Talk Talk: Effective Communication in Everyday Life

Talk Talk: Effective Communication in Everyday Life

by Mavis Klein


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781780998824
Publisher: Hunt, John Publishing
Publication date: 06/16/2013
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 87
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Mavis Klein is a psychotherapist of 35 years standing, a counselling astrologer of 30 years standing, and the author of 9 previous books. She lives in London, UK.

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Talk Talk

Effective Communication in Everyday Life

By Mavis Klein

John Hunt Publishing Ltd.

Copyright © 2012 Mavis Klein
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-78099-882-4



What is a Stroke?

People give and receive strokes from each other every time they do or say anything that acknowledges the other's presence. Any intentional body contact made with another person is a stroke, but so, too, are words and many other symbols that show we are aware of the other person. Thus a smile, a frown, a telephone call, an invitation, a thank-you note, or a threat are all received as strokes, as well as pats on the arm, smacks, kisses or kicks. Strokes vary in their intensity and value, from the most highly praised 'I love you' to the very slightly valued nod of recognition from a passing acquaintance.

We need strokes in our daily lives as much as we need food, in order to survive. And, indeed, in the earliest months of our lives, we need strokes in the most basic sense of skin to skin contact. This was definitively discovered during World War II in Paris, where there was an orphanage in which apparently well-fed and well-cared for babies were losing weight and wasting away and dying, for no discernible reason. A psychiatrist called René Spitz was called in to investigate, and he discovered that the reason for these babies dying was that the staff were so busy feeding and keeping clean the babies in their care that nobody had any time to pick them up and cuddle them. And so it has become received wisdom that the intimate skin-to-skin contact that a baby has with its primary caretaker – usually its mother – is as vital to the baby's survival as the milk it is fed.

René Spitz's finding was supported by the famous experiments of the behavioural psychologist Harry Harlow who, in the 1950s, housed orphaned monkeys in a cage containing two monkey-shaped surrogate mothers: a wire mesh one to which was attached a feeding bottle, and a soft cloth one without any feeding bottle. The baby monkeys spent far more time clinging to the cloth than to the wire surrogate, and they invariably ran to the cloth one whenever they were startled by a loud noise.

In the light of this knowledge, Eric Berne, the founder of Transactional Analysis, asked himself, if physical strokes are so imperative a need in infancy, how do we manage without them once infancy is passed? He decided that we do, indeed, go on needing strokes throughout our lives, on a daily basis, in exactly the same way and as imperatively as we go on needing food. However, Berne decided, once the period of infancy is over, we learn to value symbolic substitutes for skin-to-skin contact, including any eye to eye contact we make with another human being.

The first symbolic stroke that we are capable of appreciating – and returning – is our mother's smile, when we are about six weeks old. And then, as we grow up, we learn to value a multitude of other symbolic strokes - gifts we are given, birthday and Christmas cards, invitations to parties ... We 'say it with flowers' and in innumerable other ways.

Everything that can be said about strokes is precisely analogous to what we may say about food.

Although we go on throughout our lives having our stroke needs met largely symbolically, at the deepest level of our beings, we all yearn for the nirvana we once experienced, ideally, at our mother's breasts. Loving sexual intercourse is the closest we ever get to that nirvana (ambrosia) again, and so is the most highly valued experience that life has to offer us.

There have been some experiments done to find out how long people can manage without strokes. In one experiment, some normal, healthy adults were put in a situation where they had no contact of any kind with another human being, for as long as they could bear. What would you guess was the longest time that anybody could manage? After 36 hours there was nobody left who didn't feel they were going out of their mind (which, interestingly, is about the same length of time that most people can go without food before becoming desperate). And, as we all know, solitary confinement is the most horrible punishment that can be inflicted on people, because it is a situation in which they are completely stroke-starved. While there are constitutional differences between people in how long they can survive without food or water, stroke-deprivation is a sanity – if not life- threatening situation for nearly everybody.

Different Kinds of Strokes

All strokes are positive or negative and conditional or unconditional. Positive strokes make us feel good about ourselves; negative strokes make us feel bad about ourselves. But we would rather have negative strokes than no strokes at all and, quite rightly, just as nobody who was starving would be foolish enough to refuse a McDonald's and coke if there was no other food available. So those people who, for whatever reason, can't get positive strokes will choose negative strokes rather than none at all.

By and large, the only truly unconditional positive strokes people ever receive are from their mothers and fathers. And, if we are lucky, we can rely on our parents to go on loving us throughout their lives, no matter what we ever do or say. Unconditional positive strokes say, 'I love your existence. No matter what you do, I will always love you.'

