“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.”
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…
“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
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”
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:
Egocentric and Self-Centered
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:
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
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: