Games People Play: 9 Ways People Mindf**k With Others – Part 1

Games People Play: 9 Ways People Mindf**k With Others – Part 1

We are born princes and the civilizing process makes us frogs.

Games are social rituals that we repeatedly play out, often with dysfunctional ends. This article attempts to explain the common types of games we regularly play. An understanding of these games will prepare you to  respond to them appropriately, and with confidence, as opposed to blindly react to them in the moment. A psychological analysis and classification of these simple-at-the-surface, yet profound concepts will help you in knowing yourselves better, and in personal growth.

The Transactional Analysis theory suggests that in spontaneous social settings we operate from one of the three ego states. Ego states are a set of feelings, thinking, and behavior that an we live and function with. The three ego states are:

1. Parent ego state: When we act like our parents.

2. Child ego state: When we behave like we did in our childhood. This ego state was developed in our early childhood.

3. Adult ego state: The developed and mature, self-created ego state according to our definition of objective reality and the world around us – this ego state is developed in direct response to the here and now.

Self-created ego state according to our definition of objective reality and the world around us – this ego state is developed in direct response to the here and now.

Our "complete personality" includes all three ego states. In social settings, we demonstrate any of these ego states, and often shift unknowingly from one to the other. For instance, in front of our supervisor, we may exhibit a Child ego-state, whereas towards our subordinates, we will exhibit Parent ego-state. Another example: people who operate with Adult ego state at work may activate Child ego state when they are with their friends or spouse. All three ego states add value to our lives; however, when one of them disturbs the equilibrium, an analysis and reconfiguration are desired.

When we refer to someone as immature, we are essentially implying that Child ego state dominates over other ego states in that person. But with some work, they can unleash their now-dormant Adult ego state. This is important to know — it is this knowledge about our present behavior that informs us about what we are doing, and it is only this knowledge that can guide us in embracing a new set of behaviors that is more likely to give us the upper hand in life.

Psychologists use the term transaction for social intercourse. In a social situation, you create a transactional stimulus when you say something, and the other person responds with a transactional response.

A transaction is simple and complementary when both stimulus and response come from an ego state that complement each other. For example: two co-workers functioning from their Adult ego state in conversation, or, a conversation between a mother and daughter where the mother operates from Parent ego state and the daughter acts from Child ego state. 

complementary transaction

However, things get complicated and unruly when two adults engage in a conversation in which one applies adult ego state and the other, Child ego state – in other words, it is a crossed transaction and that's when social difficulties arise. To resolve this imbalance, the first adult activates Parent ego state to deal with Child ego state of the other. This creates harmony temporarily, but is not ideal for the relationship between the two. This is the whole theory behind Transactional Analysis that was developed by Dr. Eric Berne.

crossed transaction

If you feel that you always lack control in social situations with your friends or co-workers, think for a moment and see if you act from Child ego state with them, so they naturally take on Parent ego state with you.

Picture this example

John is in cafeteria line and notices his boss, Bob, a dominant person, standing right behind him. During the initial exchange of pleasantries, both John and Bob operate from Adult-Adult ego states. However, the moment Bob asks about work status, John quickly slides into Child ego state, and in response of which, Bob adopts Parent ego state.

Bob: Hey John, how is it going?

John: Good Bob, how are you?

Bob: Doing well. Did you catch the game yesterday?

John: Yes, I did. It was an intense game. Can't believe Lakers lost!

Bob: Right. So, what's the status with the project? Why is it getting delayed?

John: Yes, there were some hiccups, but I am doing my best to bring it back on track. I will send you a status update before the day closes. (Sorry, Bob, I made a mistake, but being a good child that I am, I will take care of it so that I can get your approval)

Bob: Good. If you have any problems, let me know. Don't hesitate. (parent state)

John: Yes, will do. Thanks.

Now let's talk about games.

In the example above, John and Bob involuntarily adopted their ego states without any secret agenda. But, people play mind games when they consciously and superficially act from a certain ego state with a hidden motive or a payoff. While playing the part, they skillfully operate with roguish maneuvers designed specifically to elicit a response they are interested in. It may not sound obvious to them that they are playing this game because they have been doing this for so long that it has become their automatic action. However, an awareness of these games can open their eyes and minds to consider other, more mature options.

A lot of the behavior you see around you every day can be best understood as different kinds of games. Dr. Eric Berne, author of Games People Play (first published in 1964), divides these games into 7 categories: Life games, Marital games, Party games, Sexual Games, Underworld games, Consulting room games, and Good games -- the first six types are negative.

Let's dive into the nine negative games.

1. Kick me (Poor me)

Payoff: Making yourself look hurt or pitiable in order to get attention; the player gets stroked though negative attention; gets social capital.

