Contact or strokes are essential to a person’s life. Without them, Berne said, “the spinal cord will shrivel up.” Contact and recognition with and from others is an essential part of human relationships.
Spitz established that in a foundling home where the children were deprived of maternal care and affection, motor and intellectual types of development were markedly depressed, mortality was high, and physical growth was retarded. Based on the findings of Renee Spitz in his studies of “hospitalism”, he proposed that people need strokes to survive, much as they need food, water and air. By introducing the concept of the stroke transaction the exchange of recognition he made it possible to observe and discuss the exchange of affection or love in fine, textured detail.
This classic Bernean aphorism refers to research that demonstrates that a very young child needs actual physical strokes to survive and that early development of the human brain is greatly affected by the kinds of contact that the child receives (Siegel, 1999). People of all ages require adequate levels of contact. The exchange of strokes is one of the most important activities in which people engage in their daily lives. Harlow concluded that normal sexual and parental behaviour depended on a wide array of affection ties with peers and family early in life. Baumeister and Leary (1995) investigated in an excellent and exhaustive review of the literature that the procurement of strokes-the “need to belong”-is a fundamental human motivation. They concluded that existing evidence supports the hypothesis that the need to belong is a powerful, fundamental, and extremely pervasive motivation and that nurturing physical strokes are needed to maintain physical and psychological health. Berne proposed that not only positive stimulation but also negative painful stimulation might be instrumental in maintaining health. This hypothesis is essential to the theory of games, which postulates that people will accept and seek negative stimulation even if they prefer positive stimulation.
Berne quoted Levine’s (1960) research on infant stimulation in support of that view. This cluster finds correlates in existing theories of “attachment,” “intimacy,” “warmth,” “tender loving care,” “need to belong,” “contact,” “closeness,” “relationships,” “social support,” and “love.” (b) The OK Cluster:This cluster finds correlates in existing theories of “positive psychology,” “flow,” “human potential,” “resiliency,” “excellence,” “optimism,” “subjective well-being,” “positive self-concept,” “spontaneous healing,” “nature’s helping hand,” “vis medicatrix nature” (the healing power of nature) and “the healing power of the mind.” These concepts, until recently deemed unfashionable and “soft-headed,” have taken centre stage in psychological research. Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi (2000) reviewed the field in a special issue of the American Psychologist focused on positive psychology. According to Psychologists focusing on transactional analysis, in the process of developing an identity, people identify the meaning and significance of their life for themselves, early in life. Some people see life as a gentle and positive experience and themselves as acceptable.
Berne called this positive experience of self “being OK.” Others decide they are not acceptable (not OK) as human beings and those they will fail in some way. These expectations, based on a decision about how life will be, become a person’s existential position. People can feel accepting or not accepting about themselves and others (OK or not OK).
This leads to four main existential positions as follows: In transactional analysis, the OK existential position is also referred to as “the universal position” because Berne assumed that “people are born OK”; that is, people have an innate tendency toward health, healing and a benign expectation and trust of others. This position about self and others is either maintained or lost to a not-OK position about self, others or both. Hundreds of studies have shown that human beings strongly tend to be selectively positive in their language, thought and memory and that people who are psychologically healthy show a higher level of positive bias.
Research also indicates that people with an OK-OK attitude are likely to be healthier and live longer. Tiger (1979) postulated that optimism has driven human evolution and is an innate adaptive characteristic of the species, a part of evolutionarily developed survival mechanisms. This is consistent with Berne’s views. The not-OK position has been widely researched in studies about depression, low self-esteem, psychopathology and in the construction of diagnostic manuals and tests. According to Berne, the OK position can be regained because it is innate, whereas the not-OK position is tied to a script and therefore to the arbitrary narrative or schemas on which people can base their entire lives.
(c) The Script and Games Cluster:This cluster consists of two aspects, viz., (i) Scripts and (ii) Games.
People build their lives around certain favourite games which, with their repetitive toxic outcomes, promote dysfunctional, life-long scripts. Scripts are based on early-life decisions, made by the originally OK child. These decisions, which dictate people’s actions throughout life, always represent the relinquishing of the child’s Okness. They determine the dysfunctional roles (Rescuer, Persecutor, Victim) which people fall upon throughout life unless they are changed or “redecided,” or as Berne put it, unless the person “closes down the show and puts on a new (aware, autonomous, intimate, in short OK) one on the road.” In order to clarify his concept and uses of strokes, the following three aspects are identified: 1. Strokes as Metaphor: Berne’s aphorism “People need strokes or their backs will shrivel up,” which inspired The Warm Fuzzy Tale which influenced popular culture by creating the ubiquitous turn of phrase; “warm and fuzzy.
” 2. Strokes as Method: The use of strokes as a method of therapy/ education is thoroughly supported by decades of experience with the efficacy of methods which emphasize TLC, groups, contact, interaction and touching. 3.
Strokes as Science: The scientific aspect of the stroke concept is demonstrated throughout a large number of research findings on children and adults which show the importance of human contact for survival.
