent or controlling, generally acts and believes themselves superior to the ‘Child’;
- ‘Adult’ – logical, unemotional, sensible, balanced in approach and outlook using ‘here and now’ data, good at problem solving, acts and treats others as equals;
- ‘Child’ – spontaneous, acts on impulse, rebels, adapts their behaviour to seek approval from the ‘Parent’, generally feels and acts inferior to the ‘Parent’.
Every one of us has all three of these Ego States within us, calling upon our experiences in each of these states from our own lives and the interactions (or ‘transactions’ as Berne calls them) with significant people we have relationships with.
In the relationship we have with the EU, I believe they could be viewed by many as the ‘Parent’ – controlling decisions affecting our trade, immigration and law, exercising their authority and being ‘in charge’, reluctant to negotiate on anything they hold dear and not always listening well. Despite David Cameron negotiating on behalf of the UK prior to the referendum, I believe (without the benefit of having been there to witness it) that the EU members didn’t take the threat of the UK leaving the group as a genuine possibility – after all, how could we possibly survive on our own? So the result was a very watered-down, unappealing deal that simply didn’t cut it with a large number of British voters. “Sorry – not good enough” was the general consensus and possibly also the final nail in the coffin, in some people’s minds.
It’s likely that many UK people have reacted to this approach as the ‘Child’ – rebelling against a feeling of not being listened to for years and reacting by voting ‘Leave’ (which observers have described as “cutting off our nose to spite our face”). This was typically an emotional reaction against the ‘Parent’, not necessarily based on logic, but on gut-feeling and a need to test our ability to see whether we could change things. It shows the strength that emotion can have on decisions that impact on the most important elements of our lives and for the lives of generations to come. “Hope is the only thing stronger than fear” according to President Snow in The Hunger Games and I think this describes the reason many people voted to leave the EU. ‘Hope’ that we can have real and meaningful change, ‘hope’ that we can come through this change intact and ‘hope’ that the long term outcome will be positive and feel a bit fairer than our current situation. Perhaps also ‘hope’ that the ‘Child’ can sometimes be superior to the ‘Parent’?
Going forward, we will need to make a swift shift into ‘Adult’ mode in order to negotiate the best terms we can get, and repair the hurt and threat we have brought to the EU to enable them to move from their bewildered and angry state to a logical and problem-solving state instead. Hopefully we can still have a relationship that works, maybe now on a more equal basis than we’ve seen for the past few decades. Generally acting as the ‘Adult’ is the best approach, but it isn’t always the one that stimulates change of this magnitude and scale. Let’s get the calm ‘Adult’ back in control now to help us move forward with a sensible plan to get us back on an even keel and design a really positive, inclusive future for the UK and our friends and neighbours in Europe.