Games People Play Summary

Psychology Relationships
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We live in a world where almost everyone plays psychological games with others.

Sometimes, people do this on purpose, messing with others.

Other times, they don’t even know they’re doing it.

“Games People Play” by Eric Berne explores human behavior.

Berne talks about ‘games’ as patterns of behavior we use to manipulate each other.

These games are different from normal interactions because they have hidden motives.

You can’t escape this, no matter who you are or what you do.

That’s because we are always dealing with other people, be it offline or online.

Uncovering hidden motives of other people and figuring out what psychological games they are playing is a skill we must learn to increase our chances of survival.

Believe it or not, some people will try to mess with your mind.

By recognizing these games, we can understand our behavior better and also build more genuine relationships.

Alrighty, so without further ado, let’s dive in.

Understanding Ego States

To really get why people behave the way they do, we need to understand our Ego states.

We all act on the basis of our Ego states.

We can break down personality into three different parts or “ego states.”

These ego states are the Parent, the Adult, and the Child.

Each one of these states influences how we think, feel, and act in different situations.

The Parent Ego State

The Parent Ego State is like a voice inside our head that reflects what we learned from our parents or caregivers when we were growing up.

Imagine your mom or dad telling you what to do, how to behave, or how to react to certain situations.

This voice can be nurturing and supportive, like when your mom comforts you when you’re sad, or it can be critical and controlling, like when your dad scolds you for not doing your homework.

For example, when you comfort a friend who is upset by giving them a hug and kind words, you’re acting from your Nurturing Parent ego state.

On the other hand, when you criticize someone for being late or tell them they should have done something differently, you’re acting from your Critical Parent ego state.

The Adult Ego State

The Adult ego state is the rational and logical part of our personality.

It processes information and makes decisions based on facts, not emotions.

Think of it as a computer in your brain that helps you solve problems and understand things clearly.

The Adult ego state is all about being objective and balanced.

It doesn’t judge or get emotional; it just looks at the facts and figures out the best course of action.

Examples of the Adult Ego State include carefully planning a school project by breaking it into steps and scheduling your time, as well as weighing the pros and cons before making decisions, like choosing which college to attend.

The Child Ego State

The Child ego state is the part of us that feels and behaves like we did when we were young.

This state includes all our childhood emotions, desires, and ways of reacting.

The Child ego state can be spontaneous and fun-loving, like when you’re playing a game and laughing with friends, or it can be emotional and rebellious, like when you throw a fit because you didn’t get your way.

For example, when you’re dancing around your room to your favorite song or drawing a picture just for fun, you’re in your “Free Child” ego state.

When you follow rules strictly because you’re afraid of getting in trouble, or when you sulk because you feel unfairly treated, you’re acting from your “Adapted Child” ego state.

How These Ego States Work Together

In any given situation, you might act from one of these three ego states.

Sometimes, you switch between them quickly without even realizing it.

For example, if you’re working on a math problem, and your little sister comes in crying because she hurt her knee, you might switch to Nurturing Parent to comfort her.

Later, if she takes your toy without asking, you might switch to Critical Parent or even Child if you react emotionally.

Understanding which ego state you’re in can help you communicate better and understand your reactions.

If you notice you’re in your Child state during a serious conversation, you might decide to shift to your Adult state to handle the situation more rationally.

Transactions and Communication

So, how do these ego states play out in our interactions?

Let’s look at transactions and communication.

Look at interactions to understand people’s motives and behaviors.

Have you ever wondered why we talk to people the way we do, and why sometimes those conversations go smoothly and other times they don’t?

It’s all about looking at how we interact with each other, or as Berne calls them, our “transactions.”

Transactions are just the back-and-forth interactions we have with people.

Imagine you say “Hi” to your friend and they say “Hi” back. That’s a simple transaction.

Whenever you talk to someone, you’re engaging in a transaction.

But transactions can get more complex, especially when different ego states are involved.

Types of Transactions

Berne describes three main types of transactions: complementary, crossed, and ulterior.

Complementary transactions are smooth and expected.

They happen when the response matches the stimulus in a way that both people understand and accept.

For example, if you’re in your Adult state and say, “Can you help me with this report?” and your colleague replies from their Adult state, “Sure, I’d be happy to help,” that’s a complementary transaction.

Both of you are on the same page, and the conversation flows naturally.

Crossed transactions occur when the response doesn’t match the stimulus, leading to misunderstandings or conflicts.

Imagine you’re still in your Adult state and ask, “Can you help me with this report?” but your colleague responds from their Child state, “Why do you always ask me for help?!”

Here, the communication gets crossed because your logical, straightforward request met an emotional, reactive response.

