HOW TO STOP PLAYING GAMES WITH TOXIC POWER DYNAMICS AND REINVENT YOUR RELATIONSHIPS


Playing Relational Games / Fighting / Explaining Often Leaves You Just Like This: Covered In Filth Thanks To Other People, Harassed, Ganged-Up On, Bowed Down, And Getting Your (Emotional) Arm Twisted

“More productive than figuring other people out is figuring ourselves out. If we know our motives in joining games, we don’t need to know other people’s at all.”

--TheraminTrees


The problem with being un-self-aware and coming from a dysfunctional home is that you don’t know what you don’t know.


Being a life-long relational game player, you would think I would be a world champion know-it-all on the subject, but I always found myself losing.


I avoided making friends or getting close to people because my Past Self intuitively understood that I was not yet capable of having healthy relationships where I wouldn’t end up sabotaging it and looking like a psycho. I also had trust issues and had been groomed to assume the worst of others. This "knowing" led to me rejecting connections knowing that I would be inevitably be rejected. Why try when you know you don't even know how & that failure is guaranteed?


When I did get in a relationship with someone I loved very much, I was selfish, inconsistent, created no-win situations, abdicated responsibility and expected them to take care of all my needs (known and unknown). I couldn’t understand why the few good times, some compliments, and “I love you”s weren’t enough to make up for daily misery-making and constant petty criticism, joining in on escalating every fight, not speaking my mind honestly and instead pathologically lying and taking passive-aggressive revenge, and so on.


All I knew was that I nearly ALWAYS felt uncontrollably upset, endlessly unhappy, constantly hurt, heartbreakingly misunderstood, habitually misjudged, hopeless, confrontational or avoidant in turns at all the completely inappropriate moments. My emotional homeostasis was unsubsiding fear I could lose everything that mattered to me at any second because I had absolute belief in abandonment / failure as fate and consistent commitment as the stuff of “The Weekly World News”. Even though I *knew* something about me was dysfunctional and out-of-control, I didn’t understand. I just.couldn’t.stop. putting on my blindfold and playing “Pin the blame on everyone else”.


I was the ugliest, worst, most extreme illustration for the definition of “oversensitive” and “brittle”.


Like the regular nightly dreams I had of being trapped in a mind-of-its-own racecar that always plummeted me over the edge of an impossibly tall bridge…


I wanted out of my own out-of-control game-playing that always resulted in emotional, mental, reputational, and relationship suicide, over and over.


That is one reason I created this blog: to make it easier to help others find the answers and be able to give themselves the self-awareness that took me years to discover. It’s really easy to give bulleted general common-sense advice (which is why you’ll find TONS of vague and insultingly obvious self-help listicles...oh, Hi WikiHow!)...but that doesn’t help someone with no healthy inter-relational frame of reference and little self-awareness whatsoever, someone who needs a formulaic break-down of human interactions so that they can make a CHOICE in their dynamics instead of operating from habits, survival patterns, and conditioning so deeply ingrained that it is literally invisible, hidden (to the game-player) in plain sight (to everyone else).


Enter Transactional Analysis*, discovered by Eric Berne in the late 1950s. Interactions are exchanges where the participants come from one of 3 spectrums of ego-states, which determine how they will act to get their needs met.

*A huge thank you to TheraminTrees for their YouTube series on Transactional Analysis.


If you have always felt like the answer to ending self-sabotaging and living the life with the relationships you always wanted has been as inscrutable as a riddle from a devious sphinx…

you’re right.


“What walks on 4 legs in the morning, 2 legs at mid-day, and 3 legs in the evening?” --The Sphinx


Answer: A day is analogous to the lifetime of a human; 4 legs is a crawling infant, 2 legs is an upright bipedal human who has learned to walk, and 3 legs is an elderly person assisted by a cane in the “twilight” of their life.