Unconditional negative strokes are given instead of unconditional positive strokes to some unhappy people, even in infancy. These strokes effectively say, 'I hate you and wish you didn't exist. There's nothing you can ever do to please me or to make me love you.' Those people in the world who were effectively brought up on unconditional negative strokes spend their whole lives, however unconsciously, looking for the unconditional positive strokes they were entitled to from their parents, but never got. They are likely to have many self-destructive propensities. And there are other, less disturbed people who, nevertheless, having been given a surfeit of unconditional negative strokes as children, are likely to reach out pre-emptively and with great vigour towards every new person they meet, in the hope that this is the one who will give them the infantile, unconditional positive strokes they were deprived of. They are inclined to see somebody across a crowded room and say, 'Ah, I'm in love with you. I knew the moment I saw you that you're the person I've been waiting for all my life;' and then the whole thing blows up in no time at all, because they provocatively test the unconditionality of the other's love with their own bad behaviour, and quickly find – of course – that there are limits to the other's love. Eventually, it is to be hoped, such people are able to acquire the insight to realize and accept, with rational resignation, that they are never going to get those unconditional strokes of which they have been deprived, but that conditional positive strokes are well worth having.

Conditional positive and conditional negative strokes are the usual strokes that are on offer in the world. For example, 'Tidy up your room and I'll take you out and buy you a new pair of jeans this afternoon' (conditional positive) or 'Do that once more and you're grounded for a week' (conditional negative).

Each individual has one or more target positive and target negative strokes, respectively the things we like most and the things we like least about ourselves. When we are given our positive target stroke(s) we feel great pleasure; when we are given our target negative stroke(s) we feel great pain. As is the case of each person's more general propensity to invite positive or negative strokes, target strokes, too, are usually conditioned in childhood. Some common positive target strokes are for looks, intelligence, generosity, and sympathy; some common negative target strokes are for stupidity, selfishness, meanness, and untrustworthiness.

A particular person's target strokes can be ascertained by direct questioning, such as, 'What attributes others describe you as having make you feel particularly good/bad about yourself?', but a clue to them is what kind of strokes the person tends to give to others. Thus, 'What a kind woman' is likely to be said by a woman whose own (positive) target stroke is kindness; 'What a mean bastard' is likely to be said by someone whose own (negative) target stroke is meanness.

We tend to assume that other people's target strokes are the same as our own, but in this we are often mistaken. Finding out what somebody's target strokes are, and often giving them their target positive stroke, and scrupulously avoiding giving them their target negative stroke (despite their provocation), is greatly conducive to increasing the sum total of happiness in the world. Easier said than done! Many unhappy relationships revolve around each person continually giving the other their negative target strokes.

Making Sense of the World

Why do we go on seeking the same strokes over and over again? Why, for example, does a woman who has been told from infancy that she has gorgeous blue eyes go on wanting this stroke over and over again, in preference to some new strokes that she has not received before? She does so because her 'gorgeous blue eyes' are a significant part of the sense she makes of herself in relation to other people and the world.

When we are newborn and entering a world which – we infer from the behaviour of newborn babies – is an utterly chaotic, undifferentiated blob of experience, our brains are hard-wired for us to acquire knowledge about the world, both physical and psychological, as quickly as we possibly can, to enable us, step by step, to achieve independence and autonomy, and not have to be looked after by other people in order to survive.

In the acquisition of our knowledge of objective, physical reality, we are all very much alike. We differ from each other to the extent that we each have our own particular ways of perceiving that highlight some, and gloss over other, aspects of reality. Thus an artist may tend to see 'nothing but' colours and shapes, a banker will focus on the economic aspects of reality, and a naturalist may find city streets 'empty'. Nevertheless, allowing for the differences of focus that are conditioned by differences of interest, by and large, we have all been taught to interpret the world in ways that all sane people call 'correct'. Experientially, we probably learn nearly all the basic laws of physics by the time we are one year of age: hot and cold, rough and smooth, heavy and light ... which get reinforced and elaborated through the answers our parents and others give to our multitudinous questions in the first few years of our lives.

Consider, for example, a conversation between a three-year-old and his or her mother.

Three-year-old: Mummy, why won't my ball stay up?

Mother: Because everything falls back to the ground.

Three-year-old: Why?

Mother: Gravity makes everything fall down.

And if this three-year-old asks her nursery school teacher the same question, she will almost certainly be given more or less the same answer.

Thus, we share with all sane others a collection of conventions we agree on concerning how to perceive and understand physical reality. This was brought home to me by one of my daughters when she was about four and she asked me, 'Mummy, why is it that all the big aeroplanes are at the airport and all the little ones in the sky?' And I, of course, (in the name of sanity), replied, 'Well actually the ones in the sky are really big too. They just look little because they are a long way away.' But, in giving this reply, I realized with some poignancy that, in teaching children about the nature of reality, we are closing their minds. There is no metaphysical reason why I could not have replied to my daughter, 'Well actually the ones at the airport are really little too. They just look big because they are very close.' No doubt we could construct a completely self-consistent theory of physical reality in which we would agree that things only look big when they are close, and are really small; but we have decided to put it the other way round.

Each answer a child gets to his questions about physical reality makes the world a more predictable place. He now knows a bit more and feels that much more secure.

