I had a hard time reading Eric Berne’s book “Games People Play” because it was hard to remember and apply it to my own life without some foundation. Such a basis appeared to be a book that is not yet available on the Ukrainian market – “Staying OK” by Thomas and Amy Harris. Its first half very practically introduces us to the essence of transactional analysis and gives an understanding of why we are so contradictory and why it sometimes seems that we live not with one person, but with several at the same time. Each of us has three ego states.

Transactional Analysis and Eric Berne

Transactional analysis is a psychological theory and therapy method developed by Eric Berne in the 1950-60s. It examines how people interact with each other and helps to understand the behavioral patterns and hidden motives behind these interactions.

Eric Berne (1910-1970) derived 36 scenarios of interactions with hidden motives, which he called “games” that people play. He also introduced the concept of three ego-states that a person can be in, and four life positions.

Three ego states

Each of us can be in three ego-states, sometimes even in two or three at the same time: Parent, Child, Adult.

Parent – life as we have observed it or what we have been taught about life

Without a guardian, a child cannot survive physically. Parent is a guardian and a guide. Parent is a mixture of transactions between the child’s parents or authorities, with the child, and with siblings. The state of Adult is protective, critical, judgmental, controlling, gives advice, sets rules, rigid.

Child – life as we felt it

A child learns about the world through sensations. In adulthood, things happen to us that recreate childhood situations, causing the same feelings we felt then, and it can get out of hand if the Adult doesn’t intervene. The state of the Child is easy to recognize: it is emotionality, impulsiveness, playfulness, fright, creativity and attention-seeking. The child’s strength lies in curiosity, the desire to explore and create.

The most creative individual is the one who discovers that a large part of the content of the Parent squares with reality. He can then file away this validated information in the Adult, trust it, forget about it, and get on with other things—like how to make a kite fly, how to build a sand castle, or how to do differential calculus.

“Staying OK” by Amy and Thomas Harris

Adult – life as it can be

Adult data accumulates as a result of the child’s ability to find out for himself what is different about life from the “taught concept” of life in his Parent and the “felt concept” of life in his Child. The Adult develops a “thought concept” of life based on data gathering and data processing.

“Staying OK” by Amy and Thomas Harris

An adult is a computer that analyzes all the received information. Adult is the ideal state we should aim for. It is the Adult who can identify the state we are in, control ourselves and make decisions. The state of an adult is rational, objective, logical, analytical, balanced, self-sufficient.

Four life positions

Transactional analysis offers the following classification of four possible life positions in relation to oneself and others:


This is usually our first standard starting position in childhood. Parents are perfect, they definitely know how to do it, so they are ok, but we are not. This means self-depreciation and self-doubt. Others are better than me.


If parents do not treat their child very well, they may come to the following conclusion: I am not ok, but you are not ok either. Everything is useless, nothing has meaning and value. Apathy and lack of motivation.


If parents treat their child very badly, child may come to the following conclusion: I am ok, and since you do this to me, I can do this too, but I am not feeling well, therefore, you are not ok. Superiority, mistrust, aggression, conflict. I’m right, you’re not. You say I’m bad, I’ll be bad. This position is popular among criminals.


This is a benchmark position where everyone has value and dignity and the ability to work together productively.

To be an Adult

It has been said that blaming your faults on your nature does not change the nature of your faults. Thus, “I am like that” does not help anything. “I can be different” does.

“Staying OK” – Emy and Thomas Harris

Three things can make a person change:

The ability to distinguish ego-states and to be in the position of “I’m ok – you’re ok” opens opportunities for cooperation and partnership.


Transactional analysis identifies six types of experiences that encompass all transactions between people.

1. Withdrawal

Self-removal from interactions, physical and emotional isolation, can be conflict avoidance or a way to recharge and reflect.

2. Rituals

Routine interactions that follow established norms and patterns that provide structure and predictability. Politeness, formality, customs.

3. Activities

Actions aimed at completing a task or project.

4. Passtime

Casual conversations or activities that pass the time and create social connections.

5. Games

Complex social interactions with hidden motives and outcomes. Conscious and unconscious manipulations that can lead to negative consequences. These are actually 36 games of Berne, for which it is worth reading his book. For example, a person pretends to be a victim in order to get attention – this is one of the “games”.

6. Intimacy

Sincere open honest exchange, deep emotional connection and mutual respect. Authenticity and vulnerability.

In the summary

“Staying OK” by Amy and Thomas Harris is an excellent introduction to the theory of transactional analysis, providing practical tools for self-development and understanding of self and others. The ability to distinguish ego-states and interaction from the position of “I’m ok – you’re ok” opens up opportunities for healthy communication and productive cooperation. As Thomas Harris says, this book is designed to change humanity one person at a time. Long live the partnership.


Amy and Thomas Harris – “Staying OK”

Eric Berne – “Games People Play”

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