041 728 110

Potrditve v transakcijsko analitični psihoterapiji

Potrditve v teoriji in praksi transakcijsko analitične psihoterapije: osnova za razvoj in preživetje

Aleksandra Deu Bajt


A stroke

A stroke is a unit of recognition, an acknowledgment of another's presence. It is called so because the child first received it mainly through touch. A newborn child needs physical strokes; as it grows, it partly replaces its need for physical stroking with the quest for recognition strokes. Stroke is a very important category in TA theory and practice because it represents the very basis of human survival; we need strokes from the moment we are born and throughout our lives.  We feel deprived without them. A child cannot develop normally without strokes and suffers irreparable psychosomatic damage (as clinically proven by Spitz) without them.

Eric Berne (Games people Play, 1964) defined stroke as ''the fundamental unit of social action'' and stroking as ''any act implying the recognition of another's presence''. He also equated stroke with transaction, saying that an exchange of strokes constitutes a transaction which is the unit of social intercourse.

A stroke can be, among many social signals, a look, a smile, a touch, a word, a phrase of criticism or praise that people give to each other. Strokes can be negative or positive, conditional or unconditional, verbal or non-verbal. All combinations put together make 8 types of strokes.

As TA developed, stroke still has a central role in theory and practice. TA authors write about many more different types of strokes because stroking takes many forms, everyone of us has different needs and styles. In TA literature we also read about: a) external and internal strokes (external strokes being given by others while internal strokes come from inside - real or fantasized sensory experiences or memories); b) filtered strokes, c) counterfeit strokes, e) manufactured strokes, f) reversed strokes, g) artificial strokes; h) symbolic strokes...


Stimulus hunger is the need for physical, emotional and intellectual stimulation. A stroke is a unit of attention that provides stimulation for an individual human being, which means that stimulus hunger can be satisfied by touch, talking, intimacy and contact with other human beings.

Stimulus hunger in children is hunger for physical touch and is later in development at least partly transforms into recognition hunger. When a mother strokes, caresses, holds and rocks the baby, the child's brain becomes stimulated for physical and mental growth and development. On the other hand, if the child doesn't get enough stroking, is neglected, ignored and deprived of touching, its nervous system lacks stimulation and degenerative changes occur. The child suffers physical and mental deterioration and delay in development that sometimes result in marasmus or even death.

Eric Berne compared stimulus hunger to food hunger, drawing a parallel between starving and malnutrition and lack of stimulation as negative extremes, overstimulation and overeating as over-positive extreme, in the middle being satiation and receiveng sufficient stimuli for normal development.


In adults, the need for physical stroking is partly replaced by recognition hunger, the need of acknowledgement of our existence by other people. Though we still crave physical stroking, we learn to partly substitute it with other forms of recognition, like for example a nod, a smile, a word of greeting, a wave, or anything that lets us know our existence is noticed and recognized. If the need for recognition is not satisfied, people search for any form of being recognized, also negative. If the need remains unsatisfied it can lead to serious emotional and physical problems. Recognition strokes are of vital importance, they keep the nervous system (or spine, as said by Berne) from shriveling. Some people need a lot of recognition in order to feel OK so they put a lot of time and effort in obtaining recognition from others – at home, at school, at work, among friends, in social networks on internet... . Some people need less recognition. In both cases, recognition hunger influences one's structuring of time.


Rene Spitz was an Austro-Hungarian born psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who emigrated to the United States at the beginning of World War II. A lot of his empirical research based on observation of infants. When observing infants in a chidrens' home, he discovered that even if the babies were well-fed and kept clean and warm, the lack of physical stroking (and thus lack of stimulation) caused physical and emotional damage.

Spitz used the term "anaclitic depression" to describe emotional deprivation (the loss of a loved object). When the love object is returned to the child within a period of three to five months, recovery is prompt. If one deprives a child longer than five months, they will show the symptoms of increasingly serious deterioration. He used the terms "hospitalism or marasmus'' to describe a condition, when the child lies in his cradle and isn't active, maybe cries weakly or rocks to give himself some soothing. Those children easily fall ill or catch a disease and many of them die.


