I’m Ok, You’re Ok Summary and Review

by Thomas A. Harris
Has I’m Ok, You’re Ok by Thomas A. Harris been sitting on your reading list? Pick up the key ideas in the book with this quick summary. Did you ever surprise yourself by suddenly sounding like your father or your mother when discussing touchy issues or when you’re in a heated argument? Maybe you were arguing with your partner about cleaning the house and you sounded just like your mother, or maybe you lost your patience with your children and you acted just like your father. Reacting like your parents is not uncommon it happens to everyone and it stems from the arguments that you used to have with your parents. Looking at our inner parent or child squarely in the face can be uncomfortable, but according to Thomas A. Harris, it is something that we can’t avoid. We all have these two different forces within ourselves, but luckily, by analyzing our behavior we can eventually recognize and control these patterns and even replace them with healthier ones. From our summary of Thomas A. Harris’ I’m Ok, You’re Ok, you’ll learn
  • why birth is naturally a traumatic experience;
  • why prejudice and preconceptions make us feel stuck; and
  • why we should never neglect our inner child’s playfulness.

I'm Ok, You're Ok Key Idea #1: To fully understand our emotions, we need to analyze our memories.

Have you ever witnessed a loved one being affected by somniloquy, or sleep talking? You may think that the things that people mumble in their sleep are a bunch of nonsense. However, these mysterious nocturnal mutterings are the direct result of people’s memories. There are certain regions in our brains that are responsible for our memories and for the emotions that are associated with them. This idea was first discovered in the 1950s by Wilder Penfield, a Montreal brain surgeon, who used an electrode to stimulate certain regions of his patients’ brains. Since the patients anesthetized only locally, they were awake and could describe what they were feeling when the doctor stimulated the different parts of their brains. That is how Wilder Penfield discovered that a region of the brain known as the temporal cortex is responsible for our emotions, memories, and language. When Penfield stimulated certain points of a person’s brain, the person would immediately make a statement that would seem random, such as describing a TV commercial or reenacting a previous conversation. What was particularly interesting was that when stimulated, people would not only relieve the memory, but they would also feel the emotions that they felt when they experienced it for the first time. In other words, when the doctor stimulated certain points of the brain, the patients relieved an experience, and not just recalled it. This memory relieving process can also happen unconsciously. In general, we remember certain things when we are triggered by certain stimuli, such as smells or sounds. Once the memory was triggered, we can relieve different experiences, be them pleasant or traumatizing. This process is more likely to happen unconsciously, but, we can sometimes make an effort and dig up certain memories, especially if we are looking to analyze them. For instance, imagine that there is a certain song that makes you feel melancholic or sad each time you hear it. You might not be able to explain this reaction, but if you were to discuss this with a therapist, he might be able to help you figure out what previous emotions and memories are linked to the song. The author used certain psychotherapy techniques to help one of his patients remember why she felt a connection with a certain song. It turned out that the song has a special meaning because the patient’s mother, who had died when she was very young, used to play that song on the piano.

I'm Ok, You're Ok Key Idea #2: There are three major personality components identified by transactional analysis.

Whenever you hear the phrase “multiple personalities” you immediately think of a person who is suffering from a psychological disorder. However, people deal with multiple personalities more often than you think. Eric Berne, an esteemed psychologist who passed away in the 1970s, created a new therapy technique called transactional analysis. The main idea that transactional analysis focuses on is that every person has three major personality components. Eric Berne began to identify these distinctive personalities in the 1950s when he started to notice similar patterns in his patients. One of his patients, despite having a successful career as a lawyer, acted like a spoiled child during therapy sessions. Instead of behaving like an adult, he would whine and have impulsive reactions. We all have the capacity to change our behavior drastically. Just like children, who are happy and calm and as soon as something disrupts them, they break into tears, adults can also be peaceful and suddenly become angry or anxious. Dr. Eric Berne analyzed the three different components of the human personality that he identified as the Child, the Parent, and the Adult. According to him, The Child is a direct result of our collected experiences and memories from our early years as innocent and helpless children. The Parent component is a result of our memories associated with our parents' belief system and general behavior. The Adult is our rational side, the one makes us capable of controlling the first two components and that enables us to behave rationally and to find good solutions. As you can probably imagine, recognizing these three different personality components when they surface is not very hard. For instance, the author once had a patient who struggled with insomnia. She told him that she was sometimes stressed out because she felt that her nervous behavior was having a negative effect on her children. Clearly, she was now talking from the Adult perspective. But despite being aware of some of her issues, she would also burst into tears and admit that she felt helpless. Whenever she did this, the doctor could notice that her voice would change and she would sound like her inner Child. But, whenever she talked about her children and how she disciplined them, her voice would change again. She would sound combating and authoritative and the doctor knew that this attitude came from her inner Parent.
We read dozens of other great books like I’m Ok, You’re Ok, and summarised their ideas in this article called Anxiety mouse Check it out here!

I'm Ok, You're Ok Key Idea #3: Our feelings of insecurity can stem from our early childhood memories.

When you try to remember things from your childhood, how far back can you go? Most people are unable to recall their first two years of life. However, that doesn’t mean that those years didn’t have an impact on our us. It’s important to understand that there is a distinction between unconsciously reliving an experience and consciously recalling it. The transactional analysis shows us that a huge part of our emotional reactions result from the fact that we relive our childhood experiences unconsciously, even if we don’t realize it. Our memories from early childhood often give us a feeling of insecurity accompanied by an idea that everyone else is more secure than us. Dreams can have a similar effect. The author had a patient once who claimed that she had a recurring dream in which she was a minuscule speck of dust floating through the cosmos surrounded by huge objects. But her dream was unpleasant because it also came with a sensation of suffocation. With the help of a psychotherapist, the woman remembered that her mother, who was extremely domineering and authoritative, was convinced of the fact that children should be fed a lot. And the dream seemed to be connected to her memory of being forcefully breastfed when she didn’t want to eat. These experiences that come from when we were helpless children can make us feel “not okay” throughout our adult lives. There is not much we can do about feeling helpless, as this sensation is an integral part of being human. When we are born, we are forced to leave the womb, a place where we feel safe and comfortable. We are thrown out into the world and separated from our secure source of nourishment. This experience is then followed by a lot of childhood events that make us feel insecure and helpless while others are not. Because being born is a traumatizing experience and leaves us feeling unprotected, our parents compensate by comforting and coddling us. As a result, throughout our childhood, we believe that adults are self-sufficient, strong, and can protect us from anything. Thankfully, as we’ll discuss in the next chapter, there are things that we can do to break free from this pattern.

I'm Ok, You're Ok Key Idea #4: People are inclined to repeat old patterns and behaviors, but they can learn how to break free.

We’ve all sworn at a certain point in our life to never act like our parents, but somehow, we still catch ourselves doing that, especially when we are angry or upset. This is perfectly normal because all humans are programmed to repeat behavior patterns that are connected to our Child and Parent personality sides. As mentioned before, the Parent side of our personality is governed by the values and rigid rules that we learn from our parents and the things that they deem as acceptable behavior. As a result, the Child side is usually governed by our fear of consequences and of punishment. Let’s imagine that we are a white male living in the 1960s US, in a socio-political climate dominated by the civil-rights movement. We (the white man) are residing in a predominantly white neighborhood in the suburbs and we receive a letter requesting our signature. The letter is a petition that fights the housing laws that are discriminatory and that led to the creation of urban ghettos. Regardless of how rational you think you are, this decision can make you have mixed feelings and can cause a lot of anxiety. The Parent side of our personality will probably not want to sign the petition because it acts according to the values and racist beliefs of our parents. However, the Child side our personality might want to act against our parents and disobey the government’s authority by not signing it. But luckily, we also have an Adult side that can analyze the situation and break free of our patterns. The Adult is there to question our instinctual reactions and to encourage us to seek more information on the subject that we are not familiar with. When it comes to signing the petition, our Adult side might lead us to analyze the situation and to make a more informed decision. As you might have guessed, the Adult part of us is what enables us to progress as individuals and to change for the better. But in order to be able to do that, we first need to learn how to control our Child and Parent sides. Throughout the next chapter, we’ll tell you how to recognize and control these sides of your personality.

I'm Ok, You're Ok Key Idea #5: We can learn to identify the moments when we act from the Child, Parent, or Adult perspective.

Part of becoming an adult is learning to identify other people’s emotions by analyzing their facial expressions. This technique is extremely efficient for identifying whether you are acting as your inner Child, Parent, or Adult. The great way to do this is by understanding the different physical signs that indicate each one. For instance, when someone uses their Parent voice to speak, they probably have pursed lips, their brow will be furrowed, and they might be pointing at someone or something. The Parent will often do a series of gestures such as crossing their arms sighing, clicking their tongue, or using expressions of outrage and disappointment. People who act from their Parent perspective can often be condescending, and act superior, they might pat someone on the head or enjoy being in a situation of control. This attitude can sometimes indicate certain prejudices or preconceptions. As for the Child side of our personality, we need to search for clues such as eye-rolling, temper tantrums, whining, and pouting lips. The Child will also enjoy teasing other people, will have explosive reactions that might involve crying or laughing, will get overexcited and will oftentimes be restless. If the Parent and the Child are relatively easy to identify, the Adult might be a bit trickier. The easiest way to identify it is by noticing an absence of behaviors associated with the Parent and the Child. But that doesn’t mean that the Adult side is a boring, neutral one as people who act from this perspective can also be animated and fun, but without being manic and without overreacting. Now that we know how to recognize each of the three main personality components, we’ll take a closer look at how they interact with each other.

I'm Ok, You're Ok Key Idea #6: The child, the parent, and the adult are all susceptible to suppression and contamination.

As the popular saying goes, “Two’s company and three’s a crowd.” And this applies to the main components of our personality as well. These three sides don’t always play nice with each other. The most common problem that a lot of people will deal with throughout their lives is having their Child and Parent side prevent the Adult side from functioning correctly. This phenomenon is defined in the transactional analysis as contamination. And, as we mentioned before, when the Adult side is contaminated by old values and ideas of the Parent, the results can be preconceptions and prejudices. Say your parents raised you to believe that people who were poor were also lazy. If they told you this repeatedly, your thinking might be contaminated by it. Perhaps, as a child, you even tried to question it, but you were told off, not taken seriously, or not given a proper answer. Children will often assimilate their parents' prejudices. Additionally, even if someone explains to them rationally and offers proof that these ideas are not correct and that certain people are simply disadvantaged by society, it won’t matter. The only way to decontaminate your ideas by what your parents had you believe is by having your Adult understand that questioning and disagreeing the opinions of a Parent is completely safe. Another common problem is that the Parent personality can sometimes exclude the Child one or vice versa. We all have a friend who is a workaholic and who can’t find the time to do fun things. This behavior can be the result of a very strict family who demanded obedience constantly. People who reject their inner Child have probably heard their parents say the following phrase “Children should be seen and not heard.” Consequently, the Parent ensures that the Child side is stifled and that the playful and joyful aspects of life are completely ignored. In the next chapter, we’ll discuss what happens when the Child side takes over.

I'm Ok, You're Ok Key Idea #7: Our child side enjoys playing games, being the center of attention, and feeling superior.

Children enjoy playing all kinds of games, whether it’s hide-and-seek or Monopoly. But sometimes, inner Children can enjoy playing more dangerous games such as asserting superiority, playing the victim, and other psychological games. This tendency can be observed in young children who cry only to get their parents’ attention. What our inner Child is trying to do is to claim superiority in order to gain some self-confidence, that is otherwise lacking. Getting attention can make children feel confident but it is a temporary effect. This explains why groups who are dealing with a severe problem need to find a scapegoat. Blaming someone will make everyone else feel superior and safe. Our inner Child also loves to play the victim in order to receive as much attention and sympathy as possible. Think of the following common scenario: a person is going through a very difficult situation and is asking for your help. However, they are rejecting every possible solution. For example, let’s say that your friend is unsatisfied with his job. You might suggest that he talks about this with his supervisor, but his inner child will say “What’s the point? He’ll just ignore me.”. Or if you tell him to find a new job that he actually likes, he might say that he tried but couldn’t because the market is too difficult at the moment. Your friend won’t accept any solution, so the goal here should be helping him to realize that they are speaking from a place of fear and that there is no reason to feel insecure. This way, because he is talking from his Child perspective, he will be helped by the care and support that you are offering. In our last chapter, we will talk about moving beyond psychological games and achieving the “I’m okay, you’re okay.” state of mind.

I'm Ok, You're Ok Key Idea #8: If we want to achieve the “I’M OKAY,” goal, we must identify our emotional patterns and break free from them.

We all feel overwhelmed at one point or another and we think that things will never get easier. But, if we just take a step back and look at things from a different perspective, we understand that this is an unhealthy and unrealistic outlook. In order to identify our emotional patterns and to feel that we are okay, we need to go through a similar process of introspection. Imagine that you are having difficulties choosing a career path and you don’t understand why. If you analyze the Parent side, you might learn that you were pressed into becoming a lawyer or a doctor because those were the professions that your parents considered “respectable”. Being forced into a career that you didn’t choose can lead to a life of dissatisfaction, as your inner Child will live in fear of disappointing the Parent. Once you understand these patterns, your Adult side will finally be able to evolve. Once freed from the trap of the Parent and Child perspectives, the Adult can now explore the available options and chose something that you really enjoy. But first, you must learn how to stop listening to authority figures blindly and you must stop fearing them and seeking their approval. If you do this, your inner Child won’t be afraid anymore and the Adult will be in charge of making the decisions. When this happens, you’ll notice that you are much better at making informed decisions and assessing situations because you are Acting from the adult perspective. What all dream of having a life that reflects our own values and ideas. However, this can only happen if we learn how to analyze our behavior and how to identify the different components of our personality. Once we achieve this, we can finally be in control. Getting stuck at thinking “I’m not okay” is the easy thing to do, but once you are able to control your inner Child and Parent, you will understand that you are a strong, independent individual free to live life on your own terms.


What is the key message of Thomas A. Harris’ I’m Ok, You’re Ok: When we are born, we all feel scared, helpless, and dependent on other people. This is because the process of birth is very traumatic for children who, after being thrown into the world, become dependent on their caretakers. But by identifying and discarding our old behaviors and patterns, we can create healthier ones that can help us be in the “I’m okay, you’re okay” position. Valuable advice: Analyze and observe your thoughts. Whenever you are inclined to think negative thoughts, it’s important to analyze it and see whether it’s realistic or not. Use the concepts described above to detect whether you’re acting like a Child, Parent, or Adult. For instance, if you surprise yourself thinking, “I am useless and lazy,” ask yourself why you think that. Is that something that you truly believe, or is it because your parents or another authority figure would think that. Or perhaps, using laziness as an excuse is a defense mechanism for your inner Child to avoid taking risks. Try to give your Adult safe more space to react and bear in mind that once you are able to correctly identify the source of your emotions, you will be in control.
Suggested further reading: Find more great ideas like those contained in this summary in this article we wrote on Anxiety mouse