Leilani Mitchell talks about our innate need for attention and how we inhibit ourselves and often end up with negative attention especially in times of stress.

‘She/he is just attention seeking’ – how often do we hear or say this statement? We use it as a put down as a criticism, and yet if someone is attention seeking that is because they need or want attention – what’s wrong with that?!

Human beings are social animals and need attention to survive. Orphans who are fed and watered and given shelter do not thrive and often deteriorate if they are not given human contact and attention. We will each have learnt ways to get our attention needs met in our family of origin and are probably still using the same, sometimes outdated, patterns that we learnt then to get our needs met. In times of stress when we may be worried about money, Christmas, our jobs etc we are more likely to revert to unhealthy ways of getting our needs met, which often compound the situation.

In Transactional Analysis we talk about Strokes. A stroke is a unit of recognition. Recognition can be verbal or non-verbal, positive or negative. Strokes are required for psychological (and some would say physical) health.

Types of strokes

There are two main types of stroke: POSITIVE STROKE – e.g. “You look well.” NEGATIVE STROKE – e.g. “I hate you!” They can be conditional (e.g. “You look pretty in that dress”) or unconditional (e.g. “I love you!”). They can be verbal (as simple as “hello!”) or non-verbal (for instance a smile).

The effects of strokes

Strokes reinforce behaviour/emotions/thinking. For instance, as children grow up in their family they will be positively stroked for the behaviour/emotions/thinking the family wants in them, and negatively stroked for the behaviour/emotions/thinking, which the family wish to discourage. This effect can be seen not only in families but also in all situations where people interact, including the professional relationships, social contacts and the workplace. If people feel deprived of strokes, they will behave in such a manner as to elicit them. If they cannot get positive strokes they will seek negative strokes rather than have none. In the current climate people are worried, stressed and concerned about the future they may feel devalued, unappreciated and unsafe.

The stroke economy

Why do we find ourselves in situations where few of the preferred strokes are available? Claude Steiner in his book Scripts People Live (1974) identifies this as the stroke economy. He suggests that in Western civilisation our parents provide us with five rules about stroking, These are:-

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

These are outdated unconscious rules that we often follow but we do not need to. The reality is that strokes are UNLIMITED, both for ourselves and others.

Stroking profile

A way of measuring how much we are affected by the stroke economy is by looking at our stroking profile (as developed by McKenna (1974)). You may want to take some time to think about this for yourself, obviously it will be different in different situations but think of yourself in general, (see chart below).

Stroke banks

When we receive strokes, we not only take the stroke at the time but also store it in our memory. Our store of strokes is known as our stroke banks. We can then use it later to stroke ourselves. For example – when we remind ourselves of something that someone has said to us, either positive or negative. Those strokes that are especially important to us (target strokes) can be used again many times. However, eventually, these strokes lose their effectiveness, and we then need to re-stock our stroke bank. Another reason that we may not feel inclined to give strokes is that we may not feel stroked enough ourselves – i.e. overdrawn at the bank.

Stroke filters

We can also feel deprived of strokes, not because strokes are unavailable but because we discount (or filter out) strokes offered. This is because they do not fit with the way we see ourselves. This is known as our stroke filter. We can do a number of things with strokes:

  • Accept them just as the stroke was meant to be taken.
  • Tune them down, so, for example, a very good performance becomes an adequate one.
  • Twist them so that a positive stroke becomes a negative one or vice versa.
  • Magnify them, so an adequate performance becomes brilliant.
  • Reject them either by not noticing or discounting them.

What do you do if someone tells you, you look nice – do you accept it or do you filter it in some way? It is worth remembering this filtering process when stroking others, and receiving strokes ourselves. We all need strokes. If we are not getting enough positive strokes we will unconsciously set up a situation to receive negative strokes. Some attention is better then no attention. We tend to filter out or distort the positive strokes that we get. In challenging and stressful situations it is even more important for people to keep themselves emotionally and psychologically healthy.

The Link Centre offers course in personal and professional development www.thelinkcentre.co.uk

How often do you give + strokes to others? How often do you accept + stokes? How often do you ask for the + strokes you want? How often do you refuse to give the + strokes they expect from you?
Very Frequently
Very Frequently