I haven’t been able to find this information on the internet, so I decided to post it myself. It is a brief discussion of the effects of mixed messages given to both children and adults in TA terms. Teaching people how to recognize mix messages and how to confront and reject them is often an essential part of the psychotherapy process. Mixed messages are often a source of distress in love and work relationships. Parents continue to use mixed messages when they address their children, passing on needless suffering.
It is helpful to identify four kinds of strokes. Early in life people get addicted to one of the four kinds, defining the particular kind they like as a necessity and seeking that particular kind of stroke in their involvement with others.
The four kinds of strokes are as follows: (1) positive strokes (+) which feel good and say you’re O.K. (“warm fuzzies”), like being smiled at, hugged, admired, or chosen for something good; (2) negative strokes (-) which feel bad and say you’re not O.K. (“cold pricklies”), like being spanked, criticized, put down, snubbed, or sent to bed without supper. In addition to warm fuzzies and cold pricklies, there are two other varieties, (3) warm pricklies (+ -) and (4) cold fuzzies (- +), both of which are pleasure and love offered in combination with pain and degradation. “Hi, you lovable dingbat,” is a warm pricklie, as is “Well, how nice! You finally combed your hair!” A cold fuzzie is the giving a treat in the attitude of anger and resentment. Willie wants $.25 to get a toy, and his mother throws the quarter at him with an attitude of “take it, you rotten lousy kid, which makes getting the treat a bittersweet experience. Children need strokes to survive and will die without them. And although children survive best on positive strokes, negative strokes will keep a child alive, as well as the mixed varieties.
People who are used to positive strokes, who expect positive strokes and seek them out usually do not come for psychotherapy. What we find is that people go through life seeking the very same kind they received as children. For example, a little girl asked for something she got a response like “Take the cookie and choke!” with is a gift combined with anger and hatred, she pursues responses of begrudging generosity later on in her life. Some people have learned to live on + -.
From Haimowitz, Morris L., & Haimowitz, Natalie R. (1976) Suffering Is Optional: The Myth of the Innocent Bystander, pp. 3-4.