Who has not, at some time, found gratification in testing the security of our knowledge about the world by actions, for example, like covering a burning candle with a glass and 'proving' – again – that, yes, fire does need a continuous supply of oxygen to go on burning?

There are thousands of actual stimuli bombarding our brains at every moment of our waking lives, yet our brains are only capable of processing a handful of them at a time. So we are programmed to exclude as 'white noise' the vast majority of stimuli, in favour of attending only to the very small number that we need to be aware of to survive and be effective in our particular environment. Those unfortunate people who, by dint of innate brain damage or circumstantial experience, are incapable of blocking out the 'noise' of the world in favour of highly selective perception, are deemed insane.

And in exactly the same way, and in order to fulfil the same basic need to make sense of the world, so as to feel secure in it, we learn about psychological reality. Learning about physical reality enables us safely and confidently to interact with things; learning about psychological reality enables us safely and confidently to interact with people. Making sense of people means learning how to give and get strokes.

So, all the time we are asking our mothers and fathers about gravity and temperature, animals and birds, night and day, sand and snow ... we are also asking about life and death, love and hate, anger, jealousy, ownership rights and sharing, happiness and unhappiness, good and bad, reward and punishment, etc. etc. And by the time we first leave home to go to school, we are basically equipped to get our stroke needs met in the world at large.

However, we all make one huge mistake – a mistake that most people continue to make for the rest of their lives. We presume that just because everybody else's physical reality is the same as our own, so everybody else's psychological reality is also the same as our own. It isn't.

True, there are areas of overlap between one person's and another's psychological realities, or else we would all continually fail to get strokes from other people. But what we witnessed and were told about people in our early family life may be very different from what our best friend witnessed and was told about in her family. Some families are generally amiable, some sad, some angry and quarrelsome, some loving, some rejecting, some quiet, some noisy, some organized, some chaotic, some changeable. But it is on the basis of the characteristics of our own particular family that each of us decides what human nature and our psychological world will be about.

In this way one child becomes the man whose greatest happiness is his close and loving family life, his greatest difficulty in life being his constant worry about money. Another becomes renowned in his field of work, and feels immensely rewarded by the honours heaped on him, but constantly does battle with his inclination to alcoholism. One woman is constantly appreciated for her femininity and beauty but feels inferior for never having completed her secondary schooling, while another is profoundly positively stroked as a mother but miserable as a wife.

Thus – for the good and the bad in our lives – what is relevant to one person is irrelevant to, and therefore not 'heard' by another.

The differences between people's target negative strokes was made vivid to me some years ago, a few days before Christmas, when I was about to conduct a group therapy session. The group was already assembled and, as I walked into the room, I heard one group member saying to another, with obvious discomfort, 'Thank you very much for your Christmas card. Um, um, we're not sending any this year, but I hope you don't think we're ungrateful,' and I suddenly realized that she was giving herself her own target negative stroke – ingratitude – which provided me with a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate the variability of people's target negative strokes. That situation, bumping into somebody who has sent you a Christmas card, when it's too late for you to send them one - no big deal, but we've all experienced it and been inclined to have some, however mild, uncomfortable feeling.

So I took advantage of this situation, which we have all known, and said, 'OK everybody, it's December the 21st and you bump into somebody who has sent you a Christmas card, and you haven't sent them one. Quickly and spontaneously tell us how you feel.' We got 'guilty', 'embarrassed', 'angry', 'ungrateful', 'ashamed', 'worried', and 'selfish', but what was most fascinating was the looks of amazed disbelief on people's faces, as others declared their target strokes, as if to say, 'That's not the feeling you're supposed to have.' There was silence at the end, and then, finally, one of the 'guilty' ones turned to the 'ungrateful' one and said, 'But you do feel guilty for being ungrateful, don't you?' And the 'ungrateful' one said, 'No, I don't.'

Excerpted from Talk Talk by Mavis Klein. Copyright © 2012 Mavis Klein. Excerpted by permission of John Hunt Publishing Ltd..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Foreword 1

1 Strokes 2

What is a stroke?

Different kinds of strokes 4

Making sense of the world 6

2 Foraging for Strokes 11

The inefficacy of punishment

Stroke schedules 12

Six stroke diets 14

Games 16

3 Ego States and Transactions 20

Ego states in general

The Parent ego state 25

The Adult ego state 26

Transactions in general 27

Complementary transactions 29

Crossed transactions 31

Duplex transactions 33

4 The Whole Self in Action 37

Judgement, Compromise, and Creative Alternatives

Prejudice, Confusion, and Delusion 42

Uncaring, Turbulent, and Joyless people 46

Infantile, Cold, and Harsh or Smothering people 48

Return to healthy functioning 50

5 From Birth to Maturity 52

Birth to one year

One to three 54

Three to six 58

Six years old 61

Six to twelve

Twelve to sixteen 64

Sixteen Plus 66

Maturity 68

Appendix: About Transactional Analysis 70

Glossary 74

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