So too the 3 spectrums of ego-states in human interactions: THE CHILD


THE ADULT


THE PARENT/SAGE


Alternatively, Stephen Karpman has something similar-but-different called “The Drama Triangle”, with 3 possible categories of participants:


THE PERSECUTOR (feels superior by persecuting)


THE RESCUER (feels superior by helping)


THE VICTIM (feels weak and inferior)


And “The Empowerment Triangle”


THE CREATOR


THE CHALLENGER


THE COACH


This is very important because these are the variables in the formula of human exchanges; you can only choose which variable YOU get to be, but you CAN CHOOSE whichever variable you WANT to be. That choice will change how that interaction goes. Each ego spectrum has its place and can be used well, and we transition between all of them frequently in a way that makes sense to us at the time. The following was adapted directly from TheraminTrees’s video on Transactional Analysis 2. Understand the fundamentals, and you get to choose which ego spectrum approach is REALLY best for the outcome you want:


THE CHILD SPECTRUM (VULNERABLE, INFERIOR, GREEN)


The Child Spectrum covered the extreme ends of being immature and inferior (in some way) and everything in between, from:


ADAPTED:

+positives

Co-operative

Accomodating

Assertive


-negatives

Fearful

Helpless

Compliant/Appeasing

Rebellious

Self-Destructive


to


UNINHIBITED/FREE:

+positives

Creative

Playful

Curious/Open/Receptive


-negatives

Egocentric and Self-Centered

Wild

Careless

Thoughtless

Short-sighted

Inconsiderate


The Child Spectrum perceives self as inherently beneath others, more vulnerable than others, and less competent than others (although they may plow ahead with their own decisions anyway, they don’t feel entitled to this “right”). In response to disapproval, the child feels fear (like fear of abandonment), guilt and shame, and like hiding in a hole. They feel everyone else knows something they don’t, but at the same time they want what they want in the moment without calculating consequences. Whether they want to or not, whether they choose to rebel or not, as unequals in the dynamic they see following authority and obeying rules of the person they pedestal as “authority” as their job.


THE ADULT SPECTRUM (EQUAL, DRAWS ON ENTIRE LIFE EXPERIENCE IN THE PRESENT):


The Adult Spectrum is balanced. The Adult is objective, reasonable, and comfortable in their own skin. Because of this, they neither try to control, need to control, nor want to be controlled by others. They control the only person they can: themselves. Because they are in control where it counts (and not where it doesn’t and never will), they can also use unique, spontaneous approaches to each interaction instead of regressive, emotional-based patterns and irrational conditioning. In response to disapproval, they evaluate with judgement drawing from their entire life experience and decide what to take or toss; they do not internalize criticism as personal or identify themselves as defective, or overcompensate with grandiosity. As an equal to others, the Adult approaches helping as a friend, guiding or assisting using empowerment a fellow traveller in finding their own way.



THE PARENT/SAGE SPECTRUM (AUTHORITATIVE)


The Parent/Sage Spectrum covers the extreme ends of being superior in some way, and everything in between, from:


CONTROLLING:

+positives

Constructive

Organized

Instructive


-negatives

Dictatorial

Fault-finding

Dismissive

Overconfident


to


NURTURING:

+positives

Supportive

Caring

Encouraging


-negatives

Smothering

Invasive

Overprotective


The Parent/Sage views themselves as “intrinsically more capable” and take on responsibility for others who “need steering and protecting” (even from themselves)--whether they want it or not. In response to disapproval, they implement and enforce punishments for disobedience, or conversely feel bad for forbidding things.


From these come power dynamics. Complimentary dynamics can go on seemingly indefinitely--whether the players are happy or not, whether the exchange is happy and fulfilling or not, the tit-for-tatting is stable enough to just keep going on and on and on...even if it goes nowhere good.


Crossed interactions are impossible to maintain for long due to their unbalanced volatility. Either the game must stop somehow, or one of the ego-states must change to compliment the other in some sort of trade-off that will diffuse the situation.


