Friday, 16 September 2011

I am OK; you are OK

It is an irony of life that man cannot live without others and yet, he cannot live with others. Along with love and fellow-feeling, human society is replete with conflicts. ‘Transactional Analysis’, a method of Group Therapy developed by Eric Berne, helps us to live and let others live, with minimum conflicts.

In this analysis, a ‘Transaction’ is larger than both conversation and communication. It includes all forms of contacts between people – social, and psychological, material and spiritual. A transaction consists of a stimulus by one person and a response by another which response in turn, becomes a new stimulus for the other person to respond. A transaction includes facial expressions, word-intonations, body movements, gestures and postures.

Transactional Analysis is the analysis of an individual’s thoughts, feelings and behaviour. It helps us to understand our own behaviour and to predict how others would react to a particular situation.

When we observe the behaviour of a person at different times, it appears as if there are different people inside one individual. At any particular time, one or the other of these different people seem to be in control of an individual’s total personality.

Ego State

In the analysis of Berne, every one’s personality has 3 Ego States, namely Parent, Adult and Child. Here, ‘Ego’ has nothing to do with ‘ego’ in the ordinary sense; it has nothing to do with pride. It is an identification of a particular state of mind.

The Parent in a person contains the attitudes and behaviour incorporated from external sources like parents, peers, teachers, T V and other role models. The Parent is critical, mature and prejudicial. The response of this aspect of a person is automatic, almost as if a pre-recorded tape is being played in person’s brain and is directing his words and actions. He acts as he has been taught and learnt. It is a Taught concept.

The Adult in a person wants facts, gathers information, reasons things and estimates probabilities. It is cool and collected and takes decisions unemotionally. The response is analytical. The responses are well thought out. It is a Thought concept. The Adult can evaluate the Parent and the Child and can examine what is right and what should be changed.

The Child contains all the impulses that come naturally to an infant. The Child is inquisitive, affectionate, playful, selfish and manipulative. Feelings dominate the responses. It is a Felt concept.

Each of these 3 types has its sub-divisions. The’ Critical Parent’ is filled with opinions and prejudices about religion, politics, traditions, life-styles, proper dress, ways of speech etc. It is a bossy ’know-it-all’ whose behaviour intimidates the Child in the other person. In the positive side, the Critical Parent sets rules, regulations and limits which give our life stability, solidarity and a sense of security.

The ‘Nurturing Parent’ is sympathetic, protective and comforting. Its positive aspects are that it stands by the weak and encourages them to take its support and improve. However, it spoils others and makes them dependent.

The ‘Natural Child’ is what a person would be ‘naturally’, that is, if nothing influenced him. It is affectionate, impulsive and curious. It is also fearful, self-indulgent, self-centered, rebellious and aggressive. It contains a lot of energy and enthusiasm.

The ‘Little Professor’ is the unschooled wisdom of the child. It is intuitive, manipulative and creative. Little Professor and Adult make a good combination.

The ‘Adapted Child’ is the modification of a Natural Child’s inclinations due to emotional shocks, traumatic experiences and significant authority-figures. The natural expressiveness becomes covertly inhibited. The Natural Child adapts itself to the uncomfortable environment. Features of an Adapted Child are complying, withdrawing and procrastinating.

When a person is in any one of these Ego States, he exhibits certain manners and gestures which can be used as clues to identify his state of mind at that time.

All ‘Transactions’ can be broadly classified into 3 categories, namely, Complementary, Crossed and Ulterior.

Complementary Transaction

A Transaction can be called ‘Complementary’, when a message sent from a particular Ego State gets the expected response from the particular Ego State in the other person. The response ‘complements’ the stimulus. A complementary Transaction may occur between any 2 Ego States.

It may be Parent-Parent when two persons are analyising any subject critically:

Sender- Do you know how much fee I am paying for my son in LKG?

Receiver- May be, it is more than the University fee for P G Course.

It may be Adult-Adult when fact-finding:

Sender- What is the time?

Receiver- It is 10.30

It may be Child-Child when having fun:

Sender- How about going for a movie?

Receiver- Oh, yes. I am ready.

Complementary Transactions are parallel and can occur between Parent-Child, Adult-Child, Adult-Parent etc. As long as the response remains the expected one, the Transactions are Complementary and tend to continue. Communication-lines remain open.

Crossed Transaction

When a stimulus receives an unexpected or inappropriate response, the Transaction is ‘Crossed’.

