The 4 Basic Life Positions (Part 1)

This article is one of a four-part series on the FOUR Basic Life Positions. These posts are based on my understanding of the classic theory and therapy of Transactional Analysis (TA) which was created by the late Eric Berne a Canadian-born psychiatrist.

Eric Berne believed everyone was born OK – what he meant was that all of us were good and worthy. But based on the messages received from parents, guardians,teachers, friends, etc. we decide our own worth in this society. TA allows us to study the human behaviours from close quarters. It maps interpersonal relationships into three broad ego states known as the Parent-ego state,Adult-ego state and the Child-ego state. We will look into these ego-states in my future posts, for now we would just look into the FOUR Basic Life Positions.

TA constructs the following classifications of the four possible life positions that we hold with respect to ourselves and others:

Position # 1: I’M NOT OK – YOU’RE OK

Position # 2: I’M NOT OK – YOU’RE NOT OK

Position # 3: I’M OK – YOU’RE NOT OK

Position # 4: I’M OK – YOU’RE OK

It is generally believed that a child decides on the first three positions by the end of the second or third year of his life through the messages and strokes he receives from his parents, family and the world at large.

By the end of the first year, the child has decided on the first tentative position of I’M NOT OK – YOU’RE OK! By the end of second year, he is either settled in that position or gives way to the other life positions – I’M NOT OK — YOU’RE NOT OK or I’M OK — YOU’RE NOT OK.

Once a decision is made on either of the first three positions, the child makes it a part of his life and determines his life script accordingly.

Today’s post focuses on defining each of these positions while the other three posts would focus on getting into the specifics of each of these positions.

Position # 1: I’M NOT OK – YOU’RE OK

When a child or a person thinks he is not OK but you are OK then he is placing himself in an inferior position with respect to others. This position may come from being ridiculed as a child by dominating parents, teachers, guardians or bullying by peers/friends. People in this position suffer from a low self-esteem and often come across as under confident and indecisive (depend on others for decisions.) They are incapable of expressing their feelings and as a result have a lot of anger (latent) and would often be stressed and attract negative attention from the authoritative figures in life. They love to ‘please others’ as it allows them to fulfil their script of letting others feel ‘OK’.

Position # 2: I’M NOT OK – YOU’RE NOT OK

This is a very rare position but if a person adopts this position permanently then he is not only putting his life at stake but also that of others. As kids, we all need stroking (attention from others) and absence of strokes of any kind(positive or negative) often leads to this position. A person may withdraw himself from the society and would consider himself and others hopeless (will be in a constant state of depression). They are often found to be suicidal or homicidal. People in this stage may require psychiatric help. We will not be talking about this position in any of our posts – our focus is to heal and move out of Position # 1 and Position # 3!

Position # 3: I’M OK – YOU’RE NOT OK

A person in this position will have a superiority complex and will ridicule others. He will be aggressive and often get furious just to prove his ‘worth’! So why does one adopt this position? As mentioned above, a child will determine his position by the end of the third year of his life. Anyone going through a turbulent childhood, especially with brutal parents will choose to be in this position. He will consider others to be weak or bad and start projecting himself as ‘better’ than the rest! They are frequently found to be dominating and will surround themselves with pleasers who will praise them and also agree with them on everything. They are neither aware nor accepting of their own limitations as their sole aim in life is to prove others wrong!

Position # 4: I’M OK – YOU’RE OK

This position is potentially a mentally healthy position. A person is capable of solving problems constructively with others as he comes from the non-judgmental position. He has a thorough understanding of his strengths and shortcomings and also accepts others as they are. It is often a result of great parenting – parents who believe in providing the proper balance of strokes to their infants would frequently see their kids moving out of the first three positions and settling into this healthy position. This is the ‘natural’ position that we are born with -we all are OK!

Our interactions with people will be based on the position we have chosen for ourselves. The first three positions are a result of the feelings that we have with respect to ourselves and others while the fourth position is a result of the work we may have done on ourselves for getting out of the other three negative positions.

Again, it is all based on the perceptions, filters, experiences and thoughts we get through our interactions with the external world. I strongly believe that our ‘pain’ is often the result of unresolved traumatic experiences from our childhood. 

What life position are you living? Please comment in the box below.

NOTE: In the next three posts, we will spend time on understanding each of these life positions – I’m Not OK – You’re OK, I’m OK — You’re-Not OK and I’m OK — You’re OK.

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