Are you getting enough ‘strokes’?

How many exchanges of ‘Hello’ did you have today? Did anybody say ‘you are good’, or ‘I am glad that you are there’ ? If it happened, you must be feeling OK about yourself. If you had not talked to anyone, you might be feeling a little down. You might even be a little irritable and make a fuss about any little thing that your partner does. It is an unconscious way of seeking a stroke (a unit of recognition.)

Eric Berne talked about one of our psychological needs as ‘recognition hunger.’ COVID-19 has challenged us in this human basic need, through remote work and distancing. We see less people, hence experience less strokes. A word of “hello,” a smile, a hug, are called positive strokes, and a frown, a complain, are negative, but still strokes. They all show that our existence has been recognized.

When we do not get enough strokes, we seek negative ones, because it is better than nothing. It is similar to children’s bad behavior which is often regarded as ‘attention seeking.’ Expression of anger, frustration, or feeling sad may be signs of stroke deficiency.

C. Steiner identified unhelpful beliefs that restrict stroke exchange unknowingly. So let’s be conscious and make sure we get enough strokes.

  1. Freely giving strokes to others.
  2. If you need a stroke, ask for it.
  3. When others give you a stroke that you like, let’s receive and cherish it.
  4. When somebody gives you a stroke you do no like, it is OK to reject it.
  5. It is OK to stroke yourself.

Request your partner, or friends, to share with you ‘what you like about me'(#2) and when they do so, make sure you take those in (#4). You can also initiate positive stroke exchange by telling others what you appreciate about the person.(#1) All these contribute to better relationships, and a positive sense of self. Having an awareness of ‘shortage of strokes’ and creating a strategy to fill up those needs can change your life for the better.

Berne, E.(1964) Games people play. New York; Grove Press. 1964
Steiner, C. (1971) Scripts people live. New York; Grove Weidenfeld. 1974

Written by:
Rie Miura
Counsellor, M.S.W.

Self-Care: How do you take care of yourself?

“We need to do a better job of putting ourselves higher on our own ‘to do’ list.” – Michelle Obama

When was the last time that you took time off for fun? When was the last time you nurtured your own interests? Are you someone who spends much of your time giving and doing things for others, but feels guilty when taking time for yourself?

Practicing self-care is known to have tremendous benefits, such as reducing occupational hazards like burnout and compassion fatigue. It can also help you to fortify relationships and enhance self-esteem and resilience. Despite the benefits of self-care, engaging in self-care is a challenge for most of us. Barriers to engaging in these activities may be related to our perspectives, such as seeing these activities as a weakness or an indulgence. Others may feel guilty or struggle to manage their time/responsibilities in order to practice self-care.

There is nothing wrong with taking care of ourselves. Just imagine that our life’s journey is like a long-haul drive; self-care is comparable to vehicle maintenance, which helps ensures our vehicle can handle the long road ahead. When we are able to prioritize our own well-being, we can be our best selves.

You may wonder, how do I practice self-care?

The following are the five categories of self-care with recommendations*:

  1. Physical Self-Care
    Engage in healthy practices, such as diet, exercise, sleep hygiene, and staying active. Stay up to date with your health care and listen to your body.
  2. Psychological Self-Care
    Make time for self-reflection, be curious, nurture your interests, and say no to extra responsibilities. Learn ways to manage stress levels and seek professional help as needed.
  3. Emotional Self-Care
    Spend time with important people in your life, be kind to yourself, feel proud of yourself, and allow yourself to express your emotions.  
  4. Spiritual Self-Care
    Identify what is meaningful to you, make time for prayer, meditation, and reflection, find spiritual connection, spend time in nature, celebrate your milestone, express gratitude, and listen to inspiring music.
  5. Workplace/Professional Self-Care
    Foster work relationships (i.e. eating lunch with coworkers), set limits with clients and colleagues, negotiate for your needs (salary and benefits), make time to complete daily tasks, and make your workspace comfortable and relaxing.

Practicing self-care does not need to take a lot of time. You can find a balance for caring for yourself as well as others. You can start making self-care your priority by setting realistic and reasonable expectations for self-care activities. Creating a structure and routine may help you to develop a consistent plan for self-care.

*Source: Adapted from Saakvitne, Pearlman, and Traumatic Stress Institute Staff, Transforming the Pain: A Workbook on Vicarious Traumatization, 1996.

