A few weeks ago I was weeping bitterly, feeling insulted and misjudged, because of one phrase a total stranger had written to me. I am a psychotherapist, a happy person; I have the full support of my friends and relations, I’ve done four years of individual therapy and I know a number of self-support techniques. But then this was an entirely unexpected blow.

It all began when I decided to write an article about strokes (a concept of Transactional Analysis) and safe ways of getting them (the article will soon appear here, on my website). That must have been my mistake: I had forgotten that openness, sincerity, and closeness imply that certain risks need to be taken (true, the reward is usually worth it). So before giving advice to others I decided to test on myself all the options for getting nice feedback from other people. I started with the exchange of (printed) cards between strangers based on an online platform. My first correspondent was a middle-aged woman from the US. I chose the card with great care. I found one that was both cute and funny, wrote a few words about me, sealed it in an envelope and mailed it. And then I waited. I waited for my card to reach its destination and for somebody (another total stranger) to choose a card and send it to me (this is how the card exchange works).

And finally, there it was, the email notification about my first card reaching its destination. I clicked on it and read the text. As it turned out, the receiver had the option of leaving feedback about the card. This was the feedback I got: “I’m so disappointed this is not a postcard but an ordinary greeting card in an envelope. I even considered not registering it, but then I realised I’d just punish myself. Next time check the meaning of the word in a dictionary!”

It looked like my multilingualism had played a bad trick on me. So I dutifully opened a dictionary and discovered the difference between greeting card and postcard. Apparently the latter is meant to be sent without an envelope, with stamp and address put directly on it. This may not be news to you, and I probably could have guessed it, too. But I did choose it so carefully. And I waited so hard for a response.

So this is how a total stranger managed to hurt me deeply with just a few sentences. It took me days to get over it. Knowledge, experience, family support – nothing had helped me avoid this painful blow. But they did help me recover and try again.

Now I happily exchange postcards with people all over the world, I give and receive positive strokes and I feel really glad whenever a new postcard – no envelopes! 🙂 – turns up in my mailbox or when reading emails with recipients’ thanks. They have become a form of support.