The Power of Strokes

This is the second part of my notes from the book Born to Win: Transactional Analysis with Gestalt Experiments


Human hunger for Strokes


Stroking is defined as any act of recognition, verbal or nonverbal, for another.   The term comes from the physical contact which is essential to the survival of the infant child.

Everyone has the need to be touched and to be recognized by other people, and every person has the need to do something with the time between birth and death. These are biological and physiological needs that Eric Berne calls as Hungers. The hungers for touch and recognition can be appeased with strokes.


Stroking Hunger

Beginning from childhood and throughout their lives people needs affection, recognition and praise.


Infants will not grow normally without the touch of others. This need is usually met in the everyday intimate transactions of diapering, feeding, burping, powdering, fondling and caressing that nurturing parents give their babies. Something about being touched simulates an infant’s chemistry for mental and physical growth. Infants, who are neglected, ignored or for any reason do not experience enough touch, suffer mental and physical deterioration event to the point of death.


As a child grows older, the early primary hunger for physical touch is modified and becomes recognition hunger. A Smile, a nod, a frown, a gesture eventually replace some touch strokes. Like touch, these forms of recognition whether positive or negative, simulate the brain of the one receiving them…


Strokes may be positive, negative or mixed.

  • Positive strokes feel good when they are received and contribute to a person’s sense of being OK. It is really required to develop emotionally healthy persons with a sense of OKness.
  • Negative strokes hurt emotionally and make us feel less OK about ourselves. In Transactional Analysis even negative strokes are regarded better than none at all.
  • There is also a difference between conditional and unconditional strokes. Conditional strokes are offered to employees if they perform correctly. Unconditional strokes are presented without any connection to behavior.
  • Managers will get better results if they give more strokes in a behavior modification framework, where the reward is contingent upon the desired activity.



If a parent discounts an infant’s feelings and needs, healthy development is thwarted. A discount is either the lack of attention or negative attention that hurts emotionally or physically.


A Person, who is ignored, tested, diminished, humiliated, physically degraded, laughed at, called names, or ridiculed is in some way being treated as insignificant. The individual is being discounted. Discounts always carry on ulterior put-down.


Being discounted is always painful. It leads to unhappy human relationships or feeds into destructive or going nowhere scripts.


Ignoring and isolating people are well-known forms of punishment. It deprives persons of even minimal stroking and leads to intellectual, emotional and physical deterioration.


If a discount is delivered through negative stroking, the not-OK message is sent either openly or by implication.


Giving and Receiving Strokes

  • Don’t be insincere
  • Accept strokes positively from other people
  • Make a conscious effort to give strokes to other people
  • Try to recognize other people’s reaction to strokes and the frequency/kind they appear to appreciate
  • Ask for strokes when you feel you need them
  • Give yourself strokes when you feel you deserve/need them



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