doc_paradise: (password2)

Title: I’m OK - You’re OK

Author: Thomas A. Harris, M.D.

ISBN: 978-0-06-072427-6


I’m OK - You’re OK [1] is a self-help book that helped popularize Transactional Analysis in the late 1960’s. Transactional analysis is a method of analyzing interpersonal relationship systems from the point of view of social interactions and Parent-Adult-Child (P-A-C) ego states. The goal of the method is to move the reader into a “I’m OK - You’re OK” life position wherein dysfunctional “games”[5] are eliminated.

Writing Style:

One of this book’s stated goals is to explain the jargon of transactional analysis into everyday language that is easily understood. With regards to the jargon, it managed to mostly do that (although its definitions didn’t become the default standard as it predicted). However, the social context (in which the concepts are embedded) did not age well. The assumed audience appears to be white, heterosexual, professional men with masculine gender roles (1950’s style). Women are often othered in the text, and examples use “housewife”, “girl”, and “mother” roles [2]. Social attitudes range from still applicable to no longer in fashion to outright wrong[3]. Consider that a CONTENT WARNING.

My Opinion:

I’m OK — You’re OK compares transactional analysis glowingly to New Math. This might not be a bad analogy, although it is not the one the author expected.

According to the book, social interactions are made up of “transactions”[4] in which people give or receive “strokes”[4]. Dysfunctional transactions are known as “games”[5]. Games can be dismantled (and a basis for a healthy life created) by analyzing the transactions from the point of view of different ego states:

Parent - Taught concept of life (Recording of early childhood external events)

Adult - Thought concept of life (Recording of data acquired and computed through exploration and testing.)

Child - Felt concept of life (Recording of early childhood internal events)

If things are working well, then Parent and Child states give historical information about how one default reactions work and the Adult state works to analyze reactions and reality to come up with the best thing to do. There are four life positions[4]:

I’m not OK - You’re OK

I’m not OK - You’re not OK

I’m OK - You’re not OK

I’m OK - You’re OK

“I’m OK — You’re OK” is presented as the desired life state to achieve and this is the main focus of the book. Hence, the title.

Some of the concepts in this book (and in Games People Play [5]) are interesting and possibly useful ways of looking at social interactions, one’s response to them, and how to change them. However, I am hesitant to recommend the book due to the context it is embedded in. While I could just write the context off as “a product of its times” (as is sometimes recommended for previous generations of science fiction and fantasy novels[7]), self-help books are intended to teach. The question then becomes, what is it actually teaching? [8] This is a question worth asking before recommending any book. This book teaches both its method and its assumptions of social behaviours.

Evil Overlord Assessment:

Games[6] are fun. Everybody loves games. Everybody plays games. The trick is to WIN! Who cares if they cause an uproar[6], as long as you get the strokes you are looking for. Yes, intimacy is important, but[6] it’s highly over-rated and risky. Better to reliably manipulate others with their need for strokes (of course you’d never fall for this stuff, you are clever[6]). Honestly[6], this will work… I promise. I’m only trying to help[6].


[1] This book has one of the oddest endorsements (back cover) I’ve encountered: “I’m OK - You’re OK may make it up there right next to the Holy Bible or maybe even The Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook.” — Life. That certainly says something. I’m not sure what.

[2] Pages 96-97 give an example of a man ass-grabbing a woman and lines up her possible P-A-C responses. Making a joke of it with an embedded message is favoured. That is out-of-line with today’s ideas on consent culture and rape culture. I don’t want to go back to the “good old days”.

[3] Before it was popular to be wrong about vaccines causing autism, it was common to wrongly blame “refrigerator mothers” for it.

[4] Brief summaries of transactional analysis concepts are available at : Transactional Analysis, The OK-Not OK Matrix, Common Games, and others (search "transactional analysis").

[5] Title: Games People Play: The Basic Handbook of Transactional Analysis. Author: Eric Berne, M.D. (ISBN: 0-345-41003-3) I tried to write a review of this book (which contains transactional analysis theory and a selection of game descriptions), but the contextual sexism and other issues made writing the review feel like I was poking my eyes with a fish fork. There are useful ideas in there (i.e. transactions, strokes, games, etc), but the context would have resulted in a review made up mostly of content warnings.

[6] : Common Games.

[7] 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea celebrates finding endangered species and eating them BECAUSE they are endangered and we might not get another chance to eat them. This is obviously ridiculous right? It’s not like we still do this, right?

[8] Siderea: De Facto Sexism discusses an example of how unintentional discrimination can occur.

doc_paradise: (Arch)

CONTENT WARNING: The main linked websites contain descriptions, both examples and fiction, of toxic relationships and abuse. The news link leads to an article on L.M. Montgomery’s death.