If a person receives a negative stroke, he feels it as non-pleasant, maybe painful. Negative strokes sometimes carry the ''You're not OK'' message. Claude Steiner (1974) called these strokes cold pricklies. People can either choose to accept a negative stroke and feel bad or not to accept it and choose to feel OK. Examples of negative strokes: a) non-verbal: a frown, a slap; b) unconditional: ''I hate you''; c) conditional: ''You didn't wash the dishes properly''. Sometimes a seemingly positive stroke that carries a message of critique, is in fact a negative one. Irony, sarcasm, cynicism and teasing are often used for hidden negative strokes. (''That soup you made was really something'', said in a sarcastic tone).

It is necessary to use negative conditional strokes in raising children (from Controlling Parent) but parents have to balance them out with lots of unconditional and sincere positive strokes.

Why would people seek negative rather then positive strokes? Negative strokes are painful and uncomfortable so it would be logical for people to seek positive strokes, but in reality this isn't the case. Since a negative stroke is better than no stroke at all, people who were used to getting negative strokes instead of positive strokes, or no strokes at all, when they were small, look for negative ones who they are familiar with. A Kick me game is an example of a person looking for a negative stroke (a kick) which then reinforces his early belief of being not OK. So if we as children experienced too little positive strokes we needed or wanted, we learned to elicit negative strokes from our parents and so avoided being left stroke-deprived. Also animals need strokes and choose negative ones over no strokes at all (experiments with rats proved that, ).

Attention seeking behaviour: Sometimes parents don't give their children any attention if they are being good and they cannot tolerate getting no strokes. This is why they misbehave in order to get strokes from his parents. This is attention seeking behavior. Needless to say, if the child misbehaves he will get negative, not positive strokes. So the parents that stroke only bad behavior, will also get bad behavior from their children (What you stroke is what you get).


A positive stroke feels good and carries an ''You're OK'' message. The best positive strokes are unconditional ones because they are for being, whereas the conditional ones are for doing. Too many conditional positive strokes can lead to workacholism because the child is stroked only for his achievements. A lot of unconditional positive strokes lead to an emotionally healthy development with a sense of OK-ness.

A positive stroke can be anything from a kind ''Hello'', a smile, a gentle touch, a hug, all the way to a loving intimate encounter. Positive strokes vary in depth, some, like a greeting, are more on the surface. The deeper the stroke, the more sense of well-being it evokes in the receiver.

In terms of transactions, a positive stroke is usually a complimentary transaction which is appropriate, direct and suits the situation. This is important because for example, a child that performs something good needs to hear what he did is good and not that he is a sweet and kind person. This kind of stroke misses the point and does maybe more harm (in the long term) than good. Authenticity is also important, our Little Professors are excellent detectors for fake strokes.

A positive stroke can be affectionate, like: ''You're fun to be with'', or ''I really like working with you''. It can also be given as a compliment, like: ''The article you wrote was really exciting reading''. A positive stroke is also calling a person by his name or writing the name, listening attentively and with  interest, looking straight in the face, giving feedback that is relevant to what the person has said, validating the content of a person's message.

Positive strokes greatly influence raising children, therapy, friendships, partnerships, working situations and other.

Can you spoil a child with too many positive strokes - what is a spoilt child? Some people think that if a child receives too much praise from his parents that he becomes spoiled. At least in Slovenia our grandparents thought that an occassional beating was good for a child so he would behave as they thought appropriate. Our parents thought the same, only they used criticism and harshness instead of a stick. A child can't be spoiled by authentic, relevant and unconditional positive stroking. There can never be too many honest expressions of love. But a child can be spoilt if parents buy him anything he wants and more as compensation for love and intimacy. He can be satisfied and play with a new toy for a brief period of time before he demands to have a new one.


A conditional stroke is given for doing, it can either be positive or negative. Conditional strokes are mostly given to influence one's behavior. When they are used appropriately, they help to bring up a healthy adaptive personality. Positive conditional strokes are good for relationships and self image but if there are too many, the child can think that he's only worth if he works hard. Negative conditional strokes are used for disciplining the child and it's very important to give a lot of positive strokes when not disciplining. Examples: a) positive conditional: ''I like the picture you drew''(from NP) . b) negative conditional: ''You can't watch TV until you finish your chores'' (from Cont.P).


Unconditional strokes are given for being and this is why they are stronger, have more influence. A negative unconditional stroke can do a lot of harm, especially if given often by parents (from their Critical Parent, RC or FC) to a child. They usually carry the message ''You're not OK''.Positive unconditional strokes are the ones that should be given in abundance, they feel good inside and carry the message ''You are OK). They can be given from NP or FC. Therapists do good if they give positive unconditional strokes to their clients. Examples: a) positive unconditional: ''I like being with you'' (from FC to FC). b) negative unconditional: ''You're disgustung'' (also from FC to FC).


