The essential feature of the gallows transaction is a laugh (Gallows laugh). The laugh serves to tighten the noose, and the destructive behaviour is reinforced (what you stroke is what you get). Invariably this is out of awareness.
Suicidal people have a tendency to engage the therapist in gallows transactions and it is pertinent the therapist to avoid doing so.
1. (Social) I got drunk and hurt myself last night
2. (Psychological) Ha, ha, ha. Laugh with me. Give me strokes to support my self destructiveness
3. (Social) Laughs
4. (Psychological) I support and encourage your self destructiveness
5. Permission transaction. I give permission for you to hurt yourself
6. Projective identification
The laughter of the therapist provides strokes to the client for hurting self and reinforcement theory (strokes), demonstrates this encourages the behaviour to occur more often in the future. “What you stroke is what you get.”
However, as it is a therapy situation there are other factors involved as a result of the transference. It is likely that the client will also take a permission from the therapist’s laugh. Not only is the therapist stroking the behaviour, the client will take a Parent ego state to Child ego state permission to do such behaviour and hence the gallows transaction can also be seen to include a permission transaction.
Furthermore a game could be played out, such as Kick me. Central to games is projective identification. In the gallows transaction the client projects the parental encouragement onto the therapist. “Behave like my mother who said ‘Don’t exist”. The therapist then identifies with the projection, takes up the role and laughs thus delivering the Don’t exist message.
Games allow a person to further their life script. It is the way a person progresses along the path of the life script to its inevitable conclusion. Hence the gallows transaction supports the clients self destructiveness by the therapist assisting the client to move further along in the life script to its conclusion.
Possible responses to the gallows transaction
Adult ego state response – Expose the transactions. Therapist draws the gallows transaction for the client thus bringing it into Adult awareness. This is a safe response by the therapist and awareness is always a good starting point.
Parent ego state response – Confrontation. “I wont laugh at that”. A less safe response than the Adult but more potent in its effect. More powerful than the Adult. The danger is the client can at some point in the future move into Rebellious Child against the Parent confrontation.
Child ego state response – Expression of feeling response. “I feel discomfort with your gallows laugh.” A less safe response than the Adult but more potent in its effect. More powerful than the Adult. The danger being it uses guilt. The client may feel guilt as he has caused disquiet in the therapist.
Ignore the laugh. The therapist simply provides no response to the invitation to laugh and changes the subject