How do you feel when someone says something nice to you or about you? How do you feel after exchanging a hug with a person you care about?
Part of being a sincere, genuine human being is the ability to give and receive fondness, admiration, and appreciation. It is important to communicate our appreciation for to those around us, the role they may have in our lives, and be able to accept the same genuine feedback in return.
A psychological method called Transactional Analysis (TA) refers to an individual’s ability to address a person’s interactions and communications with the purpose of establishing and reinforcing individuality, in other words, that each person is valuable and has the capacity for positive change and growth. The interactions or communications between two people are often called “strokes” and the positive strokes are what contribute to a healthy pattern of communication and positive living.
Positive strokes are necessary in developing and building our self-image and encouraging emotional connections with others. They have the ability to increase compassion for others and ourselves. Positive strokes create the opportunity to develop trust and be vulnerable.
Strokes can be verbal or nonverbal. It may be a smile or a hug from a person you care deeply for. Positive strokes are critical for developing minds, but still vital for us adults. Strokes can also be negative. Based on some research by Eric Berne, the founder of Transactional Analysis, any stroke (positive or negative) is better than no stroke at all. Receiving some recognition is better than no recognition at all and being ignored. It is often why a child who doesn’t receive enough positive strokes will often develop negative behaviors that will at minimum result in negative strokes because anything is better than nothing.
Berne has classified strokes as “conditional” and “unconditional,” he stated that unconditional strokes are related to what you are and conditional strokes are about what you do. For example, an unconditional positive stroke (compliment) is “I love you,” or “you’re wonderful.” An unconditional negative stroke (insult) is “I hate you,” or “You’re an idiot.” Conditional positive strokes are similar to statements like, “I like when you smile,” “You look pretty,” and “You’ve done a great job.” Negative conditional strokes may sound like, “You are really stupid for failing that test,” “Your work is unacceptable,” or “I don’t like you when you act like this.”
Studies in Transactional Analysis suggest that when a person does not receive enough positive strokes we seek out acceptance by chasing negative strokes. When those negative strokes are accepted, we only reinforce that behavior and so the cycle continues. This is unhealthy for not only us as the individual, but also for the person who issued the negative stroke. When we accept only positive strokes, we are reinforcing positive interactions.
I encourage you to take some time and really think about that for a moment. Are you accepting only positive strokes and reinforcing the positive? Or are you seeking out negative strokes and reinforcing negative behaviors? Are you a person who has more negative strokes — interactions where people are more critical of you or others or just leave you feeling more down and drained? Or do you radiate positive energy and feelings of joy when around others? Be honest with who you are and what you say and do. There are benefits to being a “radiator” for yourself and others instead of being a “drain.”
If you want to be a radiator or surround yourself with radiators consider this: oxytocin is a neurotransmitter that acts as a hormone. It has been linked to the regulation of trust and morality. It is released in the body when we feel safe and connected. In a TED talk, Dr. Zak prescribed a minimum of 8 hugs per day to feel happier and more connected, and to nurture relationships. He recommended this because physical touch has been shown to stimulate the most potent release of oxytocin. According to his research, a 20 second hug with a romantic partner can achieve a spike in oxytocin levels and can trigger a decrease in blood pressure, heart rate, and cortisol levels. A 20-second hug with a person you care for is a positive stroke that has emotional, physical, and mental benefits. Take the time to communicate unconditional and conditional positive strokes to others. Verbally express appreciation, fondness, and admiration as it will only increase positive growth, compassion, and trust in yourself and others.
The fact is, all of us need to be seen and recognized by others. Positive strokes are free. They are great motivators and have the ability to improve a person’s overall perspective on life. Across our lifespan, expressions of appreciation, fondness, and admiration in addition to positive strokes contribute to high self-esteem and confidence. Expressing appreciation in others and receiving positive feedback is the simplest yet, one of the biggest investments that can be made in the emotional and psychological wellbeing of all people.
Rachel Velishek is a licensed professional clinical counselor with Fisher-Titus Behavioral Health, Fisher-Titus Medical Park 2, Suite C, 282 Benedict Ave., Norwalk. Her office can be reached at 419-668-0311. For more information on Fisher-Titus Behavioral Health, visit fishertitus.org/behavioral-health.