One of my favorite books, and it is an old stand by, is Games People Play, the Psychology of Human Relationships, by Dr. Eric Berne., MD.
Dr. Berne looks at how we behave in our interactions with others. One of the comments about the book on the jacket says:
“Most people, in most of their family and business relationships, are constantly playing games with each other. What’s more they are striving—often unconsciously—for an emotional payoff which is startlingly different from what they might rationally expect to get from winning or losing their game.”Berne goes on to describe how we as humans have a stimulus hunger, and that our social interactions are part of meeting that, however, “games” are not “fun” per se but they do give us a pay off by meeting our needs for stimulus via interactions with others.
Children are taught “manners” by their parents and these vary from culture to culture, and when a given person violates those precepts there is usually a sanction for doing so. Rituals such as shaking hands are taught, we must structure our time as well and there are “pastimes” for doing that, there are “games” and “intimacy” as well as “activities.” The goals in life are for each member to gain as much satisfaction from his transactions with other as possible. People who seek after negative consequences (unconsciously) may not see their “pay off” of going to prison, or suicide as a “win” but they are a pay off.
There are three basic positions in a game, they are the Persecutor, the Rescuer, and the Victim. However while a person may have a favorite position to play, the roles are actually interchangeable as the game progresses. Every game is dishonest, with ulterior motives and a pay off. The outcome is dramatic, as distinct from merely exciting. “Operations” are where one honestly asks for something, such as reassurance, and gets it. If the person then turns it around where it is a disadvantage to the giver, then it was a game. So games can be covert or overt.
Here is one example from an alcoholic man and his wife, the game is “alcoholic.”
He comes home drunk after having spent all the week’s pay (in this part, he is the persecutor or abuser. She is the victim. So if you think of it like musical chairs with each person going to another chair when the music stops, here it goes.
Now she becomes angry and starts to berate him for spending all their money on booze. Now she is in the Persecutor chair and HE is the Victim of her abuse. Well this goes on for a while and he is tired of being the victim,, so he punches her in the mouth. Now they a e back to the original position of him being the persecutor and her the victim. Now she calls the cops and the cop comes in as the Rescuer and saves the poor victim by hauling him off to jail. As he hauls the man off to jail he becomes the Persecutor and the drunk man is the Victim again.
The next day the wife goes down and hocks her wedding ring to bail her husband out, she is the rescuer now, saving the husband from the nasty old cops. They go home and she starts to berate him because she had to hock her wedding ring, so she is no longer the Rescuer but the persecutor and her husband is the victim. Of course he gets tired of her yapping and hits her in the mouth again…and the music continues with both of them feeling “justified” in their positions.
The “drama triangle” is an intricate part of all games, and any time you are involved in this drama triangle you are involved in a “game.”
My personal favorite positions were Victim and Rescuer…but I admit I also did plenty of time in the Persecutor chair. I guess because I protest Patrick’s parole and feel justified in doing so I am still persecuting him, at least from his point of view.
Some of the names of the games in Berne’s book are pretty funny really, but the game itself isn’t. “If it Weren’t for You” is one game where someone blames someone else because they can’t do X.“Debtor”, “Try and get away with it”, “Kick me” “Now I’ve got you you SOB” “See what you made me do?” “Frigid Woman/Man” “Look how hard I’ve tried.” “Ain’t it awful?” “Blemish” “Why don’t you..yes, but…”
“Why don’t you..yes, but…” is one of my “favorite” games and I’ve been hooked into playing it many times because I like to be a “rescuer.” You may also be familiar with it. Someone asks you for advice on some problem with their life, and you make a suggestion at their request. Of course they respond with, “that’s a good idea, but I can’t do it because….” The game continues with you making new suggestions until finally you are out of suggestions and the person has “won” the game by putting down all your suggestions with “yes, but…” Of course the “pay off” for your friend is knocking down your every idea, and the pay off for you is that you tried to help her but couldn’t. So your pay off is negative and her’s is positive.
When we get involved in “enabling” someone, i.e. doing for them what they should do for themselves but won’t, or shouldering the consequences of their bad decisions and choices, we become frustrated when we have “tried and tried” to help them and they are no better off than before. Enabling is a game in which the “helper” person always gets abused and gets pithed off for the effort they have put in to no benefit. Just as the alcoholic’s wife hocked her ring instead of letting him stay in jail, then became angry at him again. Jesus had the perfect answer to this “game” when He said “loan and expect no repayment, give and expect nothing in return.” It is the expecting gratitude or repayment that gets us into trouble. So if I loan someone some money I only loan what I can afford to lose and if the person repays me, fine, if not fine. By not expecting a return, I can see quickly what the person is, and if in the future I want to trust them to keep their word.
The next time they request a loan I may remind them that they didn’t repay the last one so there is no more forthcoming. If I give someone something I don’t expect them to be beholden to me for it, it is a gift, not an advance payment for gratitude. If there is gratitude, fine, if not fine as well.
All game playing precludes real intimacy and real honesty. It is only by recognizing what a game is and becoming aware if we are engaged in a game that we can learn to be truly intimate with those in our circle. Sometimes people are so invested in their favorite game or game role that our only choice is to decrease or stop our contact with these people. No contact stops them in their tracks, and especially toxic people become very agitated if we refuse to rise to their bait and engage in a game with them. They may actually increase their attempts to get us to engage, but if we are healthy, we will continue to refuse to rise to that bait.