Sender- What is the time?

Receiver- Can you not buy a watch?

Sender- Have you seen my pen?

Receiver- I am busy.

When Transactions are crossed, the person who initiated it experiences frustration. Communication breaks down and some times unpleasant clashes follow. Here the stimuli in both the cases came from Adult and the response was expected from Adult. However, both the responses came from Critical Parent and the conversation ended abruptly.

Ulterior Transaction

A transaction is called ‘Ulterior’ when a critical message is sent in a hidden but socially acceptable communication.

Salesman- This saree is really better but I do not know whether you can afford it.

Lady-This is exactly what I want to buy.

Here the message of the salesman is directed towards the Adult of the customer, whose Adult reply would be, “You are right; I cannot afford to buy it when my earning is so low.” However, at the psychological level, the Child in the lady is hooked and it feels, ‘Who is this fellow to decide my capacity to buy? I shall teach him a lesson.’ However, without revealing the inner feelings of the Child, the Adult comes out with the reply.

Crossed Transactions become a source of pain and result in unpleasantness. Therefore, we should analyse our own behaviour and strengthen the Adult in us. By this, we shall be able to manage our own behaviour and to influence others.

When we feel that some one is speaking from his Parent or Child Ego State, we should continue to speak from our Adult and try to hook the Adult in him. After some time, the Adult in him is bound to be aroused and the conversation will come up to an even level.


Infants will not grow normally without the touch of others. Something about being touched stimulates the infant’s mental and physical growth. As the child grows, the early hunger for physical touch becomes a hunger for recognition. A smile, a nod, a word, a gesture begin to substitute for touch. Every person, whether a child or a grown up, has the need to be touched and recognized. This hunger for touch and recognition can be appeased by what are called ‘Strokes’. Strokes can be given in the form of physical touch or by some symbolic form of recognition such as a look, a word, a gesture or any other act which says, ‘I know you are there.’

Life Positions

Depending on their childhood experiences, children develop certain concepts about their own worth or that of others. There are 4 possible life-positions that the individual assumes about himself and others:

  1. I am not ok; you are ok.
  2. I am not ok; you are not ok.
  3. I am ok; you are not ok.
  4. I am ok; you are ok.

This crucial decision is generally taken around the age of 5 years. Once finalized, the child remains in his chosen position and it governs every thing he does. It stays with him for the rest of his life, unless he consciously changes it.

I am not ok; you are ok.

This is the universal position of early childhood. The ‘Not ok’ feeling is the result of feelings of inferiority on account of his small size and helplessness. The ‘Ok’ feelings about others come from the positive ‘strokes’ received from parents during the first year.

The individual, who continues to remain in this position, feels he is powerless compared to others. He considers himself inferior and wants to get away from others. The Child Ego State dominates in this position.

I am not ok; you are not ok.

If the stroking disappears after the infant learns to walk, if mother is cold, if punishments are harsh and frequent, somewhere in the third year, the child will conclude, ‘I am not ok; you also are not ok’.

Such an individual gives up seeking strokes. He gets nowhere either with life or with others. He loses interest in life. He stops using the Adult in him. He concludes, ‘I am not ok and so are you; let us destroy each other.’ Such people end up either in mental hospital or in jail.

I am ok; you are not ok.

This is the life position of an individual who was brutalized by his parents and others in his child hood. He has not received any positive Strokes. The severity of the punishment drives the child to feel, ‘I will be alright if you leave me alone; I am ok by myself.”

The individual, who had such experience in childhood, strikes back when he grows up. He never accepts even genuine Strokes. Many criminals occupy this position.

I am ok; you are ok.

The individual, who operates from this life-position, is able to free himself from his original ‘not ok’ feeling. He is able to find the ‘ok’ in others and gets along well with others.

“I am ok; you are ok’ is a position and not feeling. The only way to get to this position is to expose the predicaments under the first 3 positions.

The ‘not ok’ feelings recorded in childhood cannot be eradicated completely but the effect can be reduced. An individual can acquire the ‘ok’ feeling about himself and others by assuming ‘I am ok; you are ok’ position and by activation of his Adult Ego State.


I’m Ok; You’re Ok by Thomas A Harris MD, is a best-selling self-help book

Oll Korrect., Bye Bye …. Ta … Ta J))))))))))))))


  1. I had read this book a few years back and loved the concept... It was good to recollect again... Thanks!

  2. Sum,
    I have a copy of this book and keep re-reading it once in a while.