Book Review: I’m OK – You’re OK by Thomas Anthony Harris

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The Pandemic continues to take a devastating toll on human life, economic vitality, and mental well-being. Unlike destructive events that have a finite and repercussive effect, like the tsunami that struck Japan on March 11, 2011, or the attacks on September 11, 2001, in the United States, the Pandemic persists and continues to impact our lives, continuing over a year after the first infections were reported, with no immediate end in sight.

The ongoing harm and strain of the COVID virus require as much help mentally and spiritually as there is a need for vaccines to help physically. With this concern in mind, I want to share a book that is rather appropriate for these difficult times. It is entitled I’m OK – You’re OK by Thomas Anthony Harris.

Thomas Anthony Harris

Thomas Anthony Harris was an American psychiatrist born on April 18, 1910. He passed away on May 4, 1995. He wrote two books I’m OK – You’re Okay, published in 1969 and a follow-up, Staying OK, written with his wife, and published in 1985.

He practiced Transactional Analysis as a therapeutic technique and the concept formed the basis of his book.

Transactional Analysis

Transactional Analysis (TA) is a psychoanalytic theory and method of therapy using the study of social transactions to determine the psychological state of a person as the foundation for understanding their behavior. There are essentially three states: parent-like, childlike, or adult-like. In transactions between individuals (children/children, children/adult, and adult/adult), the person learns how to solve emotional problems. The method breaks with Freudian psychoanalysis which focuses on increasing awareness of one’s subconscious beliefs. His friend and colleague, Eric Berne, developed the concept and paradigm of transactional analysis in the late 1950s.

About the Book

From the back cover of the 2004 edition:

Transactional analysis delineates 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 wholly dependent on 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 state” and uncritically learned behavior programmed into our “parent state”. By exploring the structure of our personalities and understanding old decisions, Harris believes we can find the freedom to change our lives.

The book begins with an Introduction: It’s Okay Not to Be Okay, followed by eight chapters:

  1. Take the First Step
  2. Admit that You are Stuck and Struggling
  3. Change the Way you Think
  4. Face the What-ifs Even If You Are Afraid
  5. Let Go of What You Can’t Control
  6. Rise Above Disappointment
  7. Celebrate Your Scars as Tattoos of Triumph
  8. Decide to Start Again … And Again

The book ends with Conclusion: You Were Made for More, Acknowledgements, Notes, and About the Author.

The Four Dynamics

  • I am not OK – You’re OK: the one-down position, “I wish I could do that as well as you do.”
  • I am OK – You’re not OK: the one-up position, “You’re not doing that right – let me show you”
  • I am not OK – You’re not OK: the hopeless position, “oh, this is terrible – we’ll never make it”
  • I’m OK – You’re OK: the healthy position, “hey, we’re making good progress now”

The book made the New York Times bestseller list in 1972 and it is estimated that over 15 million copies have been sold since it was first published.

The Parent, Adult, Child (P-A-C) Model

There are three ego states jockeying for position within the human psyche. The Parent state is what we receive from our parent or parents that we internalize. Running parallel to the Parent input is our Child state, which is how we feel and felt during childhood about our interactions with others and life events. The Adult state begins in childhood and is an ego state we develop by forming our own opinions, separate from parental input and beyond child(ish) reactions.

We are all striving for a healthy adult state, which may have parental input and child feelings that we can discern as healthy, and not oppressive or restrictive. It is true that some things our parents pass on to us are things we appreciate for ourselves. It is also true that some child emotions of excitement and joy help us later in life.

What Harris’ book helps us understand is that our lives are made up of constant transactions, and some of those transactions are OK and some are not. We want to develop healthy patterns of OK transactions and identify and break unhealthy patterns of “not OK” transactions. Probably what has helped sell so many copies of the book are the clear examples Harris provides that still hold up when we review our own lives today.

If you are not feeling OK, or know someone that is not feeling OK, then this book could be very beneficial. Life is a struggle, and doubly so during a time of crisis, like what we are living through because of the pandemic. Any resource that can help us navigate out of “not OK” is worth exploring.

I do recommend this book. It was very helpful during a difficult period in my life. What I found particularly useful is how much it helped me go back and reevaluate my childhood and discern the messages, both direct and indirect, from my parents that worked for me and the ones that did not. Part of being an adult is knowing when to see a parental message or child feeling as something that is not OK that we keep trying to make OK, thus forming a source of frustration we will never resolve until we do important release work.

Philip Young, PhD

I am a spiritual adviser located in Cary, North Carolina. I earned my PhD in English from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 1996 and had a career in academics until 2007, when I retired to become a stay-at-home father. In 2013 I “hung out my shingle” starting my business Black Unykorn Enterprises, LLC. I provide spiritual guidance using different tools: astrology, tarot/oracle cards, numerology, and past life regression (using muscle testing). With a home office, Zoom, WeChat, and WhatsApp, I work with local clients in person and distance clients from around the world. You can read about my practice and contact me through my website: https://www.blackunykorn.com. Philip Young, PhD Website