Understanding the games people play
A very interesting book, for anyone who's interested in the psychology of human relationships, is Games People Play by Eric Berne. Dr Berne is a psychiatrist who developed the theory of transactional analysis, which looks at the ways people interact with one another. Specifically, he's interested in the psychological games people play.
Berne thinks people's personalities are divided into three distinct egos - child, adult and parent. These are a simple as they sound:
The child is representative of our personalities when we were children - needy, emotional, charming, creative and so on.
The adult is our rational and objective side.
The parent represents our parents (or their substitutes) and the behaviors and attitudes we felt they had towards us when we were children.
It is the interaction of these parts of our personality with the equivalent child, adult and parent in others that make up our relationships. Often, when we are interacting with others, there can be two conversations going on at the same time - our adult can give the impression of talking to their adult, when in fact it's our parent who's talking to their child.
Often, these interactions, or transactions as Berne calls them, are normal everyday parts of life. We all need to relate to one another to get along in the world, after all.
What he's most interested in, and has spent a long time documenting, aren't these normal interactions - but what he calls "games". He defines such games as "an ongoing series of complementary ulterior transactions progressing to a well-defined, predictable outcome". They are a series of interactions between people that are superficially plausible, but contain some kind of hidden motive.
The ultimate aim of the primary player in such games is to achieve some sort of payoff - usually some kind of emotional reward. The early moves are set up so as to maximize the likelihood of this payoff being achieved.
The use of the word "games" should not give the impression that such activities are necessarily fun or played light-heartedly. Often the outcomes, though predictable, can be very damaging and distressing.
Once these types of games are pointed out , most people get an "ah-ha" moment when they realize just how much of their own lives are tied up in playing them. Probably the easiest way to understand this theory is to read some examples.
I've summarized some of the ones I think are most interesting below. The main player is code-named White in each example, with the secondary player known as Black. If you want more details consult Dr Berne's book.
Berne doesn't delve too much into the question of whether alcoholism is a disease or a choice. He simply points out that it often takes the form of a game, with the central character (White) playing the Alcoholic. It's generally a five-player game, although it can be condensed into only two-players if necessary.
The lead-supporting character (Black) takes the role of Persecutor, typically played by a member of the opposite sex such as a spouse.
The third role is that of Rescuer - played by a family friend, a doctor, or a member of AA. Often, these interactions take the form of White being convinced not to have a drink for six months, after which they congratulate each other before White resumes his hard-drinking ways. Some rescuers, such as AA, actually publish rules of the game (take a drink before breakfast etc.) making it easier for beginners to get started.
The forth role is the Patsy, someone who believes in White and often gives him money to continue playing. This is often filled by White's mother. Usually, White must provide the Patsy with some plausible reason for needing the money other than drinking, but really they both know what it's for.
The fifth role is the Connexion, which is the professional role of bartender or liquor-store clerk. He is the source of supply and knows how to communicate with alcoholics.
The payoff for White, according to Berne, does not come from the enjoyment of liquor. While such enjoyment exists, it's little more than an pleasurable side-effect of playing the game.
The finale of a round comes at the point of the hangover. This is where the reward is obtained, which is ultimately to gain forgiveness from Black. The situation is set-up so White's internal child can be scolded by Black's internal parent, as well as other parental figures who happen to be around and are willing to oblige, before ultimately being forgiven.
This is a game in which a woman (White) and a man (Black) are the main players. It can be played with varying degrees of intensity.
First-degree Rapo involves White mildly flirting with Black, signalling she is available and interested. Once he's committed himself to the pursuit, the game is over and White has won. The payoff is being found attractive.
In second-degree Rapo, the payoff comes not from the compliment, but from the enjoyment of rejecting Black's advances ("Buzz off Buster"). White leads him into a much more serious commitment, and enjoys watching his discomfort at being rejected.
Third-degree Rapo ends in a false accusation of rape. White leads Black into a compromising physical position before claiming criminal assault or permanent psychological damage. She usually involves a number of other players at this stage.
Black is often a willing participant in these transactions, playing a version of another of Berne's games - Kick me. The aim of Kick Me is to prove your misfortunes are greater than anybody else's, and thus gain sympathy. It's a type of inverse-pride at being the worst-off.
Cops and Robbers
The childhood prototype of this game is hide-and-seek. An important part of hide-and-seek is not just the hiding, but the getting caught. If you're not eventually found then the game ceases to be enjoyable.
Berne points out that many criminals seem to get as much, or more, satisfaction from outwitting the authorities as they do from the actual adult gains of crime, such as money. It's the thrill of the chase that drives them ("Catch me if you can").
The criminal (White) who plays cops and robbers is usually in it for the game, rather than the financial rewards. He rarely does well out of his crooked acts, and when he does it's usually because of luck rather than skill. An example is a burglar who engages in inefficient and unnecessary acts during the crime - such as vandalism or leaving a calling-card. Another is the shoplifter who disposes of the stolen goods immediately after obtaining them.
The ultimate payoff, strange as it may seem, is the excitement of being caught - just as with the child in hide-and-seek. White may make it easy or difficult for the cops, but ultimately he's disappointed if he isn't caught.
The structure of this game is for White to make a mess and eventually be forgiven for doing so by Black. Its underlying idea is "I can be destructive, get away with it, and obtain forgiveness".
An example might be at a party held by Black. White deliberately spills red wine on the carpet. Black is very angry, but senses that if he shows it, White wins. White says: "I'm sorry". Black forgives him. White moves on to damage something else and the game starts again.
Black is often not the sucker he pretends to be in this game. He often gains satisfaction by showing admirable self-restraint. This is why the friendship may continue, even though at the adult-level Black can be seen as a victim who would be better off without White's company.
Now I've got you, you son of a bitch
This is the equivalent of a poker game in which White gets dealt an unbeatable hand. He now becomes more interested in the fact that Black is completely at his mercy, than in the financial gain he may receive.
Here's an example from real life: White contracts a mechanic (Black) to fix his car. The entire cost is agreed in advance. When Black submits his bill, there's an extra charge for something that hadn't been agreed to.
White goes to Black's garage and fumes at him, making gross attacks against his character and integrity. White feels completely justified in doing this, as technically he's in the right. He could have dealt with the situation with a calm adult negotiation, but that's not the point of the game.
While White vented an amazing amount of anger at the petty mistake made by Black, he was secretly delighted to have been given the chance to do so. His entire life he's actively sought-out such small injustices, simply so he can exploit them to enrage himself and insult others. The payoff is in feeling superior and being allowed to release anger.
Black is not always an unwilling victim of this, and is often playing a version of Kick Me. Often, he's recognized White as a player of "Now I've got you you son of a bitch" and deliberately provoked him into finishing the game.
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