Title: Sick Systems (websites) and Down The Rabbit Hole (website)

Author: Issendai

Website: Sick Systems: How to Keep Someone With You Forever

Website: Sick Systems: Tag (LJ)

Website: Down The Rabbit Hole: The world of estranged parents’ forums

Title: The Blue Castle (novel)

Author: L.M. Montgomery

ISBN: 0-7704-2315-9

Website: The Blue Castle [full text]


The Sick Systems links are a set of writings and satire on toxic/abusive environments and relationships, and how they work. Down The Rabbit Hole is a set of analytical writings on estranged parent and grandparent forums from the point of view that these forums provide insight into abusive behaviour through the lens of the people doing it and talking about it online. Both of these are amateur and insightful analyses of the topics.

The Blue Castle is a novel set in the early 1900’s Ontario (Canada). Valency Stirling is a depressed and chronically ill woman trapped by her society, circumstances, and toxic family, in a life that she hates. Then she gets news that she only has one year to live and decides that she shall live it (“I may not be able to do much that I want to do but I won't do another thing that I don't want to do.”) This, unsurprisingly, pisses off her family and improves her life.

Writing Styles:

Issendai’s writings are a mix of satire and analysis. How to Keep Someone With You Forever might as well be the Evil Overlord Assessment for this review. They make use of examples and links to threads external to them and following these links can lead to both insights both informative and ugly.

Lucy Maud Montgomery is a Canadian writer better known for the Anne of Green Gables series. This is one of her few books that is entirely about an adult protagonist and set outside of PEI. Despite being known as a children’s author[1], L.M. Montgomery knew quite a bit about sick systems and mental illness (News link). It shows.

My Opinion:

Read it in this order:

1) How to Keep Someone With You Forever

2) The Blue Castle - Chapters 1-8

3) The Tenacity of a Sick System

4) Ginnie Post: Breaking a Sick System by Walking Away

5) The Blue Castle - Chapters 9-45

Extra: Keep Down The Rabbit Hole: The world of estranged parents’ forums open (for comparisons) while reading The Blue Castle.

I realize that The Blue Castle is a work of fiction, however I can’t help but notice how well it illustrates Issendai’s observations and I think the novel benefits from a combined reading… otherwise the first eight chapters are unrelentingly dismal. I love both The Blue Castle and Issendai’s satire (obviously given my spin here), and the brief love fest that is to be this review gives me a chance to point out that there is a place for both Credentialed self-help and Amateur self-help. I will be writing about both, so it is useful to note some of the potential differences I’ve noticed.

In self-help works where the author’s name come with a list of credentials, the back material often contains a substantial list of references [2]. This can be useful if you want to follow up on something or check research. They are also more likely to draw on  studies, professional experience, and research in their area of expertise, rather than anecdotes and personal experience. This isn’t guaranteed. “More likely” doesn’t mean “certain” and what we think we know and the values that drive that understanding can vary and change quite a bit. Also, outright fraud tends to be more convincing and harder to debunk if it is perceived as authoritative [3]. Readability of professional self-help can suffer from jargon, ego, textbook-itus, and the desperate belief that publishing one’s Ph.D. thesis is a way to fame or fortune.

Amateur self-help (like Issendai’s), can be more readable and relatable. It tends to rely more on personal anecdotes [4] and experience, storytelling, opinions, and interpretation of other people’s work. This can be very useful, especially if the author is skilled at making complex ideas accessible to a general audience. We tend to connect more with the personal and it has a greater ability to move us. How to Keep Someone With You Forever is a presentation of widely accepted views on how abuse works. Its humour and presentation make sense of something that is rather horrific. In addition, biases and spins may be more blatant. In this case, the Evil Overlord slant hits you over the head with the idea that only someone “Evil” would think this is a good idea. Amateur self-help is “buyer beware” (even more than credentialed self-help). Truthiness and common sense can be very convincing if they line up with our own biases or narrow experience. [5]

I like Issendai's observations. They amuse me, connect with me, and have truthiness for me. That said, it is opinions and observations on the Internet without much referencing. Do your own checking.

Evil Overlord Assessment:

How to Keep Someone With You Forever is a “How-To” manual of the highest order. This shit works. It works deliberately. It works accidentally. Watch the accidental stuff… it might trap you as well as your target.


[1] Why are there so many orphans on PEI in her books? It’s not necessarily because their parents are dead. Unwed women could “go away” (to Halifax, N.S. or other locations) to have their babies, who were then either put up for adoption or “adopted” into the family of one of the parents.

