How regulating our ‘stroke economy’ can help improve ‘mental wellbeing’

In the age of technology and social media, it has become extremely crucial for us to understand what are the factors that impact our mental wellbeing. With a little bit of knowledge about how our brains are wired, what makes us feel good, what makes us feel bad, we can be more intentional about our emotional needs and how to fulfil those. Any knowledge that helps us be more aware of our patterns and our needs is helpful in this regard.

Let’s understand the concept of ‘strokes’ and how our ‘stroke economy’ impacts us.

What are strokes?

When a newborn is crying, we usually try to comfort her by gently patting her on the back or stroking her. We do that often to our pets to show them that we love and care. There is something about ‘touch’ which is ‘nurturing.’

Human beings are social animals. We are wired to live in a society with others and we get our sense of validation from others around us. We are born needing and seeking contact. Our mood, our emotions change based on what cues we receive from others in our surroundings. If we receive a smile or a hug, we feel happy, if we receive indifferent treatment or hostile behavior, we feel bad.

A ‘stroke’ is a unit of recognition. It is a concept introduced by Eric Berne in his famous book ‘Games People Play’. To put it simplistically, it is the mode of contact by way of ‘act or speech’.

There are three kinds of categorization of strokes.

  1. Verbal and non-verbal

Is the stroke being ‘said’ or communicated through ‘acts / gestures?’

  • Positive and negative

Is the stroke uplifting or pulling you down?

  • Conditional and non-conditional

Is the stroke coming for your ‘being’ or your ‘doing’?

Let’s see some examples of each kind of strokes:

PositiveHi. You look gorgeous today!
NegativeYou are horrible at making presentations
ConditionalI like you when you sing for me. You are so annoying when you are hungry.
UnconditionalI like you. I hate you.
VerbalPraise, compliment, giving negative feedback
Non-verbalPat on the back. Someone opening the door for you. Someone visiting you in the hospital.

The child within us needs to be ‘stroked’. This need comes from one of three basic hungers of human being – ‘the Recognition hunger.’

  • Positive non-verbal strokes are extremely powerful. Do you remember the famous scene from a Hindi classic ‘Munnabhai MBBS’ in which a magical ‘jaadu ki jhappi’ sets everything right? That is the power of positive non-verbal strokes.
  • Positive verbal strokes have the potential of making a person feel valued.
  • The most damaging strokes are Negative unconditional strokes. Usually a person doesn’t know why they are getting those strokes. It usually becomes a question mark on their ‘being’.

In a family where having a girl child is not considered a blessing, the child will constantly get unconditional negative strokes. It does a great deal of damage to her confidence because she is not able to comprehend why she is getting such treatment.

‘Indifference’ or ‘passive aggressive’ behaviour is another example of negative unconditional non-verbal strokes.

  • Negative strokes are better than no strokes. A child who doesn’t get attention from her parents starts drawing on the walls just to be yelled at by them. Yes, humans are wired that way, we would like to receive some strokes (whether positive / negative) rather than no strokes.

Now that we know strokes are, let’s dive into understanding ‘the stroke economy.’

The ‘Stroke Economy’

When we are young, giving and receiving strokes seems quite natural to us. We are really good at asking for hugs, cuddling our parents and loved ones, whenever we are in need.

But as we become adults, due to cultural indoctrination, we become stingy about ‘giving’ and ‘receiving’ strokes. Why does this happen?

‘Stroke economy’ is a concept which talks about regulating our ‘strokes’ just like we do with our bank balance. Very soon in our life we learn five rules of maintaining our stroke economy.

  1. Don’t give strokes when we have them.
Why don’t we appreciate others very often even if we feel like doing it?
  • I might lose control.
  • If I appreciate them, they will become complacent.
  • I don’t know how to give strokes.
  • Don’t ask for strokes when you need them.
Why don’t we ask for strokes when we need them?
  • Asking for a hug and cuddle is difficult now as compared to when I was a child.
  • Why should I ask how I look / How did I cook? They should appreciate me by themselves.
  • Don’t accept strokes if you want them.
Why don’t we accept strokes when we want them?
  • We like to be modest when someone compliments us, appreciates us. We just say, “oh, it was nothing!”
  • We are uncomfortable receiving strokes like hugging, cuddling.
  • Don’t reject strokes if you don’t want them.
Why do we not reject something we don’t want?
  • We tend to take it personally.
  • Our mind always exaggerates negative strokes and minimizes positive strokes.
  • Don’t give yourself strokes.
Why don’t we appreciate ourselves often?
  • We are too hard on ourselves.
  • If we have high expectations of ourselves, we don’t even celebrate small wins.
  • We are always chasing the next big thing.
In order to balance our ‘stroke economy’ we need to remove the ‘Don’t’ and allow ourselves to
  1. Give strokes when we have them.
  2. Ask for strokes when you need them.
  3. Accept strokes if you want them.
  4. Reject strokes if you don’t want them.
  5. Give yourself strokes.

Building the habit of doing these five steps needs practice, but it is a sure shot way of feeling more ‘valued’ and making others feel ‘valued’

And, once you start feeling ‘valued’ your ‘self-worth’ improves which is a crucial component of achieving ‘mental wellbeing.’

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