This mismatch can cause tension and disrupt the conversation.

Ulterior transactions involve hidden messages and multiple layers of communication.

These transactions have an overt message (what is actually said) and a covert message (the hidden meaning).

For instance, if you say, “I’m so bad at this,” hoping your friend will offer to help, you’re engaging in an ulterior transaction.

The surface message is about your struggle, but the hidden message is a request for assistance.

Recognizing ulterior transactions can be tricky because they require understanding both the spoken words and the unspoken intent.

Knowing about these different types of transactions can help you navigate your interactions more effectively.

When you can identify whether a transaction is complementary, crossed, or ulterior, you can adjust your approach to improve communication and avoid misunderstandings.

Understand the Games People Play

Now, let’s talk about the games people play.

Games are like scripts that people follow, often without realizing it.

These scripts involve repeating the same behaviors in similar situations to get specific reactions from others.

These behaviors are usually driven by hidden motives.

People play games for many reasons.

Games give attention and sympathy.

They offer a familiar way to connect with others.

Games also help people keep a safe emotional distance, avoiding getting too close or vulnerable.

Life Games

Life games are strategies people use to navigate their daily lives, often without realizing it.

These unconscious strategies help individuals cope with their emotions, desires, and social situations.

Each game serves a psychological purpose and has its own unique dynamics.

One common life game is the “Kick Me” game.

In this game, the individual sets themselves up to be criticized or rejected.

They might behave in ways that provoke negative responses from others, reinforcing their belief that they are always the victim.

For instance, someone might say, “I always seem to mess things up,” prompting others to respond, “Why do you always make things difficult for yourself?”

This game allows the player to avoid responsibility for their own actions by blaming others for their misfortunes, receiving validation for their self-image as a failure or victim.

Another life game is “See What You Made Me Do,” where the player blames others for their own mistakes or failures.

By shifting the responsibility to someone else, they avoid taking accountability for their actions.

For example, a player might say, “If you hadn’t distracted me, I wouldn’t have messed up!” causing others to feel guilty and responsible for the player’s problems.

This game often involves guilt-tripping and manipulation, perpetuating a cycle of blame and defensiveness.

The “Now I’ve Got You, You Son of a Bitch” game involves setting someone up to fail or make a mistake so that the player can express justified anger or superiority.

The goal is to trap the other person in a no-win situation, allowing the player to vent their frustrations and feel morally righteous.

For instance, a player might say, “I told you to do it this way, but you did it wrong again!” making the victim feel confused and defensive while the player feels empowered and justified in their anger.

This game creates conflict and prevents constructive problem-solving.

Marital Games

Marital games are repetitive interactions that couples fall into, often without realizing it.

These games serve psychological purposes, helping individuals cope with emotions, maintain control, or avoid vulnerability.

Each game has its own dynamics and impact on the relationship.

One common marital game is “If It Weren’t For You.”

In this game, one partner blames the other for preventing them from achieving their goals.

This allows the blaming partner to avoid taking responsibility for their own actions or failures.

For example, one partner might say, “I could have been a successful artist if it weren’t for you always needing me at home,” making the other partner feel guilty and try to compensate, perpetuating the cycle.

Another marital game is “Frigid Woman,” where a wife avoids sexual intimacy with her husband by using various excuses.

This game often masks deeper issues in the relationship, such as power struggles or unresolved conflicts.

For instance, the husband might complain, “You never want to be intimate with me,” and the wife might respond, “I’m just too tired and stressed out from everything.”

This game prevents genuine communication about their needs and issues, creating a repetitive pattern of avoidance and frustration.

In “Look How Hard I’ve Tried,” one partner puts in visible effort to solve a problem but in ways that are bound to fail.

This allows them to gain sympathy and avoid facing the possibility of real change or success.

For example, one partner might say, “I’ve done everything I can to make this work, but nothing helps,” while the other suggests trying something different.

The partner who “tries hard” gains sympathy and avoids taking responsibility for finding effective solutions, while the other partner feels frustrated and helpless.

“Corner” is a game where one partner feels trapped by the other’s expectations.

The partner sets up situations where they are bound to fail, reinforcing their belief that they can never satisfy their partner.

For instance, one partner might say, “I can’t do anything right in your eyes!” while the other insists, “I just want things done a certain way.”

The partner feeling trapped believes they can never meet the expectations, while the demanding partner feels justified in their dissatisfaction, creating ongoing tension.

In “Courtroom,” couples engage in arguments as if presenting cases in court, each trying to prove their point and win.

This game involves gathering evidence, making accusations, and defending against the other’s claims.

