Communication — 28 October 2003
How to give and receive strokes

Strokes are units of positive attention. Eric Berne, the founder of
Transactional Analysis, coined the term “strokes”- as the emotional
equivalents to physical caresses. They are the basic building blocks of
connection between people – compliments, praise, supportive comments,
eye contact, sincere attentive gaze, loving smiles and adoring looks.
People may exchange strokes with strangers, acquaintances, friends and lovers. The more able we are to share our appreciation, admiration,
respect and awe of others, the deeper our connection grows and the
closer we get to sharing true intimacy.

Being valued by another human being is an experience of healing. Our
questions about our own worth temporarily vanish and a sense of profound
well being is felt.
We are pleased when people remember us, flatter us and seek our
companionship. WE ARE ALL IN LOVE WITH BEING LOVED. If you value me- I
matter. My significance in the world is increased through your
recognition. It actually conceals a deep- seated fear of being
insignificant.

Alfred Adler, an early associate of Freud and later the father of
Individual Psychology, postulated that all human beings are plagued with
a deep sense of inferiority. Carl Rogers, the American Psychologist and
educator, who studied the elements of effective psychotherapy, found
that children need expressions of positive regard from others to develop
their sense of self worth, and as we mature we continue to need those
affirmations in order to thrive.

When we are stroked we are able to elevate ourselves to a higher state
of importance. We want to believe that our uniqueness distinguishes us,
frees us from being ordinary, and endows us with value. We lavish in the
momentary joy of being cherished.

Research indicates that emotional intimacy produces hormonal changes
consistent with invigorating health. People who are in love report
feeling happy, excited, energetic, enthusiastic, positive and powerful.
They say that they see colors more vividly, sounds, sights and tastes
are experienced more acutely and all their senses are heightened.

Though strokes are desirable and needed for health, little emphasis has
been put in promoting their use. Parents may be very appreciative of
their kids but rarely encourage them to stroke their friends. Have you
been taught in school the value of stroking others? It seems that not
enough has been done to highlight the value of using strokes to propel
people toward their greatness.

Being well thought of is a primary source of motivation. We often live
up to the expectations placed upon us by others. If you are told that
your opinion is valued, there is an excellent chance that you will come
forth with many more creative ideas.

We are not only untrained in stroking others; we are also uninformed
about receiving strokes graciously. You may have experienced
complimenting someone’s well cooked meal, appearance, performance or
accomplishment, only to be responded to with a discount-” actually this
cake really did not turn out that well”, or “it really was nothing” or
_you think I look good? – My hair is a mess”. When we discount the
stroke, we reject the giver of the compliment. That person is treated as
though he were a liar, a person with poor judgment or a manipulator.
Every such occurrence creates distance rather than connection between
individuals.

Most people experience some discomfort about receiving strokes. They
feel humbled by them, do not know how to respond to them, or feel
undeserving of the positive attention. Whatever the specific reason, a
poor response to a given stroke is likely to extinguish future ones.

Strokes are gifts. One is not compelled to give them, but is acting out
of kindness and generosity in expressing his appreciation. When gifts or
strokes are received graciously, both parties feel warmly about each
other and their connection is strengthened. Stroke giving is thus a gift
to both the giver and the receiver.

Since we yearn for, need and are helped by strokes, we need to learn to
give them, ask for them and receive them lovingly.

Giving Strokes

  • When you have an appreciative thought about someone, express it.
    Withheld emotional caresses are lost opportunities for intimacy.
  • View giving strokes as sharing special gifts. Do so with as many
    people as possible.
  • All people have endearing qualities and actions, observe and comment
    about them.
  • Sincere appreciation is heard and recorded, even if the respondent
    does not seem thrilled at the moment.
  • Reward yourself for being forthright, honest and spreading warmth
    after giving someone a stroke.
  • Give only “clean strokes”, honest, non-manipulative validations.
  • Remember that in giving a stroke you were not diminished but elevated.
    Valuing another does not detract from your specialness-it underscores it.

Ask for strokes directly to receive appreciation for earned merits. Say,
“what do you think of my latest project?” Be prepared for criticism as
well as strokes.

  • Receiving StrokesSay “thank you” and smile when you are given a stroke. Do so whether
    or not you agree with the giver’s perception.
  • Put the stroke in your “emotional bank” to be withdrawn at a later
    date when you need reassurance.
  • Feel deserving of the appreciation and own it.
  • Accept that the stroke was given willingly and lovingly.
  • Trust that it is beneficial to be valued.
  • Strokes are healthy and desirable, let them in.
  • The more the merrier. No amount of sincere strokes is excessive.

Remember, three strokes a day, keeps the psychologist away. Your
relationship will improve with increased use of strokes. Couples who
make it a practice to frequently express their awe and appreciation for
each other tend to thrive.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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