The whole and its parts

The whole & its parts

The stroke economy

People need other people.

It is a relational need that presents itself through a search for contact. It’s a search that goes way beyond physical contact. However, it does include it, especially in our early years when other means to experience contact have not yet been developed.

Eric Berne described this need for contact in Transactional Analysis (TA) using the terms ‘recognition hunger’ and ‘stimulus hunger.’ To describe the contact itself he used the term ‘stroke’ and defined it as a ‘unit of recognition’ or ‘any act implying recognition of another’s presence.’

Consequently, any interaction with someone else or reaction to them is, by definition, a stroke. Thus, strokes can be negative as well as positive. This makes sense, as it has been proven, that people will usually appreciate positive strokes, but also prefer negative strokes to receiving none at all. Without strokes people will not only feel ignored, they will also lack the feedback that they exist.

Strokes one can receive or give are physical, verbal, and non-verbal. And the way they are given can be conditional and unconditional. In TA it is the intent that will assess if a stroke is positive or negative. However, despite the intent a stroke may not always be received as it has been intended.

Another challenging aspect of strokes is, that a person’s upbringing and experience will impact how they share and react to strokes. Claude Steiner noticed that in some families and organizations stroking patterns may have certain rules that resemble a financial economic system. The idea is that giving a stroke a high price will impact behavior, controlling strokes is seen as a means to shape behavior.

The impact of such a stroke economy remains way into adulthood, where it will be repeated with the members of one’s environment. Leaders who are unaware of their use of strokes, the limitless availability of strokes, and the many ways strokes are shared will also find themselves more challenged to add quality to the contact they usually have with others.

Steiner described the stroke economy with the five rules used in it.

  • Don’t give strokes even if you have them to give
  • Don’t ask for strokes when you need them
  • Don’t accept strokes even if you want them
  • Don’t reject strokes when you don’t want them
  • Don’t give yourself strokes.

These are five ways to keep people hungry. It is a belief that human beings only have a limited capacity to give strokes which has been programmed in childhood. In the hope of controlling others, it establishes an economy that contributes to keeping their search and need for contact largely unfulfilled. For those experiencing it, it comes with a negative impact on their physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

It discounts the reality that humans have an infinite capacity for recognizing and appreciating the existence of others.


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