Strokes and Games in Transactional Analysis

From Dr. Claude Steiner’s web page:

STROKES. Stroking is the recognition that one person gives to another. Strokes are essential to a person’s life. Without them, Berne said, the “spinal cord will shrivel up.” It has been shown that a very young child needs actual physical strokes in order to remain alive. Adults can get by on fewer physical strokes as they learn to exchange verbal strokes; positive strokes like praise or expressions of appreciation, or negative strokes like negative judgements or put downs. Therefore, the exchange of strokes is one of the most important thing that people do in their daily lives.

GAMES The essential aspect of games is that they are crooked or covert exchanges of strokes. A game is a recurring series of covert transactions with a beginning, middle and end, and a payoff. The payoff is a hidden advantage which motivates the players to participate.

Transactional Analysis became a nation-wide fad in the 1960’s due to the best selling success of Eric Berne’s book, Games People Play. In this book he assigned engaging names (“Now I’ve got you,” “Kick me,” “I only trying to help.”) for different games. For instance when Jane plays “Why Don’t You, Yes But” she asks advice from another but rejects every suggestion so that everyone ends up exasperated. It is the type of conversation which occurs over and over again, especially in therapy groups. It is devious and covert: on the social level, it appears to be a conversation between a person in the Adult ego state asking a question from one or more people who are also in their Adult ego states. What makes it a game is that none of the suggestions are really accepted. The reason for that is that, at the psychological and much more meaningful level, what is really going on is that Jane may need advice but needs strokes even more. Because these strokes are being given in a roundabout way they are not as satisfying as direct strokes would be. This is why the game ends on a note of depressed frustration.

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