[2] Do you read footnotes? I rarely do. I wonder what we are missing.

[3] Dear Andrew Wakefield, Go. Fuck. Yourself.

[4] The plural of anecdote is NOT data.

[5] I know someone who tracked a fake university back to an office containing multiple such universities. I’m told it was near to the FBI building in Hawaii. This assertion doesn’t have any references to check, so you will have to do your own work to find out if it is true. That said, you are totally going to tell someone this without checking aren’ t you?

doc_paradise: (Arch)

Title: The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You

Author: Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D.

ISBN: 978-0-553-06218-2


This book is a love letter to highly sensitive people (HSPs) who find the world overwhelming and are harshly judged for it. It focuses on reframing high sensitivity (having a nervous system that is sensitive to stimulation, subtlety, and arousal) as a positive trait that deserves respect and appreciation rather than something that makes one a failure if they can’t “just get over it”. It draws on ideas in attachment theory, Jung, biology, temperament, child development, boundaries, and non-denominational spirituality to make its case that being highly sensitive to subtleties and stimulation (even if it’s uncomfortable) is a benefit to both the individual and the world. It describes what it is like (and how it could be better) to be a HSP growing up, loving, working, healing, and dealing with the medical establishment.

Writing Style:

The intended audience is people who self-identify as HSPs (“you”) and it is aimed at helping them (“you”) using validation and reframing. While it does have advice for people dealing with HSPs it mostly frames it as ways the HSP can help others understand the HSP’s boundaries and needs without the HSP feeling bad about it. This is made clear in the Preface where the author reassures the Sensitive-But-Less-So and Not-Sensitive-At-All readers that they are special too and have their own special strengths. That careful gentleness (both when explaining theory and waxing poetic) characterizes much of the writing. That gentleness is probably necessary, because, if you are its intended audience, this book may hit with the power of Mjölnir.

My Opinion:

I’ve known about this book for at least a decade (it was first published in 1996) and avoided reading it until it was recently recommended to me by someone who’s judgement I respect. I should have read it a decade ago. It would have made a difference. Instead, my long-ago introduction to this book was vastly unpleasant so I avoided reading it until now.

The best thing this book does for the HSP reader is give loads and loads of validation for being sensitive to physical, emotional, and psychological experiences. It also encourages boundaries, while recognizing that enforcing them can be difficult and require energy. As with all good self-help books, this one provides an easily sharable set of terminology. “I’m overwhelmed” (when shared with someone else who has read the book and therefore knows what you mean and need) is convenient short-hand when compared to “Everything is making noise, everything has to be done yesterday, my head is running in circles, I need to eat, I know you need emotional labour right this instant but… would EVERYONE JUST FUCKING DIE SO I CAN BE ALONE AND DO NOTHING FOR FIVE FUCKING MINUTES WITHOUT OFFENDING ANYONE…” Maybe you know what I mean. Shared language is really useful.

The “Medics, Medications, and HSPs” section is a bit dated (Prozac is heavily name-dropped) but it has some excellent points about how arousal and sensitivity can affect medicine evaluation and receiving medical care. There are optional exercises which mostly consist of self-awareness questions, quizzes, and body awareness activities. They are mostly straight forward to do, but the “pretend you are a baby” one didn’t make much sense to me personally. I’m also not a spiritual person, but I was amused that the spiritual section seemed to be Jung all the way down.

Evil Overlord Assessment:

If you have an investment in keeping your highly sensitive loved ones, employees, or friends (can you really call them that?) isolated and certain that THEY are the broken ones… then don’t let them read this book. If they don’t know that their sensitivity is valid and acceptable then they won’t expect to have their HSP needs accommodated. Instead, interpret it for them. Convince them that they are Not-Sensitive-At-All (overwriting other people’s identities is always useful tool for manipulating them and possible with most types of categorizing systems) and make sure that they understand that YOU are the most highly sensitive of highly sensitive people and that is why THEY are shouldn’t have boundaries with YOU. If they are HSPs with some degree of empathy, then they may accept it when you equate how you feel when your children/employees/victims resist with how they feel when they ARE your victim. The book explicitly teaches against this. Don’t let them read the book.


[ Disclaimer: I am neither a therapist, nor a professional reviewer. I do, however, own and enjoy reading a staggering number of self-help books and I have opinions. Lots of opinions. One of these opinions is that the underlying assumptions in “self-improvement” and “self-help” books should be unpacked. These reviews may or may not do that, but I will try to acknowledge both some of the potentially useful and potentially problematic aspects of the books I review. The “Evil Overlord Assessment” section specifically looks at some ways that a fictional “Evil Overlord” might use this book to harm or control others for the purpose of World Domination. ]


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