Very early experiences of the infant play a deciding role in the establishing
of that person's life position.
Once it is decided upon, a person's life position influences how she thinks, feels,
acts, and relates with others.
There are four basic life positions:
Position 1. I am OK -- You're OK.
Position 2. I'm OK -- You're not-OK.
Position 3. I'm not-OK -- You're OK.
Position 4. I'm not-OK -- You're not-OK.
Berne in his book, “What Do You Say After You Say Hello”, had these things to say
about the four life positions:
The four basic positions:
(1) I'm OK -- you're OK (success)
(2) I'm OK -- you're not OK (arrogant)
(3) I'm not OK -- you're OK (depressive)
(4) I'm not OK -- you're not OK (futility)
These can rarely be changed by external circumstance alone.
Stable changes must come from within, either spontaneously, or under some sort of
"therapeutic" influence: professional treatment, or love, which is nature's psychotherapy.
There are those whose convictions lack conviction, so that they have options
and alternations between one position and another.
Such as I'm OK -- you're OK to I'm not OK -- you're not OK,
or from I'm OK -- you're not OK to I'm not OK -- you're OK.
These are, as far as position is concerned, insincere or unstable personalities.
Secure or stable ones are those whose positions, good or deplorable cannot be shaken.
When an infant enters the world, she is probably in the healthly number one position,
I'm OK -- You're OK, and as long as the child's basic needs are met, she will remain
in this position.
Persons in this position are winners.
They reflect an optimistic and healthy outlook on life, freely relate with others,
and assume a "get-on-with it" stance in their dealings with other persons
and their environment.
If, as a young person, she is severely neglected or abused, she may eventually
decide that it is others, not herself, who are not-OK.
When this happens, she assumes position number 2, I'm OK -- You're not OK.
This is essentially a defense defense against a more basic feeling of being not OK herself.
Commonly, one of her parents modeled the I'm OK -- You're not OK position for her.
For example, many child abusers were themselves abused as children.
This position is often called the paranoid position, persons in this position
are often extremely distrusting or blaming.
They may deny personal difficulties, feel cheated, and react toward the world
with anger or frustration.
Their general stance in dealings with others is a "get-rid-of" position.
Position number three, I'm not OK -- You're OK, is referred to as the depressive position,
and is the most frequent in our society.
If her needs are not met, the young person usually will decide that it is her fault
and that she is inferior, ugly, or inadequate.
Depression, guilt, fear, and distrust of others often accompany this position.
These people have great difficulties accepting compliments and generally
take a "get-away-from me" stance in their dealings with others and their environment.
Position number four, I'm not OK -- You're not OK, is taken by persons who were miserable
enough at some point in their lives to have decided that neither themselves nor anyone else
are worthwhile or valuable.
This is the "give-up" or futility position, and persons who have assumed this position
often wind up in prisons, mental institutions, or morgues.
These persons generally have a "get-nowhere-with" attitude in their dealings
with other persons and their environment.
Although a person may assume a basic life position at any time, she ordinarily does so
during the first three years of life as a response to how parent figure's react
to her initial expressions of needs and feelings.
Thus the "decision" to move into a not OK position may even be preverbal and outside
the person's awareness.
For example, a child may be physically mistreated or constantly yelled at by her parents
whenever they are around her.
When she is alone, she may comfort herself by touching herself, rocking,
or just enjoying the temporary safety from their rough handling.
As a child decides to be alone and avoid other persons whom she experiences
as scary and hurtful, she moves into an I'm OK -- You're not OK position.
Once a person has assumed a basic life position she tends to selectively perceive the world
in ways which will maintain that position and confirm her original decision.
As a result, she will spend the greatest proportion of her time in that life position.
Very few people change their basic position without the aid of psychotherapy.
However, since it is based upon a decision, that decision, like any other decision can
Helping people to reassume a healthy life position is one of the major goals
of Transactional Analysis.
The fact that a person has assumed a life position does not mean that she will always relate
from that position.
It merely means that she will spend most of her time in that position and will manipulate
or interpret most of her experiences in such a way that her basic decision is eventually confirmed.
On a minute-to-minute bases she may appear to move from one position to another,
depending upon her mood, her goals, and the situation.
It is important that these feeling states not be confuse with changes
in her life position, which remains constant over time.
Although these feelings states do not reflect changes in her life position, they are nonetheless
important aspects of her personality.
A person's feeling state reflects the attitudes which she is assuming at a given time
and determines the kinds of strokes which she will exchange.
The attitude then determines how she will relate to others in a specific situation.