If you’ve ever dived into the topic of psychology you’ve probably already heard that nearly all our behavioural patterns are a result of childhood, if not it is extremely important to be aware of that and know that this is a fact, and our childhood will influence us and our behaviour for the rest of our lives whether we like it or not. At the same time as a parent myself, I encourage you to start a journey with me trying to learn and apply the information provided in this book to help us to get to the I’m Okay – You’re Okay state, and most importantly to help our children reach this state.
When thinking about how to start the “Raising children” section on my blog, I instantly imagined the cover of the amazing book “I’m OK – You’re OK” by Thomas Anthony Harris, M.D. first published in 1969 (not in 1967, even wikipedia got it wrong). Before any self-help proclaimed gurus emerged one gentleman introduced to our world “Transactional analysis”, it was Mr. Eric Berne and he introduced this term to the general public in his best selling book called “Games people play”. Harris was a long-time friend and associate of Eric Berne which lead to writing of his own book called I’m Ok – You’re Ok. It became an international bestseller and eventhough bookstores are now flooded with the books of self help gurus, 5 step to greatness bestsellers and other quick fix bullshit, this book was written by gentleman who spent his entire life as a psychiatrist helping other people and I consider this book as one of the best book ever written in human history.
Transactional Analysis describes three ego states (Parent, Adult, and Child) as the basis for the content and quality of interpersonal communication. “Happy childhood” notwithstanding, says Harris, most of us are living out the NOT OK feelings of a defenseless child, dependent on OK others (parents) for stroking and caring. At some stage early in our lives we adopt a “position” about ourselves and others that determines how we feel about everything we do. And for a huge portion of the population, that position is “I’M NOT OK – YOU’RE OK.” This negative “life position” shared by successful and unsuccessful people alike, contaminates our rational Adult capabilities, leaving us vulnerable to inappropriate emotional reactions of our Child and uncritically learned behavior programed into our Parent. By exploring the structure of our personalities and understanding old decisions, Harris believes we can ﬁnd the freedom to change our lives.
Parent, Adult and Child
These states of being are not roles but psychological realities. The state is produced by the playback of recorded data of events in the past, involving real people, real times, real places, real decisions, and real feelings.
- Parent: The parent is a vast collection of records in the brain of unquestioned or imposed external events perceived by a person in his early life, a period that we have designated as roughly the first five years of life. In the Parent are recorded all the admonitions and rules and laws that the child has heard from its parents and seen in their lives. They range all the way from the earliest parental communications, interpreted non-verbally through tone of voice, facial expression, cuddling, or noncuddling, to the more elaborate verbal rules and regulations followed by the parents when the child became able to understand words.
- Child: While external events are being recorded as that body of data we call the Parent, there is another recording being made simultaneously. This is the recording of internal events, the responses of the child to what he/she sees and hears. Many things can happen to us today which recreate the situation of childhood and bring on the same feelings we felt then. Therefore, when a person is in the grip of feelings, we say his Child has taken over. When his anger dominates his reason, we say his Child is in command. But there is a bright side, too. In the Child is also a vast store of positive data. In the Child reside creativity, curiosity, the desire to explore and know, the urges to touch and feel and experience, and the recordings of the glorious, pristine feelings of ﬁrst discoveries.
- Adult: Adult data accumulates as a result of the child’s ability to ﬁnd out for himself what is diﬀerent about life from the “taught concept” of life in his Parent and the “felt concept” of life in his Child. The Adult develops a “thought concept”of life based on data gathering and data processing. One of the important functions of the Adult is to examine the data in the Parent, to see whether or not it is true and still applicable today, and then to accept it or reject it. And to examine the Child to find out whether or not the feelings there are appropriate to the present or are archaic and in response to archaic Parent data. The goal is not to get rid of the parent and child but to but to explore these data sets freely.
The Four Life Positions:
1) I’M NOT OK – YOU’RE OK
Very early in life every child concludes, “I’m not OK.” He/She makes a conclusion about his parents, also: “You’re OK.” This is the ﬁrst thing the child ﬁgures out in his/her life-long attempt to make sense of herself/himself and the world in which she/he lives. This position, I’M NOT OK – YOU’RE OK, is the most deterministic decision of his life. It is permanently recorded and will inﬂuence everything she/he does. Because it is a decision it can be changed by a new decision. But not until it is understood. A common way to live out this position is by a counterscript (also unconscious) with borrowed lines from the Parent: YOU CAN BE OK, IF. Such a person seeks friends and associates who have a big Parent because she/he needs big strokes, and the bigger the Parent, the better the strokes, (OK strokes can only come from OK people, and the Parent is OK, as it was in the beginning.) This person is eager, willing, and compliant to the demands of others. “Some of our best people” are where they are because of these eﬀorts to gain approval. However, they are committed to a lifetime of mountain climbing, and when they reach the top of one mountain they are confronted by still another mountain. The NOT OK writes the script; the YOU’RE OK (and I want to be like you) writes the counterscript. Neither works in producing happiness or a sense of lasting worth, however, because the position has not changed. “No matter what I do, I’m still NOT OK.” Once the position is uncovered and changed, the achievements and skills that have resulted from the counterscript can serve the person well when she/he builds a new and conscious life plan with the Adult.