Written by:
Dr. Ooi Ting Huay
Clinical Psychologist

Attachment and Adolescents

The importance of attachment in babies and young children is commonly well-understood, as is the expectation that when our children hit their teenage years, they will begin to move away from their attachment figures. It is assumed that this is a key part of their growth and development into adulthood. It can be easy, (particularly when teenagers are testing our parental boundaries!)  to also assume that attachment is less important as children get older. However, maintaining a secure sense of attachment is just as important for adolescents – and Covid19 has shown us some interesting results that help highlight and remember what we can keep in mind for our teenagers.

John Bowlby, a renowned attachment researcher, helps to show us that attachment is “from the cradle to the grave”. It impacts us as children, through our teenage years and well into adulthood.  Brain development and our nervous system responds to, and is shaped by, secure attachments throughout our entire life.  We all, children, adults and adolescents, need to have a sense of a secure base and supportive relationships. Part of our ongoing role as parents is to actively and consciously consider how develops and remains important in our relationships with teenagers.

As adolescents begin to move away from their initial attachment relationships, they thrive when they are carrying with them a “secure base” from which they can reach out into the world and explore.  This exploration happens through peer relationships, connecting with other important adults (coaches, mentors and other relatives) and institutions (schools, clubs etc.).  A vital part of this healthy development, and a necessary condition, is a strong and secure base that remains available, and continues to be a space for children to return to. Adolescents thrive with both roots (secure attachment) and wings (growing independence and sense of purpose). In order to move towards independence, teenagers require a place of dependence. A place to be continually nourished, have their needs seen and met – an emotional space that is unconditionally accepting (but note this is not the same as unconditionally permissive!). 

COVID -19 lockdowns all around the world have facilitated a unique opportunity for many families to engage with, observe and reconnect with the adolescents in their lives.  As a result, in many instances, adolescents are reportingless stress, better sleep and often better connections with their siblings and their caregivers. Recent figures from student resilience surveys from researcher Dr Suniya Luthar during COVID lockdowns in the US have noted overall improvement in clinical anxiety and depression (compared to the same time last year). Bearing in mind the increased pressures most families have been facing in this chaotic time – ongoing work commitments, complexities of work from home arrangements, potential increasing financial pressures, anxieties about family around the world – it’s useful to ask what has been important about this unique period that has engendered improvements in mood and measures for good emotional health?

Time: Families though stretched in unforeseen and novel ways, have noticed the return of rhythms that in the past have been compromised in the unrelenting march of extra-curricular activities (before school, after school, weekend tutoring, volunteering – on and on it goes). It’s a reminder that spending time with teenagers outside of scheduling is an important factor.

Sleep: Adolescents have long been thwarted by a body clock that really prefers to sleep later – versus school times that are geared for early morning risers. The opportunity to gain the additional hour or two of sleep is important in physical and mental well-being. Parents too, have been able to travel less, with little or less commuting, less rush for school picks ups, extracurricular activities etc.  Finding ways of keeping healthy sleep patterns as we come out of lockdown is something to focus on.

Togetherness: A sense of being in it together – the embodied sense of safety and all physically being in one location, and sharing a common experience is another important component.

In many parts of the world, and certainly here in Singapore, families are balancing a return to activities outside the home, and in doing so are considering which parts of this lockdown worked for them. Given the choice, what would you like to maintain and protect in the future? There is still the reality of ongoing academic demands for students, college applications, community service, volunteering, sporting commitments. So what really matters? Resilience research has consistently shown that the key factor in being OK when things are difficult is close and robust relationships. Prioritizing parent-child, parent/ caregiver relationships (couple relationships) is crucial – without strong relationships teens are increasingly isolated, they miss the opportunity for conversations that help develop their reflective capacity. Robust relationships and secure attachment helps adolescents develop their sense of who they are:- at first within, then outside of the family unit, which is a protective factor against isolation, hopelessness and anxieties.

Given our collective experiences in lockdown, as well as what adolescents themselves are reporting – this time has been instructive. And time itself is necessary. Adolescents need time with their closest secure attachments, they continue to draw on and thrive with their support. Consider how you can protect some of your caregiving time – being able to share a meal, being present to ensure decent sleep patterns, being engaged in shared activities or interests. To assume that teens do not need or even want these things, because they are “growing up and becoming independent” is to diminish the ongoing importance of relationships  – which is a human need and especially important in the development of the adolescent brain.

Bowlby J. Attachment and Loss: Vol 1 Attachment. New York: Basic Books; 1969/1982. [Google Scholar]
Dr Suniya Luthar (   

Written by:
Veronica McKibbin