The Games We Play

Games people Play - posted

Your basic PARENT-ADULT-CHILD mud map

I’m OK, You’re OK was all the rage when I started my mental health training. Back in the day when the dinosaurs ruled the world. Transactional analysis was the latest self help answer to curing all relationship problems.

Here’s a diagram of how it went –

I'M OK - posted


Once you’ve sorted out your position of OK’ness – you know, like the mudmap of me with kids and arrows flying around here there and everywhere – you’re  onto the beginning of sorting out all the ills of the world. IF you can find the pattern of not OK’ness, it’s a cinch to change the relationship dynamic into a healthy one. Or so the theory went. I don’t know about you, but this still has my head buzzing in confusion.  Because once you put other people into the picture the possibilities of arrow directional flight exponentially increases to infinity and beyond.

However, if you want to use it to step back and say observe yourself only it can become quite interesting. Once you got yourself sorted, you could analyse  the OK’ness say between you and one other troublesome person in your life. Harris identified four of these OK’ness positions-

  1. I’m Not OK, You’re OK
  2. I’m Not OK, You’re Not OK
  3. I’m OK, You’re Not OK
  4. I’m OK, You’re OK

Now, here’s where it gets even more interesting. You can juxtapose these on to Thomas Harris’ work in Games People Play.  Our mental state, according to Harris, is a collection of tape recordings from when we were growing up. You know, the stuff that got drummed into us like make sure you  always wear clean underwear. Now some of these life enhancing recordings are good. Others are just damn lousy.  But there they are, in our heads as the PARENT.  Life goes on as it does and we grow up some and start thinking for ourselves. Pushing boundaries, questioning, making up our own minds – God forbid!  This is when we are in the CHILD state. Then life goes on some more, and we move into the ADULT state. We could have become  very fragile, over stressed, confused, conflicted by this time –  enter the CONTAMINATION OF THE ADULT.

The basic model is very simple. We all have a PARENT, an ADULT and a CHILD. In any given situation we could revert to any of those as the main dynamic in a relationship. Like if you were in an accident and when the ambulance driver was cutting off your knickers your little kid is cringing OMG I didn’t change my knickers! The size of the circle representing each state changes depending on the dominant state at any given time.

In terms of a game, the winner of this one is the person who is the first  to return to a balanced Adult state. All clear ? Now off you go and play nicely!

OOPS, one more point that might be useful to know – in order to extinguish the Not Ok’nesses, you stop playing whatever the game is that is creating it.


Thomas Harris

Eric Berne

© Raili Tanska

Written in response to Sandbox Challenge 50


25 thoughts on “The Games We Play

  1. I had to restrain myself from running screaming from the room. I was raised by parents who used TA for Tots as their parenting guide. I had no rules, no guidance, no punishments except for “I’m really disappointed in you.” That was the worst thing ever. There was a study done of kindergarten children where they were gathered in two groups – one with rules for playing, and one with no rules. The kids with no rules ended up in a gestapo-like situation. Anyway, my hackles get raised anytime I hear/read “I’m OK You’re OK.” I understand the basic concept and if I hadn’t had been raised that way I’d probably have a much easier time applying the principles!

    1. Sheri, that sounds absolutely awful! The well respected and world renowned Dr Spock later in life retracted all he had to say. I think these theories and frameworks that have been developed over the years have been taken to extremes sometimes to the detriment of many people. I’m so sorry for your experience.

      1. Thank you. I did almost the exact opposite with my girls, my tendency was to be extremely strict but I fortunately learned to temper it with love and respect.

  2. So, am I OK? Are you OK?
    Seriously though – I love this post, and it’s reminded me of agame I used to play – except I’ve only just realised that’s what it was – a game. I’ve been a bit stumped over Calen’s challenge this week, but maybe I have a handle on it now.

    1. Yeah, you’re OK and so am I! Like a lot of this kind of pop culture it needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Can give some interesting insights. I look forward to what you have to say in the Challenge.

      1. I’d better get on and write that post tomorrow – I got a bit carried away with something else during the short time I was able to spend writing today.

  3. OK – I read it too. Wasn’t OK for me. One of the reasons was that as children, my sister and I were not allowed to say OK. (reason – slang) But OK is a strange word – is it a word? because it depends on how you say it. My husband says “OK” in a way that I know he’s definitely NOT OK! So, I thought it was all too gimmicky. The books that my friends told me to read over and over again, until I bloody-well DID, were The Celestine Prophecy books. Wow! I saw MYSELF horribly! No wonder they told me to read them. But, for changing behaviour, and the games we play, they are brilliant. I’ve just moved house and I found them. I think it’s time I read them again. My grandchildren are driving me crazy!

      1. There are Control dramas in it. Four I think. Intimidator makes a Poor me/victim. Interrogator makes Aloofs. And maybe they can be reversed? I think maybe…cant remember exactly.

      2. I think when people delve into it too deeply and stringently start using/manipulating it, it becomes destructive. It can become just another destructive power game 😦

  4. That all looks so complicated! I don’t think I’d be capable of analyzing my transactions without giving myself a headache. I was quite interested in the bottle of wine mentioned by spiritualdragonfly in the comments, though. If I’m going to have a headache, I want to at least enjoy getting it. 🙂

    1. I think a bottle of wine to accompany the reading is probably very wise perhaps even essential. I should have thought of that myself and recommended it in the post!

  5. “…in order to extinguish the Not Ok’nesses, you stop playing whatever the game is that is creating it.” I found myself wondering what the best age is to intervene in those games. By the time we get to be adults, our creativity has usually taken a wallop and it’s sometimes hard to imagine my way out of a paper bag, let alone the games I play — IF I even understand they ARE games. The Hide & Seek thing for me, is something I haven’t been able to break away from even though I’ve been aware of it since the ’80’s…

  6. I remember reading Eric Berne’s “Games People Play” many years ago, and still have a copy somewhere in my bookcase. I thought it offered an interesting analysis of how people can frustrate themselves (and others) by constantly engaging in negative patterns of behaviour, rather than attempting constructive behavioural change. But like many good ideas, TA turned into an industry, with some very strange results!

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