As I have written in several previous articles in this column – the most recent of which was my opening one for 2012 – in much of what I do I refer to the pioneering Transactional Analysis work of Eric Berne, which he laid out in his 1964 book, Games People Play. I am also inspired by Thomas Harris, whose 1967 book I’m OK-You’re OK built on Berne’s thinking.
Berne analysed social interactions – or “transactions” as he described them – to determine our “ego state”, and he built on this to help us understand how we behave and hence to do so more positively. The three ego states he identified are “parent”, “child” and “adult”, noting that how these are manifested in each of us is largely a function of our early childhood experiences.
We all display aspects of these three states. Some are positive – like the nurturing or caring “parent” in us, or the spontaneous, fun-loving “child”; and some are negative – like the controlling or neglectful “parent”, or the irresponsible “child”. And then there is the ‘adult” within – the sober, rational, mature part of us.
As I wrote in an earlier column, Transactional Analysis also divides us humans into four categories, relating to how, generally, we feel about ourselves and about others. The first is “I’m not OK, You’re OK”. This is how we are born, utterly dependent on our mothers. And it is in this mindset where a vast majority of the world’s population exists until they die. The second state is “I’m OK, You’re not OK”, and you can guess the other two: “I’m not OK, You’re not OK”; and finally “I’m OK, You’re OK”.
Aligned with each of these options comes an expectation regarding winning and losing. So for instance the insecure “I’m not OK, You’re OK” character foresees a life of “lose-win”, while the confident, optimistic “I’m OK, You’re OK” one assumes they can indulge in give-and-take negotiating that leads to “win-win”.
Now let me come to why I am returning to these frameworks for my opening column of 2021. It’s because of how I have been observing the behaviour of Donald Trump, which I have been doing ever since, out of sheer curiosity, I attended one of his campaign rallies back in 2016.
To the casual observer Trump displays an extreme “I’m OK, You’re not OK” ego state, always expecting to win, no matter how, while enjoying seeing others lose at his expense. And he is the stern, controlling “parent”, while all around him are dependent “children” – either compliant or terrible. Yes?
Well yes and no. However much he behaves as “I’m OK, You’re not OK”, it is merely a cover for how he feels and who he really is.
So how does he feel, and who is he? Sad to say, the outgoing POTUS is a desperately insecure soul, as was so vividly confirmed by his niece Mary Trump in her book about him, Too Much and Never Enough. Deep down he’s an “I’m not OK, You’re OK” character, now acting the spoilt child rather than the parent; the villain complaining he is the victim.
Trump’s niece, a psychologist by profession, explains her uncle’s development by telling us about his controlling father – who, she wrote, had no real human feeling and treated his children with contempt; while Trump’s mother was largely absent from his life. His deep-seated insecurities created in him “a black hole of need that constantly requires the light of compliments that disappears as soon as he’s soaked it in,” Mary Trump explains.
Like me, I suppose that you too have come across such characters – maybe another politician, maybe a boss or a relative. Needless to say the more extreme the case the less chance there is that they can be helped to reach a better balance within themselves and with others. But for those with more moderate such tendencies I have found that once the three frameworks are laid out for them an “aha moment” arises, enabling them to transform their previous self-defeating behaviour, treating it as the unwanted baggage it is and enabling them to enter a new and more fulfilled existence.
Before I close, let me wish you an “adult”, “I’m OK, You’re OK”, “win-win” new year – and preview that in my next column I will be gazing at Trump’s predecessor through my Transactional Analysis lens.