This is played by men whose social manner is equivalent to wearing a sign that reads, "Please Don't Kick Me." And when they receive a kick, they scream, "I thought I made it clear not to kick me, " followed by the self-talk, "Why does this always happen to me?" There is a sense of inverse pride here, in that, "my misfortunes are better than yours." These are the "jilted" type of people who regularly face the affliction of losing in love or in jobs. Another example is, when the children pout to manipulate their parents into surrendering to their demands.

Kick me/Poor me game leads to personal growth when well-adapted people engage in serious and constructive thinking by asking themselves "What did I really do to deserve this? Let's figure it out and move on," instead of asking, "What did I do to deserve this?" and moping endlessly.

2. Now I've got you, you son of a bitch

Payoff: The aim of this game is to justify your rage, or your action of out-doing or winning against the other person; it displaces anger and absolves you of responsibility.

Your friend didn't, or, forgot to invite you to his party. Next time around, you deliberately don't invite him to your party. Socially, it's an adult-adult transaction, but psychologically, you turned on your Parent ego state by punishing your friend.

If your date or friend responds to your text after 2 hours, you will one up and respond after 3 hours, despite that you had seen the text right when it hit your phone, and your fingers were also free.

3. See what you made me do

Payoff: The aim of this game is vindication; justifiable anger gives an excuse to do what one wants; absolution of responsibility; instilling guilt.

The position one takes is, "I am blameless." Say, John is upset and wants to be left alone. His wife runs into the door looking for something, and in the moment, the interruption caused John to drop his bottle of beer and he yells, "See, what you made me do." He is acting from Child ego state.

4. If it weren't for you

Payoff: Absolution of guilt.

A person will willingly put himself or herself in a less ideal situation just to guilt another person. It gives the person a reason to blame others for their non-achievements. Take an example of a woman who marries a domineering man so that he will restrict her activities and thus keep her from getting into situations that frighten her.

If this were a simple transaction, she might express her gratitude when he performed this service for her. But when playing "if it weren't for you" game, her reaction is quite the opposite: she takes advantage of the situation to complain about the restrictions, which makes her spouse feel uneasy and gives her all sorts of advantages.

5. Let's you and him fight

Payoff: Control of others, share of blame, friendship

let them fight it out

It is a maneuver in which a person (usually female) challenges two men into fighting, with the implication or promise that she will surrender herself to the winner. After the competition is decided, she fulfills her bargain. This is an honest transaction, and the presumption is that she and her mate live happily ever after.

6. Perversion

Payoff: Sympathy; avoidance of responsibility

Heterosexual perversions such as fetishism, sadism and masochism are symptomatic of a confused Child and are treated accordingly. People who are suffering from mild sadistic or masochistic distortions tend to take a primitive kind of 'Mental Health' position. They feel that they are strongly sexed, and that prolonged abstinence will lead to serious consequences. Neither of these conclusions is necessarily true, but they form the basis for the plea: "what do you expect from someone as strongly sexed as I am?"


Payoff: satisfaction; ego-boost; a feeling that one is desirable.

Rapo is basically a social game in which someone lures another to pursue them sexually, takes some pleasure (ego boost) from it, and then dismisses their target. A lady would signal that she is available and gets her pleasure from the man's pursuit. As soon as he has committed himself, the game is over. She would just walk away, or say, "You are nice, but…," and move on to the next conquest. The Child ego is active in that person.

8. Wooden leg

Payoff: Plea of insanity; sympathy; avoidance of responsibility

The thesis of 'Wooden Leg' is, "what do you expect of a man with a wooden leg?" The internal dialogue that goes on in the head of the person playing the game is, "What do you expect of someone as emotionally disturbed as I am – that I would stop sleeping around with women?" It's a way of justifying their behavior and shucking off responsibilities. If he can overcome his "wooden leg" and build businesses, he can also drop this game with women, but he won't, because he derives pleasure out of it.

9. Clever me

Payoff: attention; identity; ego-boost; social capital

Johnny does something that displays intellect, skills, values, etc. He wants to show it to the world. Johnny manipulates the situation so that Jim "finds out" about it. Jim congratulates Johnny for being so intelligent. Johnny gains social position and identity reinforcement and hence feels good. In return, Johnny pays a compliment back to Jim. Johnny in this case acted from Child ego state demanding approval from Jim. Afterwards, Johnny played from Adult state by giving Jim a compliment.

Now that you know about these games, or, "rackets," catch yourself when you play one next time. Observe how you feel about it and see if there is something you would like to change about it. There are no "10 things you should do to change your game." People only themselves know best about the games they play, and if they are smart enough to understand the theory behind these games, they can also find solutions. Also notice the games others are playing with you -- you will never have a dull moment.


Continue to Part 2: Games People Play: 3 Good Mind Games


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