Stroke (31 March 2016)

Please do me a favour, will you? Think of your previous days. Where were you? Who did you meet? How did other people express that they recognize you? TA calls the unit of recognition, that can be given, received, asked for and rejected, as "Stroke". Its importance in our lives cannot be stressed enough. The stroke has so many different forms. It can be a physical stroke, a pat on the shoulder, a hug, a "Hello", a smile, a kiss or a warm look. These are all positive strokes. There are negative strokes such as a frown, an "I hate you", or a facer. As you see strokes can come verbally or non-verbally, they can be conditional (it is related to WHAT YOU DO: "I won't love you until you apologize for what you said") or unconditional (it is related to WHO YOU ARE: "You are a terrible person"). During the transactions we have with others, we basically exchange strokes. We acknowledge and recognize one another. Biologically speaking, it is more advantageous to have transactions (and strokes - whatever they are like) than to have no transactions. This is the reason why people are about to get the strokes they need in their waking hours. Why? Because strokes are life giving. They are fuel for the psyche in the same way that food is fuel for the body. To be able to live effectively, we all need strokes.

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The effects of Strokes start very early in our lives. The strokes we received from our parents and parental figures in our childhood determinded how much we could save our OKness. In order to get our Stroke, we needed to learn to obey. We met lots of conditions while we were growing up. Many times the obedience meant the price for the Stroke we wanted to get. Our parents allowed us to go closer to them after we completed our homework (or tidied up our room, took out the garbage etc.). Simply put, our parents had great power in their hands to satisfy our stroke hunger. It is actually part of the normal socialization process. We learn to satisfy our stroke hunger by following the rules of the society. However, the big danger here is if the environment forbids the normal satisfaction of this hunger or sets up distorted conditions for it that leads to the "I am OK only if ..." type beliefs. These beliefs, stored in P1, can cause troubles even decades after they were learned.

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While learning everything around strokes, we develop our primary life position (e.g. "I am OK - You are OK") as well as the way how we should deal with the strokes given by different people. For example uncle Harry always gives "fake strokes" like "You have a very nice toy. Where did you steal it?" He starts with a positive message but always finishes it with something negative. Aunt Mary is very similar to uncle Harry. She is overdoing everything. "How fantastic that you are here again. Look, now even the flowers are growing higher because you are here." This is what we call "marshmallow throwing". This stroke is not honest. Grandpa always gave us honest strokes but he gave them very rarely. We needed to achieve something outstanding to deserve his strokes. And of course, while growing up I learned a lot about myself too. For example I might know about myself that "What I do is more important than who I am" or "I can stand negative strokes very well" or "I collapse if I get a little negative stroke so I must avoid them" or "Nobody is allowed to touch me" ("I cannot stand the physical stroke from strangers"). This learning process indicates at least two things. First, people are significantly different from how much and what types of strokes they are hungry for (and looking for). Second, people can learn certain limiting beliefs or self-sabotaging rules related to strokes.

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The first self-sabotaging rule we can learn as a kid is this: "Don't give positive strokes when you have them to give." This might mean that you are in the office and when realizing that one of your colleagues did a very good job, you say nothing. You could have said "Well done, Mary. Good job" but you did not do it. The second rule says: "Don't ask for strokes when you need them." Well, this one can be really toxic. Why? Because we all need strokes. So denying it can make you find alternative ways of getting your necessary portion. Let us see an example. You had a bad day yesterday. This morning you are still feeling terrible. One of your colleagues asks: "What's wrong? Shall we talk?" and you answer: "No, I am fine, thanks" and you rush to the next meeting with your suppressed feelings. And the alternative ways? They can be things like withdrawal, alcohol, high blood pressure, feeling isolated or giving up your healthy life style. The third rule is: "Don't accept strokes when you want them (and they are offered)." You appoint yourself as a volunteer who is ready to jump onto the Victim position of the Drama Triangle. So even if you need the stroke, you reject it. "No, thanks" "I am fine, thanks" "I don't deserve it" "Just doing my job" "I don't have time for this, I am too busy now" are the typical examples we can find here. The fourth rule says: "Don't reject negative strokes when you don't want them." Your CC accepts the message you are receiving and your RC is not strong enough to say NO to it. In another post I was writing about Mary. Her boss said "You are useless" which was a negative verbal and unconditional stroke. Mary said nothing and left the room. Finally, the fifth rule says: "Don't give yourself strokes." Your NP is silent here. Your NP could give strokes to yourself too. But it can happen that NP has no Permission to do so, and P1 can have the belief that "Self stroke is not valuable". And after completing a great job if you don't get external strokes related to your achievement, you might think that you did not really do anything special so it is not worth feeling great. "It was just business as usual" "Why should I celebrate? It is my job, after all." This can also be a short cut street to burn out and different states of stroke deprivation (e.g. feeling isolated, self-pity or worthless in spite of being busy, working hard and achieve great results).

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In TA Coaching we first have a look at what we call "Stroke Economy". It is mainly analyzed in relation to another person (e.g. you and your boss or you and your spouse). Then we examine whether you have incorporated any of the five self-sabotaging rules about stroking. After understanding how the stroke exchanges affect your behavior, you can choose the kinds of exchanges you want to make. You may realize that you discount or decline positive strokes offered by others. If you want to change, you will get the help how you can courageously explore your discomfort in listening to acknowledgements and where that may have started. We work with the Contract and the 3P model in this process.

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