Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Playing a Bigger Game

Remember Games People Play? The relationship games described by Eric Berne are so familiar from our own interactions, it's relatively easy to notice when someone else plays them. In truth, though, if you're in a game, you're a player, too. When we view relationship interactions as systems, we can see how all players contribute to the pattern.
The popular "Why don't you--yes, but" game is described in 50 Psychology Classics as beginning "when someone states a problem in their life, and another person responds by offering constructive suggestions on how to solve it. The subject says 'Yes, but...' and proceeds to find issue with the solutions. In Adult mode we would examine and probably take on board a solution, but this is not the purpose of the exchange. It allows the subject to gain sympathy from others in their inadequacy to meet the situation (Child mode). The problem solvers, in turn, get the opportunity to play wise Parent."
The Parent, Adult, Child references are from Transactional Analysis, popular since the sixties and still highly relevant.


Now look again at the players in "Why don't you--yes, but." Either party can start the game. The problem solver might be in the role of wise Parent, or might be playing parent, period, whether reacting to the other or initiating advice. How many times have you described a situation to a friend, co-worker, or life partner where you wanted a listener or someone to brainstorm with as you talked it through, only to have the other person jump in and tell you what you should do about it?
 
When you re-read the above example of "yes, but..." notice the assumption that one player (the "Child" in this case) creates the pattern, and the "wise" Parent is the blameless bystander. Looking at our interaction patterns this way promotes blaming and judgment. Yes, we all play games, and yes, sometimes one party is less emotionally healthy than the other, but by definition an interaction takes two people.
 
Instead of judging the interaction games in your relationships as someone else's fault, notice how a pattern is perpetuated, by either or both of you, and look for inventive ways to interrupt the pattern. If asked for your opinion by someone who's typically responded with "yes, but," for example, say "I'm not sure what the best thing would be for you," or "What have you considered?" or "What do you think might work?"
 
And, of course, pay close attention to the games you initiate. They wouldn't be games unless both people wanted to play.

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