Types of Strokes

By Prekshya Maharana

February 14, 2024

Growth for me is being able to change limiting patterns and one of the limiting patterns for me was my stroking pattern. Here I will examine my stroking pattern, understand the origin of my stroke economy, and highlight the changes I have made to build stronger relationships, based on my learnings from the TA101 program.

My understanding of strokes
Berne(1964) defined a stroke as the fundamental unit of social action ( p. 14). Strokes are very important for our survival and that “strokes are as necessary to human life as are other primary biological needs such as food, water, and shelter – needs which if not satisfied will lead to death” (Steiner,1971, p.9 ). From the moment we are born, we seek and require positive strokes for our emotional and social well-being. We prefer to get positive strokes, however in the absence of the same, we would be okay to accept negative strokes too. While positive strokes feel better than negative strokes; negative strokes are better than no strokes.
Strokes can be of various kinds and basis the stroking climate in our family, we learn to accept some strokes more than others.

Classification of Strokes
Verbal : Expressed through words Non Verbal : Expressed through gestures
Positive: These strokes make one feel good. Negative : Strokes which are experienced as painful
Conditional : Strokes given in response to what one does Unconditional : Stroke in response to who one is

Table 4.1 : Classification of Strokes

Stroke Economy

Claude Steiner (2003) has defined stroke economy as “a set of rules that seeks to interfere with the exchange of positive strokes; it involves asking for, giving, and accepting strokes that are wanted and rejecting those that are not wanted” (p.178). There are five restrictive rules about stroking

  • 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

As per Steiner, parents have monopoly over the supply of stroke and they create a false sense of scarcity to ensure that children abide by the rules set by them. Over a period, we start believing that strokes are in scarcity and we begin to structure our time to get the strokes that we need (Steiner, 1971, p.9).

With the above understanding of the theory of strokes, I started reflecting on my own stroking patterns as given below.

My understanding of my own stroking patterns
I started by creating my stroking profile in line with the diagram devised by Jim McKenna as below:

Figure 1: Stroking Profile at the beginning of TA Training

Basis analysis of my stroking profile and review my stroking economy, I recognized the following patterns of behavior:

Not able to give negative Strokes

  • I found it challenging to provide negative feedback because I was uncomfortable with the idea of disappointing those around me. I harbored a belief that expressing opinions others might not want to hear would lead to being disliked. As a result, I sometimes faced difficulty in offering constructive criticism when necessary.

Not able to reject negative strokes

  • I readily embraced negative feedback without critically evaluating it. I tended to be self-critical and found it challenging to question negative feedback even when it was not justified.

I found it challenging to accept positive strokes

  • Whenever someone gave me a positive stroke, I discounted it. I would often doubt the sincerity behind their words, thinking that they might be saying positive things merely to avoid upsetting me. I related it to my understanding of my stroke filter. “Each person’s stroke filter is unique and functions in such a way as to let in certain type of strokes and information while filtering out others” (Woollams and Brown, 1978 , p.53) The stroke filter lets in stroke which confirms to one’s frame of reference and for me I primarily operated from the life position of “I am not Ok ; You are Ok”. Hence, I wanted to constantly keep feeling that I was not good enough yet.
    One instance of my stroke filter in action was when I downplayed the feedback provided by my client. Upon learning that she found my coaching beneficial, I began to think that her positive remarks were motivated by a desire not to disappoint me.

I gave less of unconditional positive strokes

  • I established demanding performance standards for both myself and others. My high standard for giving positive strokes sometimes made me seem unappreciative of others’ efforts. Additionally, my task-oriented approach led me to prioritize doing over being, resulting in many of my positive strokes being conditional.

The stroke stroking pattern is an outcome of parental programming and in the following section, I have tried to understand how the stroke climate in my family impacted the formation of my stroke economy based on my realization and understandings from TA101.

