The Psychology Of Relationships – Life Positions

The Psychology Of Relationships:

Life Positions

The concept of life positions is another basic idea from transactional analysis theory.

Life positions works with the assumption that we choose very early on in our life, before age 2, a basic stance towards ourselves and other people.

It represents the fundamental stance a person takes about the essential value he or she perceives in him or herself and other people.

Once a child has taken up a favorite position, they’re likely to construct the rest of their world view to match that life position. One could therefore also see a life position as one of the first script decisions a person makes. For example – a fundamental one is success or failure. Which do you see as your life position?

Another way of saying the same thing is that our life position is like a set of glasses through which we see the world. If we end up with gray tinted glasses the whole world will look gray to us. If they are clear, we can see ourselves and the world as things are, good and bad, but mostly all sorts of colors and shapes.

The following diagram is called “The OK Corral” by Franklin Ernst (with some of my own adaptations). It shows the four basic life positions we can assume: 

1 “‘I am ok, you are ok,” which is short for “I am ok with myself and with you too.” 

2 “I am ok, you are not ok,” short for “I am ok, but I can’t rely on or trust you. I feel there is something wrong with other people around me.”

3 “I am not ok, you are ok,” short for “There is something fundamentally wrong with me, but everybody else is ok.” 

4 “I am not ok, you are not ok,” short for “There is something fundamentally wrong with me and other people are unreliable, untrustworthy, wrong in some way too.”

It’s easy to see that the best place to come from is “‘I am ok, you are ok!”


I am not ok, you are ok
(Therefore the best I can do is to get away from others or hide myself)


I am ok, you are ok
(Therefore you and me can get on with being open with each other)


I am not ok, you are not ok
(Therefore there is no hope. I can never be ok nor could you give me what I need)


I am ok, you are not ok
(Therefore I best get rid of you to be ok)


Have  a look at the diagram and think about your general stance in life. As adults, we don’t stay in one position all the time, but we shift between positions.

Each of the childhood positions, which are a result of the quality of life and relationships we have experienced as a child, is reflected in grown-up life by a particular kind of social interaction, which acts under stress as a default pattern (e.g. the “getting on with” pattern of the “I am ok you are ok” position).

Although we may have a default position due to childhood circumstances, we also have a choice of using our Adult ego state to stay in “I am ok, you are ok” as grown ups. By staying in “I am ok you are ok” we invite the best possible outcome, because we are expecting good things to happen and for other people to be reliable and trustworthy.

Your life position might be most apparent in your intimate relationship, because that’s where the stakes are highest.

Additionally, we use the old attachment styles we learned as children to attach to our partners in the present.

The “I am ok you are ok” position is the one which correlates with a secure attachment pattern, the others all expect abandonment, attack or rejection. If you do relate to your partner either generally or when things get tough, e.g. during arguments or absences, from a position that isn’t “I am ok, you are ok” you are expecting to get hurt due to an old pattern (also see script and transference).

Unfortunately, our defensive styles often tend to invite what we most fear. If we keep putting ourselves down or not standing up for ourselves, because we relate to our partner from an “I am not ok, you are ok” position, the other person might finally get annoyed about our lack of self-confidence or indecisiveness.

It is important that you find a way to relate from an “I am ok you are ok” position as much as possible to your partner. And that he or she relates in the same way to you.

Only then are you in a place where you can trust and respect yourself and the other person and you can be secure in knowing that you both are committed to working things out together when things get tough.