For example, one partner might say, “You’re always late. Why can’t you be on time?” while the other defends, “You never understand how busy I am!”

The focus is on winning the argument rather than resolving the underlying issues, leading to ongoing conflict.

Lastly, “Sweetheart” is a game where couples excessively flatter each other to avoid confronting real issues.

This game creates a superficial harmony, masking deeper dissatisfaction or conflict.

For example, one partner might say, “You’re so wonderful and perfect,” and the other responds, “Thank you, you’re amazing too.”

The constant praise serves to keep the relationship on a surface level, preventing genuine intimacy and addressing any real issues.

Party Games

Party games are repetitive social interactions that people use to navigate group settings.

These interactions serve psychological purposes, such as seeking attention, avoiding vulnerability, or maintaining control.

Berne identifies several common party games, each with its own dynamics and impact on social interactions.

One common party game is “Ain’t It Awful.”

In this game, participants bond over shared complaints about life, work, or other aspects of their experiences.

For example, one person might say, “My boss is such a jerk. He never appreciates anything I do,” and another might respond, “I know exactly what you mean. My job is a nightmare too.”

This game allows people to gain sympathy and attention from others by emphasizing their misfortunes.

While they feel validated and supported, the game prevents them from seeking constructive solutions to their problems.

Another game is “Blemish,” where individuals focus on finding faults in others.

For instance, someone might say, “Did you see how poorly dressed she was at the party?” and another might agree, “Yes, it was so unprofessional.”

By pointing out others’ imperfections, participants feel superior and justify their own actions.

This game reinforces self-esteem but creates a negative atmosphere and hinders genuine connections.

“Schlemiel” involves clumsy or inappropriate behavior that leads to others cleaning up the mess or offering forgiveness.

An example would be someone spilling their drink and saying, “Oops, I spilled my drink all over the table!” and another person responding, “Don’t worry, I’ll help you clean it up.”

The Schlemiel gains attention and care from others through their mishaps, receiving sympathy and assistance.

However, this can lead to resentment over time as others feel obligated to help.

In “Why Don’t You – Yes But,” one person asks for advice or solutions but rejects every suggestion, maintaining their position as a helpless victim.

For example, someone might say, “I don’t know how to deal with my difficult coworker,” and when another suggests, “Have you tried talking to them directly?” they respond, “Yes, but that never works.”

This game allows the person seeking advice to gain attention and sympathy without making any real effort to change their situation.

The advice-giver becomes frustrated, feeling that their suggestions are never good enough.

Underworld Games

Underworld games are repetitive social interactions that revolve around criminal or antisocial behavior.

These interactions serve psychological purposes, such as seeking excitement, avoiding responsibility, or gaining control.

Berne identifies several common underworld games, each with its own dynamics and impact on the individuals involved.

One such game is “Cops and Robbers,” where individuals assume the roles of law enforcement and criminals.

This game involves a predictable cycle of crime and punishment, with each side reinforcing the other’s behavior.

For instance, a criminal might engage in illegal activities like theft or vandalism, while a cop pursues and apprehends them.

The cycle continues as the criminal gets caught, faces punishment, and eventually returns to criminal behavior, while the cop keeps chasing them.

The thrill of the chase and the clear roles of good and bad provide psychological satisfaction for both parties, even though it perpetuates a cycle of crime and punishment.

Another example is “How Do You Get Out of Here,” which involves individuals who constantly find themselves in difficult or risky situations and look for ways to escape.

This game is about the excitement of getting into trouble and the challenge of getting out of it.

A player might engage in risky behaviors like gambling or substance abuse, while others try to help them get out of trouble.

The cycle continues as the player escapes one situation only to get into another, keeping the game going.

The player experiences excitement and attention from others, while those trying to help feel needed and important, even though the cycle continues.

“Let’s Pull a Fast One on Joey” is about deceiving or tricking someone, often for the thrill of getting away with it.

The game involves planning and executing a scheme to outsmart another person.

A player might plan a prank or deception to fool someone, who then falls for the trick and reacts.

The cycle continues as the player feels clever and superior for outsmarting their victim, who feels embarrassed or frustrated.

This game provides a sense of accomplishment and superiority for the player, reinforcing their behavior.

Good Games People Play

Not all games are bad, you know.

Some are actually really good and promote positive behavior and healthy social interactions.

These games help with personal growth, build healthy relationships, and create constructive social dynamics.

Take “Busman’s Holiday,” for example.

This is when people do activities similar to their work during their free time.

It lets them enjoy their work skills in a relaxed setting.

For example, a chef might enjoy cooking at home for friends on weekends.

