“Recognition Hunger” has been described by Eric Berne in Transactional Analysis (TA) as serving our human need for contact together with “Stimulus Hunger.” We answer these hungers through strokes, that is what people share to recognize the other person’s presence. Giving and receiving strokes ranges from instinctive reactions to well-reflected reactions.
The “Stimulus Hunger” Berne described relates mainly to our biological need for sensory stimulations. Our senses require practice and thus need stimulation. We see, touch, hear, smell, and taste. Most of the time we take the use of these senses for granted. You become more aware of them when someone asks you to compare the colors you noticed when observing a landscape with those in the picture you’ve made of it with your smartphone. Or maybe when someone asks you to describe what other tastes than coffee you recognize in the coffee you are drinking. These examples naturally are luxury problems. Our senses are there to serve vital functions like the continued functioning of our organism and thus our ability to adjust to the world we experience in the moment. When we are deprived of our senses, or lack training thereof, adjustment and balance are less accessible. Try for example to stand on one leg, then close your eyes, how does this impact your stability?
“Contact Hunger” can be seen as a subset of stimulus hunger, but it’s worth mentioning it as it refers to our need for touch and its impact on us. Through feeding the baby will receive food as well as energy and pleasure resulting from the human touch. This impact is nowadays widely known. It transformed the way parents interact with their babies during the first days and months, giving much more importance to touching. Neuroscientific research suggests that soothing and nourishing contact facilitates the development of the brain and the baby’s sense of self.
“Recognition Hunger” is complementary to the other two. That is because it involves the ability of our nervous system to substitute physical contact with verbal recognition and body language. To a certain extent, we’ve learned to assess someone’s interaction with us as an acknowledgment of our existence. It is as if, to know that we exist, we would need others to establish contact with us. The Ubuntu idea of Sawubona and its response Shiboka receives full meaning here. This exchange literally means “Until you see me, I do not exist.”
Such a ‘hello’ can still the hunger for recognition. But depending on the situation and the individual it might need something different like a debate on one’s political opinion, an exchange on one’s favorite music, or appreciation for one’s performance. We all favor something different.
But looking for satisfaction only would be shortsighted.
The range of recognition we will look for concerns a human being’s desire to have an impact. When together with others, people want to strengthen the group, they contribute to their tribe, and to be able to see that it worked they look out for their impact. The impact they have had is confirmation of their sense of agency and thus their ability to contribute through their own doing. This is where the need for recognition is also a need to be ‘accounted’. It creates the experience that their impact was seen. In essence, people want to be accountable to verify their impact as well as that it has been seen. Among other things, it confirms that they belong.