Transactional analysis identifies four basic life positions, all of which are based on decisions made as a result of childhood experiences, and all of which determine how people feel about themselves and how they relate to others:
1. I’m OK—You’re OK.2. I’m OK—You’re not OK.3. I’m not OK—You’re OK.4. I’m not OK—You’re not OK.The I’m OK—You’re OK position is generally game-free. It is the belief that people have basic value, worth, and dignity as human beings. That people are OK is a statement of their essence, not necessarily their behavior. This position is characterized by an attitude of trust and openness, a willingness to give and take, and an acceptance of others as they are. People are close to themselves and to others.
There are no losers, only winners. I’m OK—You’re not OK is the position of people who project their problems onto others and blame them, put them down, and criticize them. The games that reinforce this position involve a self-styled superior (the “I’m OK”) who projects anger, disgust, and scorn onto a designated inferior, or scapegoat (the “You’re not OK”). This position is that of the person needs an underdog to maintain his or her sense of “OKness.” I’m not OK—You’re OK is known as the depressive position and is characterized by feeling powerless in comparison with others.
Typically such people serve others’ needs instead of their own and generally feel victimized. Games supporting this position include “Kick me” and “Martyr”—games that support the power of others and deny one’s own. The I’m not OK—You’re not OK quadrant is known as the position of futility and frustration. Operating from this place, people have lost interest in life and may see life as totally without promise. This self-destructive stance is characteristic of people who are unable to cope in the real world, and it may lead to extreme
withdrawal, a return to infantile behavior, or violent behavior resulting in injury or death of themselves or others.
Transactional Analysis first order structural modelBerne devised the concept of ego states to help explain how we are made up, and how we relate to others. These are drawn as three stacked circles and they are one of the building blocks of Transactional Analysis. They categorise the ways we think, feel and behave and are called Parent, Adult, and Child. Each ego state is given a capital letter to denote the difference between actual parents, adults and children.
Parent ego stateThis is a set of feelings, thinking and behaviour that we have copied from our parents and significant others. As we grow up we take in ideas, beliefs, feelings and behaviours from our parents and caretakers. If we live in an extended family then there are more people to learn and take in from.
When we do this, it is called introjecting and it is just as if we take in the whole of the care giver. For example, we may notice that we are saying things just as our father, mother, grandmother may have done, even though, consciously, we don’t want to. We do this as we have lived with this person so long that we automatically reproduce certain things that were said to us, or treat others as we might have been treated. Adult ego state
The Adult ego state is about direct responses to the here and now. We deal with things that are going on today in ways that are not unhealthily influenced by our past. The Adult ego state is about being spontaneous and aware with the capacity for intimacy. When in our Adult we are able to see people as they are, rather than what we project onto them. We ask for information rather than stay scared and rather than make assumptions.
Taking the best from the past and using it appropriately in the present is an integration of the positive aspects of both our Parent and Child ego states. So this can be called the Integrating Adult. Integrating means that we are constantly updating ourselves through our every day experiences and using this to inform us. In this structural model, the Integrating Adult ego state circle is placed in the middle to show how it needs to orchestrate between
the Parent and the Child ego states. For example, the internal Parent ego state may beat up on the internal Child, saying “You are no good, look at what you did wrong again, you are useless”. The Child may then respond with “I am no good, look how useless I am, I never get anything right”. Many people hardly hear this kind of internal dialogue as it goes on so much they might just believe life is this way.
An effective Integrating Adult ego state can intervene between the Parent and Child ego states. This might be done by stating that this kind of parenting is not helpful and asking if it is prepared to learn another way. Alternatively, the Integrating Adult ego state can just stop any negative dialogue and decide to develop another positive Parent ego state perhaps taken in from other people they have met over the years. Child ego state
The Child ego state is a set of behaviours, thoughts and feelings which are replayed from our own childhood. Perhaps the boss calls us into his or her office, we may immediately get a churning in our stomach and wonder what we have done wrong. If this were explored we might remember the time the head teacher called us in to tell us off. Of course, not everything in the Child ego state is negative. We might go into someone’s house and smell a lovely smell and remember our grandmother’s house when we were little, and all the same warm feelings we had at six year’s of age may come flooding back.
Both the Parent and Child ego states are constantly being updated. For example, we may meet someone who gives us the permission we needed as a child, and did not get, to be fun and joyous. We may well use that person in our imagination when we are stressed to counteract our old ways of thinking that we must work longer and longer hours to keep up with everything. We might ask ourselves “I wonder what X would say now”.
Then on hearing the new permissions to relax and take some time out, do just that and then return to the work renewed and ready for the challenge. Subsequently, rather than beating up on ourselves for what we did or did not do, what tends to happen is we automatically start to give ourselves new permissions and take care of ourselves.
Alternatively, we might have had a traumatic experience yesterday which goes into the Child ego state as an archaic memory that hampers our growth. Positive experiences will also go into the Child ego state as archaic memories. The positive experiences can then be drawn on to remind us that positive things do happen.
The process of analysing personality in terms of ego states is called structural analysis. It is important to remember that ego states do not have an existence of their own, they are concepts to enable understanding. Therefore it is important to say “I want some fun” rather than “My Child wants some fun”. We may be in our Child ego state when we say this, but saying “I” reminds us to take responsibility for our actions.
contamination of the Adult ego state
The word contamination for many conjures up the idea of disease. For instance, we tend to use the word for when bacteria has gone into milk. Well, this is similar to the case with the contaminated Integrating Adult ego state. This occurs when we talk as if something is a fact or a reality when really this is a belief. Racism is an example of this. The Integrating Adult ego state is contaminated in this case by the Parent ego state. If we are white we might have lived with parents or significant others who said such things as “Black people take our jobs”. Growing up it is likely, that having no real experience to go by, we believed this.
We might also have been told that Black people are aggressive. In our Child ego state may well lodge some scared feelings about Black people and in this ego state we may start to believe “All Black people are scary”. This would mean that there would be a double contamination of the Integrating Adult ego state.
However, we would think that such statements were facts rather than beliefs and when this happens we say that this is Integrating Adult ego syntonic. That is, they fit with the Integrating Adult ego state and only those people outside of our situation and sometimes outside of our peer group or culture can see that, objectively, such beliefs are just that and therefore they can be changed.
double contamination (Parent and Child)