Friday, June 06, 2008

The Games We (all) Play 4

In summary then, having distilled the last three posts, we may say that the heart of Transactional Analysis (TA) is that people play games with each other as a substitute for real intimacy, and every game, however unpleasant, has a particular pay-off for one or both players.

Briefly, TA asserts that our personality is made up of three ego states or three selves (or sub-personalities, if you wish) any one of which which we act out of at a particular time and, of course, which we may vary from one ego state to another on any given occasion.  These ego states, as we have already pointed out, correspond roughly to the three structural units of Freudian personality theory.  In other words, PAC or Parent, Adult and Child ego states correspond loosely to the Superego (Parent), Ego (Adult) and Id (Child).

Let's take a very common marital game, which Berne calls rather succinctly "if it weren't for you."  This game is common to all close relationships, not just marital ones.  It is a common occurrence between close friends of either or both sexes as well as between spouses.  It also happens between siblings and between parents and children.  I can illustrate it from a relationship I had with a former lover.  On the occasion when we broke up she said the following:  "I can blame C for this break-up and he can blame me for letting the relationship happen in the first place."  The woman had two sons, one of whom was bitterly opposed to our relationship for a number of reasons, one or two clear to me, but others very unclear - most likely unconscious reasons.  Anyway, both mother and sons were locked in a dysfunctional family where a number of people suffered from mental illness.  While this latter fact is important, the entanglement of strained relationships within that family structure all constellated around fear, mental illness, secrets, and blame, blame and more blame.  At one stage I had tried to get all the people in this drama into the same room to talk, but this was simply impossible.  They preferred to conduct their relationships on a hit-and-miss ad hoc basis.  At all times, I was aware of relating to a family, not to a person.  Anyway, this experience convinces me that Berne's "if it weren't for you" game is a common one.  Indeed, this whole family was a games family in more senses than one.  In fact, they were all chess players.

Berne calls this game a typical one in his book.  Let's let him describe an example of this game by way of complementing my own story above:

Mrs White complained that her husband severely restricted her social activities, so that she had never learned to dance.  Due to changes in her attitude brought about by psychiatric treatment, her husband became less sure of himself and more indulgent.  Mrs White was then free to enlarge the scope of her activities.  she signed up for dancing classes, and then discovered to her despair that she had a morbid fear of dance floors and had to abandon this project. 

This unfortunate adventure, along with similar ones, laid bear some important aspects of her marriage.  Out of her many suitors she had picked a domineering man for a husband.  She was then in a position to complain that she could do all sorts of things "if it weren't for you".  Many of her women friends also had domineering husbands, and when they met for their morning coffee, they spent a good deal of time playing "If It Weren't For Him."  (Games People Play, 45-46) 

In other words, Dr Berne is suggesting that most people unconsciously choose spouses, and I would argue friends also, because they want certain limits placed on them, just like Mrs White in the above story or myself in the previous story.  We readily blame the other person, possibly partner for what is more often than not revealed as an issue within ourselves.  By blaming the other we never really have to face our own fears and shortcomings.

Freud, we have already seen, had a dark and despairing view of humanity.  Likewise one could criticise Berne because his critique of human nature does seem bleak and forbidding.  However, he did see a positive return for becoming aware of the games that we and others play all too unconsciously.  In other words, Berne realised all too clearly that making our unconscious motives conscious (this is pure Freud - Berne was steeped in the Freudian tradition though he broke therefrom) or becoming conscious of the games we and others play, we can desist from playing them and choose to go for intimacy instead.  Part three of Games People Play is called "Beyond Games" and explores this possibility in depth.

I will finish this post by returning again to the last words of Dr Berne in his above mentioned book:

For certain fortunate people there is something which transcends all classifications of behaviour, and that is awareness; something which rises above the programming of the past, and that is spontaneity; and something that is more rewarding than games, and that is intimacy.  But all three of these may be frightening and even perilous to the unprepared.  Perhaps they are better off as they are, seeking their solutions in popular techniques of social action, such as 'togetherness'.  This may mean that there is no hope for the human race, but there is hope for individual members of it. (Op.cit., 162)

Above I have uploaded a photograph of two of my pupils after surfing the Atlantic breakers at Delphi, March 2007

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