Monday, January 11, 2010

Self-help books, part 2: 'I'm OK - You're OK'

Remember "warm fuzzies" and "cold pricklies"? They are among the simplified concepts that made Thomas Harris's I'm OK - You're OK a best-seller in the early 1970s. It's one of the biggest-selling self-help books ever, according to Wikipedia. Harris set out to popularize the theory of Transactional Analysis (TA). I'm not saying it was a good book; I'm just saying I learned these things:

* It's better to give (and receive) "warm fuzzies" than "cold pricklies." A boyfriend at the time told me I had a tendency to do the cold and prickly. Who knew?

* If someone pays you a compliment, accept it. To shrug it off, feign modesty, or--worst of all--ignore it is to repay a warm fuzzy with a cold prickly. It does not make you humble; it makes you ungrateful. I took that to heart from that day to this. I remember organizing and emceeing a day-long women's movement conference that was very well received. At the end of the day I got a wonderful ovation and I stood in the warm spotlight and drank it in. I opened myself to it, and I never turned off that switch.

* In our relationships, we get into certain habits and comfort levels. Simple example: If you are in the habit of nodding and smiling at a coworker once each day, and then you stop and have a conversation, you will tend to pass without acknowledging one another a few times, until you feel you have rebalanced the contact to an appropriate level. See Rituals.

* People play interpersonal games that are often unproductive. "Yes, but" is a common favorite. Someone complains about a situation. A well-meaning individual suggests, "Why don't you try x?" The complainer says, "Yes, but I can't because blah blah." No matter how many suggestions the friend makes, the complainer has an excuse for all of them. I sometimes catch myself playing "yes, but," and I'm usually able to stop and say, "Thanks for the suggestions, I guess I just wanted to vent." Or I recognize that someone else is playing it and I can change the subject or walk away. I think it's the one such game I recognize quickly.

TA offered many other theories, a lot based on Adult, Parent, and Child ego states. Some of it has survived, some has been discounted. One thing remains true: If someone pays you a compliment, acknowledge it. Revel in it, even.


Respectfully Yours said...

It's true, we get so uncomfortable when someone pays us a compliment. Is it our insecurities tht makes us think we don't deserve it, I don't know. Most people don't really know how to respond when they receive a nice compliment.

Well, let me pay you one, nice blog, I enjoy your posts.

@eloh said...

I remember this... the "I'm okay, you're okay" and all the jokes.

You're so right about the bits you picked out.

Anonymous said...

It is OK to pat yourself on the head. My theory. LOL

Colleen said...

Oh wow--high school flashback!! I remember seeing that book in all of my classmates hands!

Ms Sparrow said...

My old copy of "I'm OK, You're OK" is collecting dust somewhere. After reading your post, I realized that I'm terrible about accepting compliments. I blow them off because I feel like I'm unworthy (and I usually am) but I forget that it's not nice to treat others like their opinion doesn't count.
Thanks for the reminder!

JenJen said...

Gosh, It is hard to say thanks, but I'm constantly reminding people to shut up and say thank you.
Which now that I see it in print, is hard to do.

Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

@Respectfully Yours: Our generation was taught to be modest and humble. They forgot to teach us to take justifiable pride in our accomplishments. THANK YOU, I'm glad you enjoy my blog. (See how well I can do that?) :-)

@eloh: I forgot, there were a lot of jokes, weren't there?

@Abe: Yes, I agree!

@Colleen: For a while everybody was reading it.

@Ms. Sparrow: Say it with me now, "Thank you very much, I did a good job, didn't I?"

JenJen: Yes, it's hard. We didn't grow up having our parents say "Good job, way to go, great try!" I hope today's kids will have a better sense of confidence.

Jeanie said...

Learning to take a compliment with grace was a hard lesson for me. I hope I have learned it by now. Even harder, letting someone do more for me than I could ever possibly to for them in return.

tattytiara said...

A friend of mine very gracefully and understandingly explained to me how it made her feel when I rejected her compliments. That one, elegant little lesson opened up a whole world of new perspective that fifteen years later I'm still exploring. I will always be grateful to her for giving me that.

Far Side of Fifty said...

Thanks..I bet sometimes I give off cold pricklies..I want to be warm and fuzzy though..I will try harder! :)

Sallie (FullTime-Life) said...

Nice posts (both of them) on self-help. I howled when I read your take on consultants, having worked for just such an organization myself.

I agree with Thomas Harris (and you) on confidence and accepting compliments and most of the other points you mentioned from "I'm OK.. (I also have the book stored away someplace, like your other commenters have mentioned.)

But I'd love to hear your take on the later (and on-going) self-esteem movement. Sometimes I think we've gone a bit too far the other way from where my generation was when we were young.

Elizabeth Patch said...

thanks for stopping by and commenting on my blog! and thanks as well for reminding me about this great book, one of the 1st self-help books I ever read, and the advice still holds true.

Unknown said...

Stopping by from SITS. Glad to see another Grandma here. This book takes me back! I read it when I started Transcendental Meditation - ha! remember that?
Have a great day!

Unknown said...

Wonderful words of wisdom!

Julie Magers Soulen Photography
Blog of Note

gayle said...

Wonder why we do feel funny when someone says something nice about us?!! Women feel so undeserving at times!! Thanks for a great post!

Allyson said...

I have to say that these philosophies were used a LOT when I was growing up..being a child of the late 70's and all. And I never realized they came from somewhere. I guess I just assumed someone had coined the phrase and spread the word. It never occurred to me that they were born from a book. So, thanks for that. And the one thing I try very hard NOT to do is accept what someone has said and follow it with a "but"...I love this idea, but...I know you're angry, but...The but discounts everything that was said leading up to it. It is my mission in life to spread this. I blame my psychologist-mother...

Nancy said...

Just what I needed to read today. Thanks. I remember reading this book many years ago, and you're right, it's still mostly applicable to interpersonal relationships. Good reminder to not play games, be greatful for compliments, and awareness of the rituals that are a part of everyday life.

Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

@Jeanie: I thought that would be an issue for me when I got married, but my husband would tell you I learned pretty quickly (too quickly) to let him do waaay more for me than I do for him. Sad but true.

@tatty: isn't it nice when someone gives us "that one, elegant little lesson" that lasts a lifetime?

@Far Side: It's especially easy for me to do cold pricklies at this cold and prickly time of year!

@Sallie: It's a fine line; I love the confidence of today's young people but of course it's best when tempered with compassion and humility. Fortunately, I see a lot of that in the young people I know, too.

@Elizabeth: Yes, the whole concept that our habitual outlook should be "I'm OK and so are you" is still very relevant.

@Colleen: Ommmmmmmm. I never got very good at it.

@Julie: Thanks! It's fun to think about the little pearls that have stayed with me.

@Gayle: Women are so prone to imposter syndrome--the feeling that one day "they" are going to realize that I'm not really qualified to be doing what I'm doing. Some men have it, too. (And of course, some people who SHOULD realize it never have a clue--what's up with that?)

@Allyson: Wow, a psychologist-mother. That could be intimidating! But it sounds like she has given you a very positive mission in life!

@Nancy: I've known some people who can spot those games and can quickly step in and stop them The conversation is able to move forward. I never learned to do that; maybe in my next life!


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