Berne codified socially dysfunctional behaviour patterns in terms of the “games” that people play. Games are essentially devious, toxic and sometimes deadly methods of obtaining “strokes.” The term stroke is Berne’s name for the unit of human contact and recognition. Strokes, Berne pointed out, are needed by people for psychological and eventually physical survival, just as they need food, water and air. These repetitive stroke-gathering interactions, labelled by Berne with the instantly recognisable names (“Why Don’t You, Yes, But,” “Now I’ve Got You.” and “I’m Only Trying to Help”, etc) are the building blocks of people’s life scripts.
There has been an upsurge of interest among theorists and researchers in autobiographical recollections, life stories and narrative approaches to understanding human experience and behaviour. The concepts that in transactional analysis are referred to as “life scripts,” “script decisions,” and “redecisions” are represented in the wider psychological culture by the concepts of “narratives,” “maladaptive schemas,” “self-narratives,” “story schemas,” “story grammars,” “personal myths,” “personal event memories,” “self-defining memories,” “nuclear scenes,” “gendered narratives,” “narrative coherence,” “narrative complexity,” “core self-beliefs,” and “self-concept.” All of these highlight life stories, myths, plots, episodes, characters and so on. Berne postulated that people make decisions in childhood that shape the rest of their life “script”.
Script theory hypothesises that people can choose lifelong tragic scripts-such as suicide, murder, or alcoholism-in childhood. These choices are supported by routinely recurring games and the roles that people habitually play in them. McAdams, Reynolds, Lewis, Patten and Bowman’s (2001) thorough review of the literature on the psychology of “life stories” contains about 200 references, the majority of which were written well after Berne’s introduction of the concept in 1965. However, this review does not recognise Berne as a pioneer. Most of the relatively few research articles in this area focus on the scripts inherent in short- term events, such as friendships, sicknesses, transitional periods (e.g., from school to work), gender, sexual and abuse scripting, picking sexual partners and habitual ways of dealing with emotions, such as anger.
The narrative literature includes the notion that people are bound to follow certain preconceived behavioural paths and that some of these are harmful to the individual. The notion of an internalised life story or script ties together a number of important theoretical and empirical trends in developmental, cognitive, personality and cultural psychology. Schemas, according to Young (1999), are deep cognitive structures that enable an individual to interpret his or her experiences in a meaningful way. He assumes that, because schemas are formed in response to experiences over a lifetime, they can be restructured.
This is the basis of Goulding and Goulding’s (1997) redecision therapy, according to which transactional analytic practice focuses on a “redecision” of the early decisions that are the foundation of a person’s script. Young expands on this theme with his concept of “maladaptive schemas.” The notion that such “life scripts” can be redecided plays an important part in therapy for depression (Persons, Davidson, and Tompkins, 2001). Regarding games, Berne postulated that they are the building blocks of scripts; without the continuous playing of games, scripts cannot advance.
Berne assigned roles to the players in games and suggested that they are interchangeable. Karpman (1968) narrowed the roles that are essential to any one game to three: Rescuer, Victim, and Persecutor. The familiar Rescuer-Persecutor-Victim cycle or “Rescue Game” is widely recognized as “co-dependency” in the twelve-step movement. Not playing the various roles of the “Alcoholic” game as recommended by Berne is a basic strategy in Alanon. The proposition that co-dependent (Rescuing) behaviour leads to Persecution and Victimisation has not been tested, but it is one of those intuitive Bernean bull’s-eyes that resonate in everyone’s experience. Academic or research literature does not refer to games or similar concepts, although in popular culture, from which the term “game” derives, there is an intuitive understanding of their occurrence and their negative impact. Games are played by people in order to avoid intimacy.
Games leave both players with Not- O.K. feelings. These Not OK feelings, however, are seen as preferable to risking intimacy with the other people. People play games out of a fear of intimacy. In TA, a game involves an exchange of strokes between two individuals which results in a “payoff’ for each of the game players.
In Intimacy, strokes are also exchanged, but for sharing with one another genuine feelings, not aimed at eliciting a specific response, as in game playing. Games can never lead to intimacy. Intimacy does not have to include a sexual relation. Any two persons may be capable of intimacy. With intimacy, people exchange unconditional strokes without looking for a payoff. Some common games are as follows: 1. YDYB: Why Don’t You, Yes But. Historically, the first game discovered.
2. IFWY: If It Weren’t For You. 3. WAHM: Why does this Always Happen to Me? (Setting up a self-fulfilling prophecy).
4. SWYMD: See What You Made Me Do. 5. UGMIT: You Got Me Into This. 6. NHIT: Look How Hard I’ve Tried. 7.
lTHY: I’m Only Trying to Help You. 8. LYAHF: Let’s You and Him Fight. 9. NIGYITYL: Now I’ve Got You, I will Teach You a Lesson. 10.
RAPO: A woman falsely cries ‘rape’ or threatens to – related to Buzz Off Buster. In a game, the players do not always behave rationally in transactional analysis, but behave more like real people. Their motives are often ulterior.