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Posted on March 2, 2020
Updated on October 13, 2021

Passion, Purpose, Path and Physis

“At birth, we are all in harmony with nature, created in a state of complete joy with unlimited potential.  Then, after years of exposure to the world with all of its beliefs, fears and attitudes, we become misaligned…..” (Lynch J, 1988).                                                        

How do we decide on the path we take? Giving consideration to this is important as many of us assist others to decide on their path and therefore understanding the processes to get on the “right” path is helpful.

In a general sense we are born “unlimited” and in harmony with nature but become “limited” through life experience and hence the formation of our script. A belief in, and sense of, freedom enables us to move in harmony. Achieving this is what in TA we call autonomy.  The definition of  “autonomy” in TA is the ability to respond to the here-and-now, with an awareness of self, others and the world.  However, I believe that true autonomy involves harmony with nature not just human beings, which is how most TA people  tend to think of it. 

We often hold ourselves back on a daily basis. When daily difficulties arise we need to consider how we view them – as a curse; something to be feared; fate; something that is negative and typically happens just to us; or as issues to be acknowledged, considered, honoured and responded to with compassion and grace. The latter leads to real freedom and autonomy. Listening to ourselves will enable us to account and choose the right path for us.

Without this process people become alienated. This alienation occurs when people or situations do not meet our expectations and when we are not heard or respected over time – and we begin to develop our script processes.

James and James (1991) outline seven urges:

7 Urges

Each urge is inherently good and seeks to be expressed in positive ways. We have choice about how we express these urges which depending on the way in which they are expressed, can be destructive, non-productive or productive.

Physis is another way to consider natural urges. Physis is the  “force of Nature, which eternally strives to make things grow…” (Berne in Clarkson, 1992). This force promotes progress or going beyond that which we are, or where we are. Physis was described by Berne as an unconscious evolutionary life force.

In relational terms, Physis is similar to Buber’s (1944) I and Thou, which does have a spiritual dimension to it. Buber notes that “I need a Thou to become. All actual life is an encounter”.

Interestingly Clarkson applied physis to crisis theory, “referring to the way in which crises may precipitate enhanced opportunities for the recognition and manifestation of physis – individuals and nations responding out of script with enhanced creativity, resilience, serendipity, and spontaneity to life’s vicissitudes. At such times, people seem to have more opportunities to break free from their scripts because habitual, script-bound patterns are disrupted and psychic equilibrium is destabilised. Thus, opportunities are opened for massive reorganisation along lines that are developmentally healthier and creatively more productive.” (Clarkson, 1992).

There is a view that we can never actually be “script free” (English’s view is that the script evolves and different aspects come to light as we experience new situations and people). However, if we are to choose a path that is fulfilling to us we need to get in touch with a sense of freedom and physis. To do that, we need to account our personal presence, including our positive resourcefulness, power, and personality. At the same time, we need to consider our strategies and attitudes toward any particular path. The same too, goes for the organisation with whom, or for whom we are working.

For an individual or organisation to be successful and use their free energy, so that physis or aspiration is available, we need to consider connection. 

Organisationally, this connection is between people, nature and transcendence or spirit. Where an individual is concerned this connection could be between mind, body and spirit, making up the inner core or “I AM”, or the Self. When under threat, people defend themselves, or develop the resource, to shut off parts of themselves and the same can be said for organisations i.e. they shut down on creativity and development as a way to protect themselves. 

Mountain A (1995) Unpublished Material


    Mountain A (1995) Unpublished Material

Organisations can encourage and enable growth or they can inhibit it. For example, some companies circulate their training manuals to the staff for them to decide which courses they need to take.  

In Japan, managers are apparently expected to support the development of their staff, and this is part of their appraisal system.  

In contrast, in Britain only one fifth are likely to receive training, even after requesting it.

Blocks to growth also come about through racism and prejudice. For example, we talk about the organisational “glass ceiling” or “glass cliffs” which prevents many women achieving status within the hierarchy, or the process by which women take on too much as they are grateful for an opportunity, despite the task arguably being impossible for one person.

We can use the script matrix to explore the effects of change on the individual. For example, Company A has been taken over by Company B. Employees from Company A are loyal to the old regime. For their part, the managers from the old regime still have their jobs though they don’t have the power. The message or injunction they impart to the staff is Don’t Change. The counter-injunction is Please Me. The new directors come in and make changes and do not expect anyone to have difficulties with this. The injunction here is Don’t Feel with the counter-injunction Be Strong. The employees fantasise that they will be alright as long as they rebel. They are torn between loyalty to the old ways and established directors and their desire to move on and be part of a new organisation. In terms of Physis, they need to choose how they will respond.

Organisations are places where growthful experiences can take place. They offer opportunities to make decisions, to lead, to follow, to co-operate, learn from others, and be creative. 

Organisations can offer a sense of belonging, of community and can develop an individual’s sense of commitment to something greater than themselves. In this sense, we can consider how organisations meet our basic hungers – for belonging, (recognition); structure; stimulus. 

