In Part One, of this 4 part series, I wrote about Scarcity. In Part Two, the Three Basic Human Hungers, one of which is a hunger for Structure.
In this post, I want to talk about how we all might be structuring our time during our various forms of isolation and distance from others.
I searched other people’s definitions of this hunger and came across a beautifully written article about Eric Berne’s original theory of Time Structure. In this article, Chris Crouch talks about these concepts in a way that connects so well to what I previously wrote.
I hope you’ll enjoy reading it as much as I did.
I’ll be interested to know how you might apply some of this theory to whatever your current circumstances are.
(Any difference in text color in his article is my attempt at highlighting his words, either referring back to Part One or Part Two, or so that you might consider it in relation to yourself. I have also made a few additional comments in this same Bold Blue.)
Have you ever thought much about the various options for spending or structuring your time? Psychiatrist Eric Berne thought about it and came up with the following six options:
From Berne’s point of view, this was important because the different ways of spending time result in different outcomes in terms of getting and giving strokes. And strokes are extremely important when it comes to mental health. Before I continue, perhaps a few comments on strokes are in order.
A stroke, in this context, is any act implying recognition of another person’s presence. Human-to-human stroking is the fundamental unit of the social interaction process. If you and I encounter each other and I say “hello” to you and you say “hello” to me, that is a two-stroke transaction. Something Berne calls recognition hunger is programmed into the human psyche. We need strokes to survive, prosper and satisfy recognition hunger. Just as food satisfies physical hunger and keeps us physically healthy, strokes satisfy recognition hunger and keep us mentally healthy. For example, one of the worst punishments you can inflict on a person is to put them in solitary confinement, depriving them of any opportunities for strokes. People usually experience mental breakdowns in these circumstances.
In terms of strokes, here’s how the different ways of structuring time stack up. They are listed roughly in order of how well they satisfy recognition hunger:
Withdrawal – This is when a person, for whatever reason, makes the decision not to interact with people and eliminates any chance of getting strokes from others. We all need brief periods of withdrawal (especially introverts), but for most people, doing this over a long period of time is not a good choice in terms of their ongoing mental health.
I’m wondering how many people are experiencing “sheltering at home” like Berne’s definition of “withdrawal”…
Rituals – This is a safe form of social behavior. Rituals are highly predictable (church services, weddings, funerals, board meetings, your morning walk or Starbucks stop, etc.). With rituals, people can remain somewhat withdrawn from each other and still get strokes.
I don’t know how it is where you live but right now, all “rituals” are cancelled in my town…no gatherings of any kind…leaving many without the solace and comfort of knowing they are not alone…
Activities – Activities allow us to structure our time and get strokes in productive and socially acceptable ways. Work is one of the most common forms of this kind of time structuring.
Many of us have changed how we work daily in dramatic ways during the Pandemic. Working from home for many has been a creative solution, and there can still be strokes, but in a different and limited form.
Pastimes – Semi-ritualistic discussions about superficial topics such as the weather, sports, current events, family, hometown, or other commonplace topics. This is a form of social probing to help decide whether to broaden, continue, or terminate the relationship. Networking events are often based on the pastime format of structuring time.
Another form of structuring time sadly, but officially cancelled in our area for the foreseeable future…
Games – Games involve interacting with a surface meaning and a hidden meaning and involve a payoff (usually a good or bad feeling). For example, person A might feel superior/good by making Person B feel inferior/bad. Strokes are so important that in the absence of positive (good feeling) strokes, people will pursue negative strokes when seeking recognition. In terms of time structuring, the main thing to understand is that games, although unproductive and at times quite frustrating, offer significant opportunities for getting and giving strokes. The majority of the time in most people’s social life involves playing games. I may elaborate on games in a future post since they are so much a part of the human experience.
Classic, a universally recognizable game!
Intimacy – Intimacy occurs when you develop a relationship with another person based on honesty, openness, and mutual respect. Intimacy, although rare, is the best source for meaningful, high-quality strokes.
It is difficult to develop or engage in existing intimacy when ALL of our senses (and learning styles) cannot be involved. Even with all our miraculous technology, it’s hard to read body language or hear voice nuances, or see facial expressions fully on SKYPE or Zoom. We each need to be aware of our most used senses, and look for alternatives when those are not available for access. Example: I won’t get what I need, or be able to fully give what I have on just a phone call. I am not “auditory” enough to make the best use of that. I am an extremely visual and tactile person. So adding the screen aspect current equipment provides is helpful to me in an intimate conversation.
But it does not address the tactile deficit we are all experiencing right now. SO far at least, even Microsoft has not come up with a way to “hug” online!
According to Bandler and Grinder, there are four modalities of walking through the world: Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic, and Tactile. I believe we each have a favorite, but one or more of these may be unavailable right now. To compensate (just as with a learning disability) time to highlight (beef up) the others, and develop some work-arounds.
In terms of joyfully and productively participating in life, achieving intimacy with a least a few people (or even one person) is a great strategy. Nurture relationships that allow you to be open, honest, and authentic with another human. Hopefully, this is the kind of relationship you have with your life partner and a few close friends. As a friend of mine once told me, “a true friend is someone who knows you – and still likes you.”
My main message today: Even if you only experience short periods of intimacy with another person, value and nurture this kind of relationship above all others. They offer the best chance for high-quality strokes and are important to your ongoing happiness and mental health.
Can you identify your intimate relationships (most people have very few – unfortunately, some have none)? What are you doing to nurture them?
I really wonder what Eric Berne would say about this current Covid 19 state of affairs.
Forced Isolation is very different than the occasional solitude we all require for good mental and emotional health.
Rituals, Pastimes and Activities can be managed even during Social Distancing, and sheltering at home.
Games…well, let’s just all take a break from those during these life and death times, shall we?
What is a bit more difficult, and requires some serious creativity, is achieving, and maintaining true intimacy during a time when the behaviors we are most familiar with to express deep and honest connection, are limited.
Here’s my solution and suggestion: When connecting with your closest people, use all the OTHER learning styles, and engage all of your available senses.
Maybe for you, it would be watching (or listening to) one of the amazing videos all over the net these days created by people making music together while in their own living rooms. But do this WITH someone else. Do it together while on SKYPE or ZOOM, etc.
If it’s someone you are really close to, try listening to a meaningful song, while looking into each others screen eyes. Powerful!
James has been on the other side of the state for weeks now but most nights, we will at least share a TV show on Netflix or Prime. We synchronize, pushing play so that we are seeing it at exactly the same time, sometimes texting the comments we might be making if we were watching together in person.
What are some ways you can be close to those you love even when you can’t touch each?
To finish, here is a free training that could be helpful right now.
And one of my favorite music videos. Watch it with a friend online, and participate by moving or singing or dancing together!!
Thanks for reading, and as always, I’d love your reactions! (in comments!!)