Early Influences which led to the development of stroking pattern

  • Positive strokes were always conditional: As a child, positive strokes were granted to me only when I complied with my parents’ expectations. As a result, my own experience of receiving unconditional positive strokes was infrequent, leading me to adopt a tendency to offer more conditional positive strokes in my interactions with others.
  • Celebrations of success was rare:
    Following my mother’s perspective, who believed that celebrating might bring bad luck, I adopted a similar approach. I refrained from expressing joy or excitement about my own accomplishments or those of people in my inner circle. Instead, my focus was consistently directed toward the next milestone, diminishing the significance of present achievements.
  • Stroked for pleasing others: During my childhood, I deeply yearned for acknowledgment. My desire was to satisfy my parents and others around me, hoping to be liked and appreciated for my actions. I endeavored to excel as a daughter, later as a wife, and even as an employee, all in the pursuit of gaining the approval of others. In this process, I became engrossed in doing things to please others.

My change journey
Once I became aware of my limiting patterns of behaviour and how it was coming in the way of building strong relationships, I decided to adopt new behaviours. I decided to take responsibility of meeting my own stroke needs and work on the following areas

  • Start accepting more positive strokes
  • Start giving more positive strokes to others both verbal and non-verbal
  • Rejecting negative strokes which were unreasonable

Accepting positive strokes & rejecting negative strokes
My understanding of my stroke filter helped me become aware of my patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving. Whenever I received a positive stroke, I attributed it to external factors and discounted my own efforts. It became an unconscious pattern for me to keep thinking of examples where I was not good enough.
To deal with this, I learnt to question my thoughts and live in “here and now”. I reminded myself that I don’t need to constantly worry about the future or the past.

As an example:

A client provided positive feedback about a strengths workshop, mentioning that the majority of participants loved the session. Instead of feeling excited, I experienced a sense of unease. I began questioning why everyone did not appreciate the workshop and discounted the positive feedback received from others. An underlying worry emerged, suggesting that perhaps the session was not up to par. However, I soon recognized that I was not acting from my Adult. That my thoughts were, in fact, rooted in outdated beliefs about my own inadequacy. Becoming aware of this, I was able to reassess the situation objectively and acknowledge the efforts I had invested in making the workshop engaging, understanding that most people did, indeed, benefit from the session.

Start giving more positive strokes to others.
My awareness also enabled me to be more mindful of providing positive strokes, both verbally and non-verbally. I began to assess the repercussions of withholding verbal affirmations and recognized that others often misconstrued my restraint as aloofness and a lack of appreciation. I started making the following changes.

  • I began verbally acknowledging my family and friends for their support toward me. A friend had provided a huge emotional support for me during a challenging period where I struggled with my heath. I expressed gratitude to her multiple times and openly acknowledged the role she played in my healing journey. This helped us in strengthening our friendship.
  • I became more conscious of my Be Perfect driver and learnt to acknowledge people for their efforts and not hold back appreciation till I received the perfect outcome. This made others around me feel supported.

As I experimented with new behaviours, my stroking profile got redefined as follows:

Figure 2: My Current Stroking Profile

As I made the changes in my stroking pattern, I found my relationships improve with my family and close friends. Increasing my willingness to accept positive strokes from others allowed me to recognize the abundant love and support present in my life. This realization contributed to a heightened sense of self-comfort and reduced the need for external validation. Through these changes, I successfully navigated past limiting patterns, fostering stronger and more meaningful connections with those in my life.

• Berne, E. (1964). Games People Play. New York: Grove Press.
• Steiner, C. (1971). The stroke economy. Transactional Analysis Journal, 1(3): 9–15.
• Steiner, C. (2003). Core Concepts of a Stroke-Centered Transactional Analysis. Transactional Analysis Journal, 2, 33 : 178–181
• Woollams, S., & Brown, M. (1978). Transactional Analysis. Ann Arbor, MI: Huron Valley Press.

About the author:

Prekshya is a Leadership Coach and has over 15 years of corporate experience spanning Banking, Information Technology, and Real Estate sectors. With extensive senior leadership experience in HR, she now works with leaders at all levels to help them achieve their full potential.
Prekshya holds an MBA in Personnel Management and Industrial Relations (PM&IR) from XLRI Jamshedpur, and is also an ICF credentialed ACC coach and a Gallup Certified Strengths Coach. She is passionate about transactional analysis and is currently in training to be a psychotherapist.


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