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  • Writer's pictureAli McNab

I'm OK, You're OK

"Transactional Analysis" is a powerful tool I often use to help clients build better professional or personal relationships. Helping them explore how they act or behave in certain interactions with people, and why this might be.

Transactional Analysis helps you truly understand yourself and your triggers. It can help you identify what is going on for you in interactions where you feel uneasy, self-doubting, frustrated or low in confidence. It enables you to explore what subtle changes you can make in your thoughts and behaviours that have a positive impact on you and those around you.

Here I summarise what Transactional Analysis is and how it can help you build an empowering understanding of how you view yourself and others.

Transactional Analysis (TA) is a system of psychology, founded by psychiatrist Eric Berne in the 1950s, that helps explore how we relate to others. It is based on the idea that our own behaviour and social relationships are guided by a set of personal “Ego States” that instigate different thoughts, feelings and behaviours in response to interaction with another person.

Eric Berne defined that our personalities are made up of 3 EGO STATES:

  • Parent Ego State: Thoughts, feelings and behaviours copied or learned from parents or parent figures. Our parent ego state is divided into Nurturing Parent and Critical Parent

  • Child Ego State: Thoughts, feelings and behaviours replayed from childhood. Our child ego state is divided into Natural Child (spontaneous, creative, playful, authentic, expressive, and emotional) and Adapted Child (complies or rebels to parent messages).

  • Adult Ego State: Thoughts, feelings and behaviours which are objective and appropriate responses to the here and now. Our Adult Ego State is the part of our personality that can process data and information accurately, it creates solutions to problems based on facts not pre-judgements.

In this diagram the lines illustrate the different ways two people's "Ego States" can interact. For example; one person may be speaking from their Parent Ego State to the others Child Ego State etc. In Transactional Analysis we explore the effects these interactions have on how we chose to respond (either verbally or in our thinking) and the patterns of response we begin to create with certain people.


Here’s a basic illustration of how different Ego States may show up in a workplace scenario, and how this may impact on your thoughts:

Situation: You have asked your manager for an extension to a deadline:

Example response 1:

  • Manager (Nurturing Parent): Sorry you’ve not managed to do it, can I help you?

  • You (Adapted child - compliant): Yes please - could you write the introduction for me? Thinking: I’m not able to do this myself, they probably think I’m hopeless.

Example response 2:

  • Manager (Critical Parent): Absolutely not! I want it on my desk by end of today as agreed.

  • You (Adapted Child - rebellious): Well it will be poor quality then! Thinking: I have little respect for them, they think I’m below them.

Example response 3:

  • Manager (Natural Child): Yeah whatever; deadlines are there to be broken!

  • You (Critical Parent): Why did you set the deadline in the 1st place if it’s not important? Thinking: I don’t trust them, they don’t know what they’re doing

Example response 4:

  • Manager (Adapted Child - rebellious): OK, but this is going to make me look really bad!

  • You: (Parent - nurturing): Oh no, I wouldn’t want that to happen, let me see what I can do. Thinking: they need protecting/rescuing

Example response 5:

  • Manager (Adult): Let’s discuss what challenges you’re facing in meeting this deadline and whether you need support to get it done in a reasonable time-frame.

  • You (Adult): That would be helpful as I really want to do a good job of this but have some conflicting commitments. Thinking: this is reasonable and empowering

Notice how responses from your manager’s different Ego States can lead you to react from YOUR different Ego States.

Notice how the parent / child ego states can flip so that the manager is in their Child and you are in your Parent (i.e. it doesn't necessarily follow hierarchy).

And notice how a response from their “Adult” Ego State is more likely to get an “Adult” response in return.


Life Positions - I'm OK, You're OK

TA philosophy is founded on the conviction that people are "OK". Everyone has worth and value and should be accepted and respected just as they are (including ourselves!)

In TA, Life Positions are psychological attitudes we take towards the people we encounter. Franklin Ernst (author) developed the “OK Corral” matrix based of Eric Berne's theory of Transactional Analysis which sets out the four possible life positions a person may take in relation to another person:

1) I’m OK, You’re OK

This is the ideal and most healthy life position. You are comfortable with yourself and with the other person. You are equals. You are not holding a sense of inferiority or superiority, even if you are not in agreement. In this life position you feel happy and confident.

Equivalent of Berne’s “Adult” Ego State.

2) I’m OK, You’re Not OK

In this life position you feel superior to the other person who you see as "not OK". This may lead to you experiencing anger, impatience and contempt towards the other person. People in authority (e.g. parents or managers) may find themselves falling into this negative position of assuming that they are OK but others are not OK. People who strive to "be perfect" may fall into this if they feel others seem less perfect. In this life position we can experience anger and feeling of aggression.

Equivalent of Berne’s “Parent” Ego State

3) I’m Not OK, You’re OK

In this Life Position you see yourself as inferior to the other person. You may feel small or incompetent. People in this position may experience low self-esteem and helplessness. "People Pleasers" may fall into this position, putting others needs before their own. Seeing others as more important. In this life position you may experience frustration and resentment or not achieving because of fear and refusal to take responsibility.

Equivalent of Berne’s “Child” Ego State

4) I’m Not OK, You’re Not OK

This is the least healthy life position when people are behaving from either or both of Berne’s Parent and Child states while perceiving the other as also not OK. An example may be when someone is in a dominant relationship where they lose respect for or resent the other person. Or when a manager feels out of their depth with a project but also feels the team don’t know what they’re doing. When someone is operating from this life position you might hear phrases like ‘This is hopeless’, ‘We’ll never do this’, "this is doomed".

Recognising the Ego State or Life Position that you are operating from in any transaction with another person enables you to be more conscious in your response and thoughts. With this consciousness and awareness you can move yourself into your Adult Ego State and into the "I'm OK, You're OK" Life Position; enabling you to respond more appropriately to the situation - Therefore supporting and building healthier professional and personal relationships.

If you're interested to know more about Transactional Analysis, here are a couple of useful articles that go into more depth:

Ali McNab is a Transformational Coach with a specific focus on supporting working parents. She helps people to feel confident and empowered to reach their aspirations and experience a fulfilled, balanced and happy life that has a positive impact on those around them. As well as working directly with individuals, Ali works with charities and social purpose organisations supporting their approaches to staff well-being and growth.


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