We can see Physis at work when new ideas are developed and an organisation takes these on board and effects change in a product or system. 

Re-engineering, at its best, was very much about the organisation becoming script free and deciding now whether systems and processes were relevant rather than just staying with things as they were.

Hay (1995) draws the organisation as a ship illustrating the areas that need to be paid attention to in order to create a culture that will deal effectively with the rapid rate of change – the S.S. Success. The situation becomes the sea, problems become the sharks, stability is need to cope with the waves of change, the weather represents serendipity (because we cannot control or forecast all events). The sails provide a reminder of the facets to consider when cultural transformation is required:

Strategies – how will the organisation achieve its objectives and implement is vision?

Structures – are they appropriate to the aims of the organisation?

Systems – are these working effectively, are they geared to the structures and strategies?

Safety – is there emotional safety; do employees feel able to be open about their concerns, do they trust the organisation to be honest with them? Emotional safety does not imply job security, but promotes an atmosphere in which such matters are openly discussed.

Stroking – an analysis of the stroking patterns within an organisation

Stimulation – how is creativity fostered and initiative encouraged? What arrangements are made for ongoing development of the workforce? How are successes celebrated?

All of the workforce stand on the deck with all their skills, strengths and shortcomings.

Ascendant Organisation

Wickens talks about the ascendant organisation which he states combines high control of the processes and a high degree of commitment of the people.  

People accept the control because they “own” the processes and are responsible for maintaining and improving them. They have an understood, shared culture which permeates all behaviour and ensures equity of treatment throughout.  

Ascendant organisations aspire to providing security of employment for their core workers and high levels of training and development for all.  Responsibility is genuinely devolved allowing individuals, within the accepted framework, to be creative and make their own inputs.  The organisation is able to respond flexibly to changing pressures.

“The ascendant organisation combines high levels of commitment of the people and control of the  processes to achieve a synthesis between high effectiveness and high quality of life leading to long-term, sustainable business success”.

(Wickens P. 1995)

This is all about physis.

Most writers concentrate on one axis, which is control of the process. Control is externally imposed. Commitment is an internal process, with people believing in their own values. Committed people are highly motivated to work to achieve their own goals and those of the organisation.

Commitment, though, does not come from the length or style of a contract.  It comes from ensuring that irrespective of their employment status, everyone is treated with respect, no one is a second class citizen, the contribution of everyone is both valued and seen to be valued and the employer helps employees develop their talents and skills.

(Wickens P. 1995)

Wickens model also fits well with the OK Corral as the Ascendant Organisation quadrant falls within the I+U+ quadrant of the OK Corral. For Wickens, the Ascendant organisation is the one in which there is most prosperity, power and happiness – physis.

The anarchic quadrant has high levels of individual commitment but little control. People do what they individually think is right for the organisation or themselves without much thought for any corporate objectives. This is within the I+U- quadrant on the OK Corral.

The alienated organization utilises top-down imposition of rules and procedures, with no attempt to involve people or get their co-operation, except by edict. Managers may be autocratic. This fits with the I-U+ position.

With the apathetic organisation there is neither commitment nor control; no centrally respected authority nor any attempt to involve the workforce. People broadly do what they want, without any shared objectives or sense of direction.   This is in line with I-U- on the OK Corral.

Wickens sees the ascendant organisation as requiring “high-quality investment, engineering, financial control and product development. Above all, it requires high-calibre, highly motivated people, and a culture and leadership committed to these goals”. Wickens sees the ascendant organisation as a holistic concept.


Use of Consultants

Different types of organisations have different expectations of consultants.  This will be influenced by what is in the Cultural Parent of the organisation (Drego, 1983 13:4). For example, if we work in an old established bureaucracy that does not value change then they will want a consultant to just tinker with systems and processes but to leave it fundamentally as it is.  

Multi-nationals whose emphasis might be on results will want consultants who negotiate with the staff to achieve these results.  Aspiration then becomes stagnated and blocked.


Berne E. (1972), What Do You Say After You Say Hello?, Corgi

Berne E (in Clarkson p), (1992), Physis in Transactional Analysis, TAJ 22:4

Buber M. (1944), I and Thou, T. &T. Clark

Clarkson P. (1992), Transactional Analysis Psychotherapy: an integrated approach, Routledge

Drego P (1983), The Cultural Parent, TAJ 13:4

Hay J. (1995), Transformational Mentoring, McGraw Hill

Hay J (1995), Donkey Bridges for Developmental TA, Sherwood Publishing

James M & James J (1991), Passion for Life, Plume Books

Makin P., Cooper C., Cox C., (1996), Organizations and the Psychological Contract, The BPS

Mountain, A. & Davidson, C. (2011) Working Together - Organizational Transactional Analysis and Business Performance Gower Publishing

Wickens P. (1995), The Ascendant Organisation, Macmillan Business