Transactional Analysis (TA) is a set of tools for understanding people and their relationships; this article continues our series on key TA concepts.

One of the most important concepts of TA theory is the idea that people have a fundamental, biologically-based “hunger” for stimulation or recognition; Eric Berne coined the term “strokes” to refer to these basic needs, and defined a stroke as “a unit of recognition.”

He cited research that showed that an abundance of strokes was health-enhancing and that stroke deprivation was biologically and psychologically damaging; he said, “If you don’t get enough strokes, your spinal cord shrivels up and you die!” Modern research has confirmed this idea.

Berne pointed out that, in any interaction between people, regardless of what else may be going on, the peple are exchanging strokes; this is why he used the term transaction” to refer to such interactions, to indicate that something of value is exchanged. This was his answer to the question, “Why do people talk to each other in the first place?”

Strokes can be positive or negative (how they feel), and they can be conditional or unconditional (what you have to do to “earn” them). Positive strokes nourish self-esteem, especially if they are also unconditional and spontaneous.

Negative strokes are damaging to self-esteem, but they still meet the biological need for stimulation and recognition. People who grow up in homes with few strokes often learn to seek out the more reliable negative ones in order to meet their need for strokes.

When we try to change dysfunctional behavior patterns, we need to consider the question of what we will do to replace the strokes we now get. If we ignore this problem, our Inner Child, who is the one who feels the need for strokes, will probably quickly turn back to the familiar methods of meeting this basic need.

[tags]Self Help, Self-Improvement, Personal Growth, Transactional Analysis [/tags]


For further information about Transactional Analysis, visit the websites for the International Transactional Analysis Association (ITAA) and the USA Transactional Analysis Association (USATAA).

The basic ideas of Transactional Analysis can be found in Eric Berne’s best-selling book, “Games People Play.

There is a major TA Conference scheduled for San Francisco in August, 2007; details HERE.