They get to have fun and receive praise without the pressure of a professional kitchen.

The chef feels valued, and their friends enjoy delicious meals.

Another positive game is “Cavalier,” where people show politeness and courtesy towards others.

This reinforces social harmony and respect.

Imagine someone who always holds the door open for others or helps carry heavy bags.

These small acts of kindness create a positive atmosphere and encourage others to do the same.

“Happy to Help” is about offering assistance and support without expecting anything in return.

This fosters a sense of community and mutual aid.

For example, someone might volunteer at a local shelter, helping those in need.

The volunteer feels fulfilled, and those receiving help benefit from the support, creating a cycle of generosity and goodwill.

In “Homely Sage,” individuals give wise and thoughtful advice in a friendly way, promoting wisdom-sharing and learning.

An experienced gardener might share tips with neighbors on growing plants.

The gardener feels valued for their knowledge, and the neighbors benefit from practical advice, improving their gardening skills.

“They’ll Be Glad They Knew Me” is about striving to leave a positive impact on others, aiming to be remembered fondly.

This encourages positive contributions to the community or social circle.

For example, a mentor who helps young professionals advance in their careers feels proud of their influence, while the mentees achieve success and appreciate the guidance they received.

People play good games for positive psychological reasons.

These games help individuals connect with others meaningfully, boosting their self-esteem and providing a sense of accomplishment.

By fostering social harmony and mutual respect, good games create a supportive environment where personal and communal growth can flourish.

Moving Beyond Games

Now, let’s talk about why you should move beyond these mind games.

Berne emphasizes that while games serve various psychological needs, moving beyond them is essential for achieving autonomy, intimacy, and authentic relationships.

When people stop playing games, they begin to interact more genuinely with others.

Instead of relying on hidden motives and manipulative behaviors, they communicate openly and honestly.

This shift allows for the development of deeper connections and more fulfilling relationships.

Berne suggests that authentic interactions are characterized by awareness, spontaneity, and intimacy.

Awareness is the first step towards moving beyond games.

It involves recognizing and understanding one’s own behavior and the patterns that constitute games.

By becoming aware of the games they play, individuals can begin to make conscious choices about their interactions.

This awareness also extends to understanding others’ behaviors and the dynamics of social interactions.

Spontaneity is another crucial aspect of genuine interactions.

When people stop playing games, they can respond to situations and interactions more freely and creatively.

Spontaneity involves expressing genuine emotions and reactions without the constraints of pre-established patterns.

This openness fosters a sense of authenticity and helps individuals build trust with others.

Intimacy is the ultimate goal of moving beyond games.

Intimate relationships are based on mutual respect, understanding, and genuine connection.

Unlike the superficial interactions characteristic of games, intimacy involves sharing one’s true self with others.

This level of connection requires vulnerability and the willingness to engage in honest and open communication.

Berne explains that achieving autonomy is essential for moving beyond games and developing intimate relationships.

Autonomy involves taking responsibility for one’s actions and behaviors, making independent decisions, and understanding one’s own needs and desires.

Autonomous individuals can engage in genuine interactions without relying on games to fulfill their psychological needs.

The process of moving beyond games and achieving autonomy involves several steps.

First, individuals must become aware of the games they play and the underlying psychological needs these games fulfill.

This awareness allows them to recognize when they are falling into old patterns and make conscious choices to change their behavior.

Next, individuals must practice honest and open communication.

This involves expressing their true feelings and desires without resorting to manipulation or hidden motives.

By communicating openly, they can build trust and understanding in their relationships.

Another important step is to develop spontaneity and creativity in interactions.

This involves being open to new experiences and willing to express genuine emotions and reactions.

Spontaneity helps individuals break free from the constraints of games and engage in more authentic interactions.

Finally, individuals must work towards building intimate relationships.

This involves being vulnerable and willing to share one’s true self with others.

Intimacy requires mutual respect and understanding, as well as a commitment to honest and open communication.

Berne also highlights the importance of personal growth and self-awareness in the process of moving beyond games.

He suggests that individuals should engage in self-reflection and seek opportunities for personal development.

This can involve therapy, self-help resources, or simply taking the time to understand one’s own needs and desires.

In Conclusion

By becoming aware of the games they play, practicing honest and open communication, developing spontaneity, and building intimate connections, individuals can foster more genuine and fulfilling interactions.

This process requires personal growth and self-awareness, but it ultimately leads to a more positive and balanced life.

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I am Shami Manohar, the founder of WizBuskOut. My obsession with non-fiction books has fueled me with the energy to create this website. I read at least one book every week on topics such as business, critical thinking, mindset, psychology, and more.

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