Are you a game player? Although you might not be aware of it, the answer to that question is almost definitely yes. In Games People Play by Eric Berne, the book explains more about the psychology of human relationships. The author also provides insights on how to spot the games that are taking place all the time, in all kinds of settings and between all kinds of people.
You might have noticed that, despite the general chaos of human behavior, there are certain recurring behavioral patterns. The author certainly noticed this.
After observing thousands of patients, he posited that, when interacting, people act from one of three ego states – Parent, Child and Adult. These states comprise systems of feelings, thoughts and behaviors, and are developed over the course of a lifetime. Which ego state you’re acting from at any given moment depends on both your past and the present moment.
Then there’s the Adult ego state, the source of our rational thinking. It develops as we learn how to reflect on our experience throughout childhood, and allows us to make decisions based on what is present in the here and now. It’s the state that processes information and tackles problems with assertive, logical thinking. It emerges when you ask someone to stop crunching popcorn in the cinema, for instance, or when you analyze a broken engine to see what needs to be fixed.
Finally, the Child ego state is the spontaneous way of being that we’re born with. It’s the origin of our emotions, creativity and intimacy. But, over time, the Child can get buried beneath the Parent and Adult states; it is possible, however, to free the Child of these influences, and return to the spontaneity of the natural Child.
So people have ego states – now what? Well, understanding ego states is the foundation of understanding the many kinds of games people play. Whenever you communicate with someone, you interact from one of your ego states. For example, you might be acting from your Parent state and your interlocutor might be reacting from her Child state, or you might both be communicating from an Adult state.
Sometimes this is obvious, like when you’re scolding your partner for not doing the dishes (Parent-Child), or when you’re planning a trip with a friend (Adult-Adult). In both cases, the ego state and goal are clear. But sometimes it seems as if you’re acting from one ego state, when in fact you’re acting from another. And what appears to be the goal on the surface isn’t the goal at all.
When that happens, you’re playing a game.
Consider a man flirting with a woman. At the end of the evening, he says that he’d like to show her his record collection. She replies that she loves records. Even though it sounds like two Adults having an innocent conversation, it’s actually two Children enjoying the spontaneity of flirting. And, of course, the goal of perusing the collection of records is veiling the real aim – sexual intercourse.
In this case, the man and woman both know what game they are playing. But it’s not always like that. Many games are played unconsciously, with neither player knowing what is being played – nor why they’re playing it.
That’s why it’s only by understanding the games people play that you can free yourself from the ones that are holding you back. Read on to find out more about the games you play.
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