Have you ever asked yourself “Why does this always happen to me?” or “Why does this keep happening?” If you struggle with a feeling or experience that keeps coming back and refuses to die, then you’re playing a game.
My research on transactional analysis (TA) has created a lot of thought provoking thinking, so to speak. One basic tenant of TA is that as a child, we react to our environment and family and often we must adapt physically and psychologically in order to survive. Our adaptations or defense mechanisms serve us as children, and grants us the conditional recognition and approval (or disapproval) we need. However, the adaptations can be even more painful and particularly dysfunctional beyond childhood. Unfortunately the defenses are ingrained and we are driven to play them out, even when they no longer serve us.
We pick up subtle, unconscious messages from our parents (more specifically, from the child in our parents, who adapted to their parents) and we may have received negative injunctions- a “don’t” message- Don’t be close, Don’t feel, Don’t make it, etc. We may receive these messages even when, verbally, our parents say and encourage just the opposite. Our parents can be wonderful, loving parents with the best intentions in the world. Unfortunately their negative injunctions are unconscious, it was what they learned, and it is the only way they know how to be, it is like the air they breathe in. In addition, the child responds to the injunctions, real or imagined, and makes his or her own decision.
Another basic tenant concerns one of the ways we structure time in social interaction- by playing a game. When a game is being played, the person unconsciously initiates and plays out an interaction with an ulterior motive. The ulterior motive is a payoff- a negative feeling. This negative feeling is a payoff on many levels. The feeling confirms the injunction that we learned as children, confirms the existential position we chose early in life, confirms prejudices or expectations (i.e. “All men/women are manipulative and hurtful”), allows us to avoid situations that are secretly dangerous or frightening to us (i.e. anger that “If it weren’t for my husband, I would have had a career” - when the husband is in fact a safe barrier against going out and having one), and gives us social benefits- something to talk or commiserate about with others or to present ourselves in certain ways to others.
The creativity and social savvy or manipulation of our unconscious is incredible.
There are many, many games- some entirely unique and others quite common. Games exist on many levels of helpfulness and destructiveness. It is amazing to me how we can be compelled to live out painful and destructive feelings (Freud’s theory on “repetitive compulsion” comes to mind). It may be what we lived as children.
The goal of TA is to recognize your game(s) and to make a decision, while in touch with the feelings involved, to no longer play the game. The goal is to interact with others in a positive way without any unconscious motives that work against you. The goal is to take responsibility and ownership for your feelings and experiences. No one else is creating or is responsible for what you feel (which can be quite hard to accept, I certainly haven’t yet).
My game is to not belong and to not feel included. My game is to feel not quite good enough. It is about not being able to “be myself”.
It seems if I cannot shape myself to the group norm or individual expectation, then I am unable to “be” at all (this is a new insight as I sit here typing this). In high school, I was unable to shape myself to be part of the social hierarchy– mainly because I could not hear in the crowded, noisy hallways and cafeterias. I could not even interact. So I shut down completely. I was the nice, smiling and very quiet girl that no one knew. Even though it was extremely painful, I felt safer not being included. It seemed to confirm something about me- it is the existential position I have chosen. I am still trying to understand why.
People who are playing similar or complementary games (negative payoff happens for both) often become friends or get involved in a relationship out of this mutual, unconscious recognition. When I encounter social cliques, or someone who is also playing a complementary game, my game plays out and can be quite compelling and destructive. Sometimes for years.
Games can be rampant in marriages, however, I am very fortunate and relieved that I married someone I do not play games with. My recognition of genuine intimacy and acceptance won out over my need to play this game.
What’s your game?
Apr 21st 2004Uncategorized