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What are Strokes in Transactional Analysis?

Dee Gillespie, Programme and Quality Assurance Advisor, writes about why understanding Strokes and their use and effects, have a range of applications for personal growth, communication styles and relationships.

Eric Berne described strokes as ‘a unit of recognition’, a very broad term that describes the vast number of ways that one person can acknowledge another.

As we move through social situations in our everyday lives, we are all giving and receiving Strokes, often completely out of our awareness.

Strokes can be:

  1. Positive – something intended as friendly, valuing or loving towards another person.

  2. Negative – a critical or harsh acknowledgement of another person.

  3. Conditional – focused on acknowledging for something you do, for example, “you look great when you wear that colour!”

  4. Non-conditional – about who you are – “you are great!”, or “I love you”.

  5. Verbal – given with words.

  6. non-verbal – given using expressions, body language, gestures etc.

Why are Strokes relevant?

Understanding Strokes and their use/effects has a range of applications for personal growth, communication styles and relationships.

Did you grow up with many unconditional, positive strokes?  This is the kind of recognition that tells us we are good exactly as we are, that we do not have to do or be anything to be seen this way.  If you did not receive many positive, unconditional strokes, you may have drawn some conclusions about yourself which cause difficulty in adult relationships (with self and others).

What conditional positive strokes did you receive?  For example, were you ‘stroked’ mainly if you did well at school or in sports competitions, or if your body/behaviour looked a certain way?  Or perhaps you were positively stroked if you did well in something that mirrored a caregiver’s interests, as opposed to your own.

What are the non-verbal strokes you remember from your childhood?  Was there a kind of gesture or expression that sent a positive or negative message to you?

So far, we have focused on the past, but what about Strokes in the present?  Are you aware of how often you may be giving out strokes?  Are these conditional or unconditional?  How do Strokes play out in your current relationships?  Is there a balance/imbalance?

Often, when there is breakdown of communication and care in a relationship, negative strokes may have become commonplace.

In the TA101 course, we explore Strokes further, introducing you to this often subtle but impactful element of your communication with others, and the way it may be influencing your relationships.


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