3) I’M NOT OK – YOU’RE NOT OK
If all children who survive infancy initially conclude I’M NOT OK – YOU’RE OK, what happens to produce the second position, I’M NOT OK and neither are you? What happened to the YOU’RE OK? What happened to the source of stroking? By the end of the ﬁrst year something signiﬁcant has happened to the child. She/He is walking. She/He no longer has to be picked up. If her/his mother is cold and nonstroking, if she only put up with her/him during the ﬁrst year because she had to, then her/his learning to walk means that his “babying” days are over. The stroking ceases entirely. In addition punishments come harder and more often as she/he is able to climb out of her/his crib, as she/he gets into everything, and won’t stay put. Even self-inﬂicted hurts come more frequently as her/his mobility sends her/him tripping over obstacles and tumbling down stairs. Life, which in the ﬁrst year had some comforts, now has none. The stroking has disappeared. If this state of abandonment and diﬃculty continues without relief through the second year of life, the child concludes I’M NOT OK – YOU’RE NOT OK.
3) I’M OK – YOU’RE NOT OK
A child who is brutalized long enough by the parents he/she initially felt were OK will switch positions to the third, or criminal, position: I’M OK – YOU’RE NOT OK. There is OK-ness here, but where does it come from? Where is the source of stroking if YOU’RE NOT OK? This is a diﬃcult question considering that the position is decided in the second or third year of life. If a two-year-old concludes I’M OK, does this mean his OK is the product of “self-stroking,” and, if so, how does a small child stroke himself? It is while this little child is healing, in a sense “lying there licking his wounds,” that she/he experiences a sense of comfort alone and by herself/himself, if for no other reason than that her/his improvement is in such contrast to the gross pain she/he has just experienced. It is as if she/he senses, I’ll be all right if you leave me alone. I’M OK by myself. As the brutal parents reappear, she/he may shrink in horror that it will happen again. You hurt me! You are not OK. I’M OK – YOU’RE NOT OK. The early history of many criminal psychopaths, who occupy this position, reveal this kind of gross physical abuse. Such a little person has experienced brutality, but she/he has also experienced survival. What has happened can happen again. I did survive. I will survive. He/she refuses to give up. As she/he grows older he begins to strike back. She/He has seen toughness and knows how to be tough. She/He also has permission (in his Parent) to be tough and to be cruel. Hatred sustains him although he/she may learn to conceal it with a mask of measured politeness. For this child the I’M OK – YOU’RE NOT OK position is a life- saving decision. The tragedy, for herself/himself and for society, is that she/he goes through life refusing to look inward. Incorrigible criminals occupy this position. They are the persons “without a conscience” who are convinced that they are OK no matter what they do and that the total fault in every situation lies in others. This condition, which at one time was referred to as “moral imbecility,” is actually a condition in which the person has shut out any incoming data that anyone is OK. For this reason treatment is diﬃcult, since the therapist is NOT OK along with everyone else.
4) I’M OK – YOU’RE OK
There is a fourth position, wherein lies our hope. It is the I’M OK – YOU’RE OK position. The ﬁrst three positions are unconscious, having been made early in life. I’M NOT OK – YOU’RE OK came ﬁrst and persists for most people throughout life. For certain extremely unfortunate children this position was changed to positions two and three. By the third year of life one of these positions is ﬁxed in every person. By the third year of life one of these positions is ﬁxed in every person. The fourth position, I’M OK – YOU’RE OK, because it is a conscious and verbal decision, is based on thought, faith, and action. Fortunate are the children who are helped early in life to ﬁnd they are OK by repeated exposure to situations in which they can prove, to themselves, their own worth and the worth of others. We cannot guarantee instant OK feelings by the assuming of the I’M OK – YOU’RE OK position. We have to be sensitive to the presence of the old recordings; but we can choose to turn them oﬀ when they replay in a way that undermines the faith we have in a new way to live, which, in time, will bring forth new results and new happiness in our living.
And how to change to the “I’M OK – YOU’RE OK” state can be found in the chapter of the book called “We Can Change”. As I provided you only with a glimse of amazing information you will find in the book, please buy and read the book, read it several times, then re-read it again in couple of months, years….Enjoy !
Take care, talk to you soon.