A counterfeit stroke is a stroke that is not what at first appears to be – it can be a negative stroke that is presented as a positive. Example: ''That was a lovely dish, I didn't know it's supposed to be so salty.''


A plastic stroke is a gesture of recognition towards other person that is insincere. For example, flattery is made of plastic strokes. Claude Steiner in his ''Warm Fuzzy Tale'' describes the difference between genuine and plastic strokes. Genuine strokes make people feel good inside while plastic don't, they only serve as a bad surrogates. People, especially children, know when they are given a genuine or a plastic stroke.


A stroke filter is a selective tool which we use to discount the strokes we don't want and accept the strokes we want, so we can maintain the picture of ourselves. We eliminate or discount the strokes that are surplus to requirement because they exceed those allowed by our stroke quotient (ratio between positive and negative strokes). Surplus strokes can be blocked or transformed from positive to negative by help of stroke filter.

The stroke filter has many layers through which every stroke has to pass and some of them become distorted in the process. We filter the strokes according to: a) what parents taught us; b) our early decisions; c) what we learned at school; d) what we learned by relating to our peers; e) past experience of the current situation; f) how we feel right now.

We turn down selected strokes by ignoring, belittling or distorting them, so they can fit the quotient. The strokes we accept may not feel good but they feel right and known; for example, a person who received too many plastic strokes may decide that positive strokes are not to be trusted so he tends to filter them out and accept only plastic or negative ones.

Why would someone filter out a positive stroke?

If a person received mostly negative strokes as a child, was criticized all the time  (for example, criticism like ''This is bad!'', Don't do that!'' ''You're no good, lazy!''), he is used to hearing his parent's voice in his head so he keeps on criticizing himself even if his parent is no longer around. The positive strokes are not familiar to him, so he filters them out because he is not used to them and his I'm not OK position is reinforced by doing that.



Claude Steiner (1974) created the term Stroke Economy. He suggested that parents create a stroke shortage for children in order to maintain power over them and bring them up in the way they think right. He claims that we were all indoctrinated as children with five restrictive rules about stroking: a) Don't give strokes when you have them to give; b) Don't ask for strokes when you need them c) Don't accept strokes if you want them d) Don't reject strokes when you don't want them e) Don't give yourself strokes.

Bringing up children by these rules makes them think that there is a limited supply of strokes (beautifully described in the Warm Fuzzy tale) and so the parents are able to set a high price for obtaining them, they become stroke monopolists. A child knows that he needs strokes to survive, therefore he performs in a way mother and father want him to. As grownups, we still obey the five rules, we still think that strokes come in limited supply to us and we use a lot of energy to obtain them. Stroke monopolists can become our wives or husnands, employers, banks or governments. We are not aware of the fact that strokes are available in limitless supply. We can always give a stroke to whom we want, whenever we want to, we can also ask for a stroke or take one that is offered to us. Also, if we don't like the stroke, we can reject it. Our FC can do all of this: accept, give or reject freely according to his wants and needs. The way we exchange strokes depends on our early decisions that were made under parental pressure so as grownups we can reassess, change these decisions and arrive at new ones.



Strokes are not equally powerful. Each stroke has a different power. The power ranges from 1 to 100 for positive strokes and from 1 to even 1000 for negative ones. This means that the negative strokes are much more powerful than the positive ones. A person needs a lot of positive strokes to balance out negative strokes that he receives The most powerful strokes are negative unconditional. The power of expressing love cannot equal the power of destructive rage. Also, powerful negative strokes are expressed loudly, by yelling or physical violence so they have a strong impact. Strokes vary in power according to how they are said or done; the most powerful are strokes, given from all ego states congruently. Examples: ''I love you'' with a gentle touch and a smile is 100;  '' I hate you'' – 100 strokes; a slap: 200 strokes; a furious beating: 1000 strokes. The power of a stroke depends also on who it's coming from and which ego state is used (for example, angry critique from CP is less powerful than hateful rage from FC; positive stroke from NP is more powerful than a positive stroke from A)

Bibliography: Stewart&Joines, TA Today; Woolams&Brown, Transactional Analysis;E. Berne, Games People Play;C.Steiner: Stroke Economy; P.Clarkson, TA in Psychotherapy; T. White, Posters Vol.5, Psychological Strokes;James&Jongeward, Born to Win;McKenna: Stroking Profile