For part II of the article, go to 3 Good Games People Play: Games People Play – Part II
Games are social rituals that we repeatedly play out, often with dysfunctional ends. This article attempts to explain the common types of games we regularly play. An understanding of these games will prepare you to respond to them appropriately, and with confidence, as opposed to blindly react to them in the moment. A psychological analysis and classification of these simple-at-the-surface, yet profound concepts will help you in knowing yourselves better, and in personal growth.
The Transactional Analysis theory suggests that in spontaneous social settings we operate from one of the three ego states. Ego states are a set of feelings, thinking, and behavior that an we live and function with. The three ego states are:
Parent ego state: When we act like our parents
Child ego state: When we behave like we did in our childhood. This ego state was developed in our early childhood.
Adult ego state: Self-created ego state according to our definition of objective reality and the world around us – this ego state is developed in direct response to the here and now.
Our “complete personality” includes all three ego states. In social settings, we demonstrate any of these ego states, and often shift unknowingly from one to the other. For instance, in front of our supervisor, we may exhibit a Child ego-state, whereas towards our subordinates, we will exhibit Parent ego-state. Another example: people who operate with Adult ego state at work may activate Child ego state when they are with their friends or spouse. All three ego states add value to our lives; however, when one of them disturbs the equilibrium, an analysis and reconfiguration are desired.
When we refer to someone as immature, we are essentially implying that Child ego state dominates over other ego states in that person. But with some work, they can unleash their now-dormant Adult ego state. This is important to know — it is this knowledge about our present behavior that informs us about what we are doing, and it is only this knowledge that can guide us in embracing a new set of behaviors that is more likely to give us the upper hand in life.
Psychologists use the term transaction for social intercourse. In a social situation, you create a transactional stimulus when you say something, and the other person responds with a transactional response.
A transaction is simple and complementary when both stimulus and response come from an ego state that complement each other. For example: two co-workers functioning from their Adult ego state in conversation, or, a conversation between a mother and daughter where the mother operates from Parent ego state and the daughter acts from Child ego state. However, things get complicated and unruly when two adults engage in a conversation in which one applies Adult ego state and the other applies Child ego state – in other words, it is a crossed transaction and that’s when social difficulties arise. To resolve this imbalance, the first adult activates Parent ego state to deal with Child ego state of the other. This creates harmony temporarily, but is not ideal for the relationship between the two. This is the whole theory behind Transactional Analysis that was developed by Dr. Eric Berne.
If you feel that you always lack control in social situations with your friends or co-workers, think for a moment and see if you act from Child ego state with them, so they naturally take on Parent ego state with you.
Let’s look at an example where one swiftly and unknowingly shifts ego states in the same conversation. Picture this — John is in cafeteria line and notices his boss, Bob, a dominant person, standing right behind him. During the initial exchange of pleasantries, both John and Bob operate from Adult-Adult ego states. However, the moment Bob asks about work status, John quickly slides into Child ego state, and in response of which, Bob adopts Parent ego state.
Bob: Hey John, how is it going?
John: Good Bob, how are you?
Bob: Doing well. Did you catch the game yesterday?
John: Yes, I did. It was an intense game. Can’t believe Lakers lost!
Bob: Right. So, what’s the status with the project? Why is it getting delayed?
John: Yes, there were some hiccups, but I am doing my best to bring it back on track. I will send you a status update before the day closes. (Sorry, Bob, I made a mistake, but being a good child that I am, I will take care of it so that I can get your approval)
Bob: Good. If you have any problems, let me know. Don’t hesitate. (parent state)
John: Yes, will do. Thanks.
Now let’s talk about games. In the example above, John and Bob involuntarily adopted their ego states without any secret agenda. But, people play mind games when they consciously and superficially act from a certain ego state with a hidden motive or a payoff. While playing the part, they skillfully operate with roguish maneuvers designed specifically to elicit a response they are interested in. It may not sound obvious to them that they are playing this game because they have been doing this for so long that it has become their automatic action. However, an awareness of these games can open their eyes and minds to consider other, more mature options.
A lot of the behavior you see around you every day can be best understood as different kinds of games. Dr. Eric Berne, author of Games People Play (first published in 1964), divides these games into 7 categories: Life games, Marital games, Party games, Sexual Games, Underworld games, Consulting room games, and Good games — the first six types are negative.
Let’s dive into the nine negative games. The good ones are discussed in part II of the article: 3 Good Mind Games People Play – Part II
1. Kick me (Poor me)
Payoff: Making yourself look hurt or pitiable in order to get attention; the player gets stroked though negative attention; gets social capital.
This is played by men whose social manner is equivalent to wearing a sign that reads, “Please Don’t Kick Me.” And when they receive a kick, they scream, “I thought I made it clear not to kick me, ” followed by the self-talk, “Why does this always happen to me?” There is a sense of inverse pride here, in that, “my misfortunes are better than yours.” These are the “jilted” type of people who regularly face the affliction of losing in love or in jobs. Another example is, when the children pout to manipulate their parents into surrendering to their demands.
Kick me/Poor me game leads to personal growth when well-adapted people engage in serious and constructive thinking by asking themselves “What did I really do to deserve this? Let’s figure it out and move on,” instead of asking, “What did I do to deserve this?” and moping endlessly.