This is why, for example, the kind of cool, confident, kind, mature people you want to attract and keep don’t stick around long when you are rarely at that Adult level….while the f*ckfaces of the world constantly circle and never seem to leave (until they do...cruelly...and at the absolute worst possible moments).


Ever wonder how like attracts like...but also, opposites attract? This is how: Like (similar) degree of extremes....on complimenting (usually opposite) ego spectrums. As TheraminTrees puts it:


[Toxic] Relationships with Adults don’t gather momentum because the Adult doesn’t take responsibility for others’ shortcomings.”


We will likely gravitate to the power dynamic position that confirms our “Life Position” bias:


EQUALITY: I’m okay, you’re okay.


DEPRESSIVE: I’m NOT okay, you’re okay.


FUTILE: I’m NOT okay, you’re NOT okay.


ARROGANT: I’m okay, you’re NOT okay.


So what to do with all this? How is it practical in a real-life situation, such as, say, revisiting your childhood “home” that is an experience so unpleasant it should be bottled and sold as a emetic/laxative combo?


I’m going to copy TheraminTrees pretty much exactly word-for-word here because I’m not the person to improve on perfection:


"How can we put all of this to use, in detecting and exiting games?

Remember, people enjoying a superior position in an unequal relationship don’t want to give it up easily. They’ll most often persist, or even escalate.


BEFORE GAMES BEGIN…


...familiarize yourself with the structure of the games you play. Games can seem over before you’re even aware they began. Really try and deconstruct what happens:


In the relationships in your life, how do you feel?


What were you trained to do as a child?


How do you experience/perceive/feel about the other person? How do you relate to them?


How does the game interaction start?


Who starts it? (Sometimes we can be so engulfed in a need, that we don’t even realize it’s us that starts the games. We think we’re responding to games, when we’re actually instigating them.


For example, B remarks to A that she looks a little subdued.


A says she’s feeling a little down about something, but she’s okay.


B, with his over-weaning desire to help, offers a string of suggestions of things they might do to raise A’s spirits. A rejects each one. After a while, B thinks, ‘Ah, A’s just playing the “Why don’t you/Yes but…” game. A just wants attention, and sucker that I am, there I go trying to help her!’


But A HASN’T been playing Why don’t you/Yes but… A is taking responsibility for her own feelings, and requires absolutely nothing from B. It’s *B* who started the game with HIS OWN NEED for gratitude and indebtedness, and uses the game to collect pay-off feelings of unappreciated martyrdom.


Sometimes we might say things only to avoid uncomfortable silences. Remember: There is the Surface Level, which may appear reasonable, with practical solutions and objections that allude to an Adult-Adult interaction...but on the hidden, underlying Psychological Level, the TRUE motivations are a split between the victim-y Child in need of (for example, the attention and validation of) the Parent rescuer (making offers of help and thinking for them)).


What happens in the game?


What feelings do you experience?


How does it end?


Look at what events and people trigger you Parent and Child states that you assume in a game/interaction:


What events and people trigger your Parent and Child states?

Do you assign responsibility fairly? [If you were an outside observer, or listening to the story as told by your best friend, would you come to the same conclusions about who is right, wrong, just, unjust, fair, unfair, responsible or not?]

Do you have to be in control in some way?

Do you feel forced into taking control?

Do you have a hard time making decisions and try to get others to make them for you?

Do you feel fundamentally that you are not as good as others?

What might these bring out in other people? Perhaps in reaction to you?


Awareness of these factors can alert you to the fact that you are in a game, in addition to what you are saying being discounted, and the interaction feeling “slippery” or off.


CONSIDER WHAT NEEDS OF YOURS ARE BEING HOOKED INTO BEFORE AND DURING GAMES...

like the need for approval or being understood.


People often can’t even identify their own needs because the needs are coming from outside their own awareness.


Identify and diffuse [these motivated needs called] gimmicks:

What are we really after in the game?

