This article is part of a series on key practices that, if utilized, will empower you to express your best self in any circumstance. Even in the face of apparent mistakes and failures, when you apply these practices, you will be empowered to return to your sense of personal agency and equilibrium as quickly as possible.
Links to all the articles in this series appear at the bottom of the page.
Understanding the Difference Between Feeling OK and Not OK
This distinction was first made in transactional analysis in the 1960s and was abbreviated and capitalized as OK and not OK. Because so many people are familiar with this concept, we have chosen to use this format as well.
There are two basic categories into which people sort their life experiences on a moment-by-moment basis: either they feel OK, or they feel not OK. A core competency of emotional intelligence is knowing whether you are in a state of feeling OK (in equilibrium) or feeling not OK (in disequilibrium) at any given point in time.
Feeling OK is shorthand for being in a state of equilibrium: you feel good or worthy inside. Feeling OK is having a sense of being “all right” or “on,” of being whole and thriving. Some other words that describe how this state feels are secure, calm, happy, focused, optimistic, confident, enthusiastic, connected, fulfilled, enlivened, and well.
Feeling not OK is shorthand for being in a state of disequilibrium: you feel bad inside or unworthy, somehow not right or off, broken, or damaged. Some other words that describe how this state feels are insecure, disconnected, wrong, pessimistic, irritable, angry, impatient, defensive, doubting, ashamed, unfulfilled, unsettled, unhappy, and failing.
A Powerful Tool for Growth
You have a finely tuned internal radar that tells you, moment by moment, whether something feels “on” or “off.” If you are paying attention, then you instantly know when you have a need that is not being met or when something feels inappropriate or out of place.
Feeling OK or not OK is the main way you have of gauging whether your authentic needs are being met and if the circumstances you are engaged with are beneficial to you and others. It is a way for you to tell if you are operating from your best self or from your negative ego, as well as where others are operating from.
Acting out the roles of the drama triangle instantly feels not OK, while operating from the roles of the empowerment dynamic feels OK. By tuning into your inner state, you can instantly know if losing games or mutually beneficial dynamics are occurring. With this knowledge comes the opportunity for transformation.
Sometimes being in a state of disequilibrium is not necessarily an indicator that something is wrong. When you’re working on mastering a skill, you might need to pass through a stage of disequilibrium while you’re struggling with integrating something new.
This sort of disequilibrium can result in positive growth. For example, the terrible twos are often a time when children are frustrated and struggling with being able to express themselves verbally. This gets resolved as they become more articulate.
Choosing to Be OK
Being caught in a state of consistently feeling not OK can be very destructive. It’s at the core of most compulsive, addictive, (or otherwise destructive) behavior patterns. While in a state of discomfort, people tend to self-medicate and go for instant gratification, desperately attempting to make themselves feel OK inside and find some relief from their bad feelings of being not OK.
Often, these sorts of not OK feelings are a result of unprocessed pain or trauma from the past. These feelings get repressed, and we unconsciously carry them around until we are willing to address them.
Finding your way back to feeling OK is an essential skill of developing self-mastery and resilience. Choosing to take the path back to equilibrium usually requires doing the inner work of emotional healing and getting free of the past. It requires discovering and reaffirming your innate self-worth and becoming an advocate for your authentic self.