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.

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