What is our ideal imagined outcome?

Are we seeking to gain something?

Are we seeking to avoid something?

Are we seeking to confirm some sort of status or image?

What do we ultimately want to see happen to the other player?

Answers to these will give us a big clue to our “gimmicks”. Some gimmicks have a less-than-obvious connection to the games they appeal to.


When we become aware of the precise nature of our gimmick in a particular game, we have a greater chance of unhooking from that game. Once we have a better idea of what our gimmicks are, we can:


Think our way out--by questioning the flawed assumptions they contain

-or-

ACT our way out--act against the need, and so take control of it, rather than have it controlled by others.


When we have grounding and awareness, we can mitigate what is happening by:

Sharing awareness of the game and responding from Adult (or states other than the one that is expected of us)

Unplugging from the situation [Become emotionally controlled, indifferent, or physically leave]


Gimmicks [needs, motivations/manners/beliefs] can come in the form of rules or imperatives:

‘I *must* be reasonable.’

‘I *must* be helpful.’


The universal style of these rules is a clue to the problems they tend to set up:

Should we ALWAYS be that particular thing?


If it is our goal to hold ourselves to expectations like this, not only will we constantly disappoint ourselves, but chances are, people will eventually come along who will take advantage of our expectations, and use them against us in the games they play:


I must be reasonable → attracts games that provoke you.

I must be helpful → attracts games that deskill you or use you.

I must be strong → attracts games that make you feel weak.

I must be perfect → attracts games that expose your flaws.

I must win → attracts games that make you fail.

I must be please others → attracts games that threaten disapproval.


If we find that messages like these are driving us, we can evaluate how realistic they are. Depending on the characteristic we are looking at, we might decide to change it in this way:


Take: ‘I must be polite.’ transform into → ‘I will be polite when I want to be polite.’

Take: ‘I must be perfect.’ transform into → ‘I don’t have to be perfect.’

Sometimes we carry around ideas like, ‘I *must* be reasonable”, not realizing that the definition we’re using for that word is SKEWED.

If we dig a little deeper into what we’re using the word “reasonable” to mean, we might find messages like this:


‘I must not show anger.’

‘I must avoid uncomfortable scenes.’

‘I have a “nice person” image to maintain.’


But what does it really mean to be reasonable?

If we look up the definition of “reasonable”, we will see definitions like this:

“Acting in accordance with reason; having sound judgement.”


Is it having sound judgement to allow someone to [play the “Schlemiel” game where they] continue to deliberately spill things, break things, and pretend not to care?

I would argue not.

If you know someone is doing that stuff on purpose, it’s reasonable to make it clear that you know what they’re doing, and eject them. If you’re not sure whether or not it is on purpose, you might be willing to overlook a single accident. But with continued damage, it’s reasonable to ask them to pay for the damage.


The Adult will work at reducing clumsiness, take preventative measures, and pay for damages


The Child expects others to put up with hassle/expense (unreasonable).


“Helpful” is another word that can be rife with skewed, game-y definitions:

Enabling

Controlling

Patronising

Manipulating

Condemning

Pathologizing


So, getting rid of faulty, game-y versions of words like this, and substituting actual definitions can block out games.



A complains B is a bad friend:




A B

B invites A to go places

<


A is upset because it was places she didn’t like,

and B should know A doesn’t like them.


So...B doesn’t invite her to those things.

<


A now feels left out.


B asks A about things in her life.

<


A gets upset because she doesn’t want

to talk about them.


B doesn’t ask anymore

<


A later decides she DOES want to talk

about them, upset B is “disinterested”.


All the time A keeps insisting / informing B that ‘A real friend would….’


B is fighting a losing battle here. In A’s company, B is no longer the neutral, authentic individual everyone else in their life knows them to be. B is now acting out a role, rather than a person. B hopes to be “the good friend”, something they can never be.

Why can’t B be “the good friend”?

Because the definition of “good friend” here is telepathic.


