I’m Okay – You’re Okay

The recent attacks in Christchurch have hit close to home and, as well as the direct harm done to our Muslim community, we have all been psychologically bruised by the experience.  Like the team at Bishop Associates Recruitment, I’m sure many have been reflecting on what must go on in someone’s head to make them see innocent people as targets. 

Critical analysis of this is best left to behavioural psychologists cleverer than I.  However, the incident has me thinking about how we can all put people into boxes at times and the potential impact this can have on the quality and success of our interactions and relationships.  This is something that I feel qualified to comment on in some (hopefully) useful way.

I originally trained as a psychotherapist, which I’ve found useful in both recruitment and in my HR consulting work.  A genuine interest in people, motivation and how we all tick is a useful attribute in my line of work.

Transactional Analysis (TA), developed by Eric Berne, is the school of psychotherapy I focused my training on.  I related to this framework as it is practical, pragmatic and a respectful humanistic approach that actively encourages the various theory levels to be shared with clients.  It is a powerful mechanism for facilitating greater self-awareness and understanding of everyday relationships. 

One of the founding principals of TA is that healthy relationships and interactions are based on a fundamental belief that we are all ‘Okay’.  That we have a basic right to exist and interact as integrated human beings with equal worth. 

That isn’t to say we can’t get things wrong, make mistakes and suffer from human frailty.  It is quite normal for people to stuff-up.  The important and key take-home point is that if we start from a position that we ourselves and all other people are basically okay, we are much more likely to have healthy relationships in the ‘here and now’.  Because we respect others and ourselves, our interactions with the world come from a healthy place.  Our mistakes do not define our value as people.

When we come from an unhealthy ego state, we can forget the worth of ourselves or others.  At a low level, this can create conflict and misunderstanding.  At an extreme level, the results can be catastrophic, as we’ve recently seen.  Someone decided that others were so ‘not okay’ they did not merit the fundamental right to a peaceful life of their own choosing.

What follows is a model of the four life positions drawn from Berne’s TA theory and further developed by Frank Ernst:

“The OK Corral”

(Eric Berne & Frank Ernst - model of life positions)

I’m not ok, you’re ok

This person may lack self-esteem and belittle their own worth or value.  This might result in needy behaviour or a desire to please others at their own expense.  When they put themselves in an inferior life position, they forget that they have power and can manage their own happiness rather than being dependent on others for affirmation. 

I’m ok, you’re not ok

We’ve all come across people like this before.  It’s a trap for people in positions of power, the belief that they must be superior and therefore others have less worth.  This may be the position of the bullying manager, the overly controlling parent or officious bureaucrat.  These people may be quick to judge, easily angered and contemptuous of others.

I’m not ok, you’re not ok

Probably about as miserable as it sounds.  This is a position of hopelessness, nihilism and despair and it’s certainly not as cute as suggesting by the lyric, “I like that you’re broken, broken like me”.  These people will be avoidant and anxious - they expect to get hurt and may see themselves as deserving the treatment they receive from a cruel world.

I’m ok, you’re ok

This is a fully integrated and secure person.  We may disagree on things from time to time, but I know that you are so much more than the thing we disagree on.  I am comfortable with myself and respect you and the right of both of us to co-exist, celebrating our differences rather than judging either of us for our diversity.

When someone acts from any of the ‘not okay’ life positions they invite those around them into an unhealthy symbiotic relationship.  This increases the risk of falling into a ‘victim, persecutor rescuer’ drama triangle (Stephen Karpman).  It often also results in tension and relationship stress, be that professional or personal.

Looking through the lens of recent events, it is timely to reflect on our own life positions and how we might impact on those around us.  Whilst we can’t necessarily control how others act, we can influence the quality and successfulness of our relationships, both professional and personal, in the way we choose to approach others.  

A smile is contagious and, when paired with a genuine sense that we offer respect and expect to be respected in return, healthy and productive relationships are exponentially more likely.  We may not have the direct power to change others but, through encouraging healthy symbiosis, we can potentially influence them toward making changes in themselves.

When people prove themselves to be not okay through their words or actions, there will rightly be consequences.  An initial stance that people are fundamentally okay is not a license to behave with impunity.  We’ve seen all too closely the result of someone taking an extreme stance and the ripples from this act will spread far and wide.

What we can do is choose to actively manage the ripples that we ourselves send out.  Keeping ourselves positive, respectful and “okay” can be our own statement of defiance against hatred and intolerance. 

Go well…. Okay?