Strokes and Transactions
The human infant is born helpless, ill equipped to attend to his/ her survival. Berne used the term “strokes” for units of care, as first registered by the infant on being held and caressed. What he demonstrated is that we continue to need both actual strokes and symbolic strokes throughout our lives, which is why and how we are interdependent. Whether it be the actual touch of a handshake or the symbolic “touch” of a smile, or even of a telephone call, we continue to depend on strokes from others for a sense of existence. In fact, this underlies all communication among people. As Berne put it, we “transact” with others by exchanging strokes, just the way we might exchange goods in the market place for mutual benefit.
If you consider that each one of us operates interchangeably out of three different ego states, which ego state of mine is it that may transact with any one of yours? How can I be sure to reach the ego state in you that I hope to address in order to obtain the strokes I want in exchange?
For instance John might say to Susie, “Here, let me show you the way” when he comes upon her wandering in confusion in the hallway before a meeting. His helpful comment might be met with a grateful response, yet the following week the same offer will be met with a frown and indicating “mind your own business!” Why? In both instances he was operating with a “rescuing” Parent, (although perhaps his Child also wanted to relate to Susie). But whereas the first time Susie had been worried about being late and so responded with her Child, the second time she was in Parent, busy with her thoughts and resentful of the interruption. So, much to John’s dismay, she responded with her Critical Parent ego state instead of from the Child ego state he expected.
Transactional analysis gets its name precisely from the idea that unsatisfactory transactions between people, – or what we call “crossed transactions” that are frustrating to one or both parties – can be “analyzed” without having to resort to an analysis of total personalities. Thus, misunderstandings can be clarified, especially when both parties want to foster a relationship or partnership of any kind.
What my Child wants and expresses, or what my Parent values do not necessarily correspond to what others like or approve of, and their response to me may lead me to feel vastly misunderstood or to react in ways that may anger or hurt others. Then they, in turn, may react in ways that may hurt or anger me, and so on. In most instances we can recognize when, how or why specific transactional patterns go wrong (or continue to go wrong). We can thus help clients to understand better what occurs in others or themselves in different situations and to make better choices to further their goals.