B can exit the game taking ownership of the rules, rejecting the bogus, shifting expectations imposed by A about what makes a good friend, defining for B’s self what makes a “good friend” or not.


If we know what behavior games bring out in us, we can just choose not to behave that way.


If your need for harmony leads you to keep the peace in your family, try not keeping the peace and see what happens. Let people sort out their own differences.


Say no to things you don’t want to do, and see what happens.


See how it feels.


Observe all the things that invite you back into the game:

Guilty or angry thoughts or rationalizations that pop into your head to justify the game

Increased revocation from the game players


Notice all, and still refuse to get involved.


With a little introspection, we can figure out our OWN needs.

With a little reasoning, we can then question the premises of those needs.

With a little curiosity, we can see what it’s like to try something different: not unbearable, but liberating."


---End quoting TheraminTrees. Again, the videos are excellent and you do yourself a service to watch them in their entirety----


For sure, I was A from the last example in all of my relationships, romantic or not, not surprisingly because that was how my parent parented.


It took me most of my life to become aware of these dynamics and realize what I had done (after the fact). It took a long time to start catching myself in the act, and more time to be stable (and not take things personally) enough to be able to re-route while in the middle of it. Eventually though, I was finally able to change my programming and bad habits, get choosier about my ego spectrums, get realistic about my definitions, and get a grip on my motivations and needs (gimmicks) enough to empower myself.


This is what self-love means: giving yourself the gift of making your behavior benefit you. You can’t *really* love--or give a fitting, personalized gift--to someone you don’t know. These soul-searching, psyche-searching examinations presented here are how you get to know yourself--even the parts hidden in plain view.


I’m by no means perfect, I have bad moments and regress every once in a while (especially when I get exhausted) but I can check myself before I wreck myself. Best of all, my day to day life has finally become something I’m not miserably desperate to escape from, or a constant source of shame, despair, and rejection. The few relationships I have are treasures to BOTH of us.


I’m hesitate to advocate giving up on or completely abandoning someone you love, even if that person is toxic. I am so so so grateful for the people in my life who didn’t give up on me, didn’t cut me off forever, didn't stop caring about me even though I was a self- (and others-) sabotaging wreck, etc.

If they had followed that advice, I would literally be dead.


HOWEVER, the-person-who-helped-me-change and I often took long periods (sometimes as long as 3 to 7 months) of no contact, and other times of guarded “probation”. In those spaces, as *incredibly* painful as they were, were the times I did the most growing, learning, and integrating of what I was learning.


The loss (to death a.k.a. non-physical) of one of the people I loved most in the world made something click in my mind that congealed everything I had worked towards for 2 years.


All this painful contrast / separation / loss gave me alot of clarity, clarity it doesn’t seem that I could get anywhere else. Clarity of commitment. Clarity of appreciation. Clarity of requirements, standards, values. Clarity of implementation and navigation.


I just want you to know that it is all working out for you too. No contact works, working on yourself works. Manifesting works. By works I mean, makes you and your life better in a way where you actually want to live it.


Only you can figure out what is best for you and those you love. Your boundaries are the Invisible Hand that will effortlessly and surely guide you to the golden path meant for you.


But if someone you care deeply about and miss beyond belief is toxic, and/or YOU are toxic, and you are floundering around, doing your best (that doesn’t seem that great, honestly, to anyone, especially yourself), take heart. Everything is working out for the best. I won’t say, “Hope for the best” because I don’t believe in hope. Your success and happiness is a done deal.


You just have to meet it where it is.


Here is your map. NOW DO.


Don’t give up. It’s done like the ending of a book. You just have to do it (write the story to get there).


Taking a break? Breaking/broken up? No contact (ugh)?


That’s all part of it. Promise.


I love you so much. You are never alone.


All My Love (always!),


Ranyoi


Image Source: Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash

https://unsplash.com/photos/H0xA8nGo9_s

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