Games People Play | Eric Berne

Summary of: Games People Play
By: Eric Berne


Games People Play by Eric Berne uncovers the hidden patterns of behavior present in our daily interactions and relationships. The book reveals the three ego states – Parent, Child, and Adult – which guide our feelings, thoughts, and behaviors, and show how these ego states can change depending on past experiences and the present situation. By understanding these ego states, readers will unveil the often unconscious games people play in various aspects of life, such as intimate relationships, professional settings, and social gatherings. The book not only sheds light on these intricate games but also offers valuable insights on how to break free from their negative influences and foster genuine human connections.

Unraveling Ego States

Human behavior consists of recurring patterns that can be attributed to three distinct ego states: Parent, Child, and Adult. These states shape our feelings, thoughts, and behaviors, developing throughout our lives based on experiences. The Parent state stems from imitating our caretakers during childhood, both positively and negatively. The Adult state is responsible for rational thinking and problem-solving, enabling us to make decisions based on the present moment. The Child state, our innate, spontaneous way of being, is the source of emotions, creativity, and intimacy but can become buried beneath the Parent and Adult states as we grow older.

Did you ever find yourself wondering why people’s behaviors seem to follow recognizable patterns amidst the chaos and unpredictability of life? It turns out that these patterns are governed by three ego states – Parent, Child, and Adult – that work together to shape our feelings, thoughts, and actions.

Our Parent ego state develops as we imitate our caretakers throughout childhood, adopting their ways of dealing with situations, whether positive or negative. For instance, if your mom used to raise her voice when you misbehaved, you might find yourself replicating that method when interacting with your own child.

On the other hand, our Adult ego state is the home of rational thinking and problem-solving abilities. This state evolves as we learn to reflect on our experiences from childhood through adulthood, allowing us to make informed decisions based on present circumstances. Charging our Adult state, you might calmly address a noisy popcorn-muncher at the movies or deduce the issue with a faulty engine.

Lastly, there’s the natural, spontaneous Child ego state that we are born with. This state carries the essence of our emotions, creativity, and intimacy. As we age, the Child ego state can be overshadowed by the Parent and Adult states, pushing us to suppress our emotional and creative pursuits. However, it is possible to harness the spontaneity of the Child ego state again, demonstrated during intimate moments like sex, which isn’t a learned behavior from our parents.

Understanding these ego states can provide valuable insights into our nature and the basis of our actions, granting us the power to take control and make informed choices.

Unraveling The Ego States

Ego states are highly influential in the way people communicate with one another. When interacting, people often communicate from a Parent, Child, or Adult ego state. This dynamic can be easily discerned in some conversations, like planning a trip with a friend (Adult-Adult) or scolding a partner for not doing dishes (Parent-Child). However, some interactions can be less straightforward, masking the actual ego state from which they are occurring, and revealing a hidden, ulterior motive. This hidden communication is commonly referred to as playing a game. Sometimes, participants are aware of the game they are playing, while other times the game may be played unconsciously, leaving neither participant understanding the true intent behind the interaction. It is crucial to recognize and understand these games in order to avoid being trapped in negative situations and unhealthy communication patterns.

Unraveling the Alcoholic’s Game

It might be surprising, but addictive behavior can be likened to an intricate psychological game. In the game of Alcoholic, an addict may appear to seek assistance as a logical adult, yet their true motive lies in manipulating others into expressing anger, validating their self-pity and self-hatred. This vicious circle ultimately results in the continuation of alcohol consumption. Similarly, the game “Now I’ve Got You, You Son Of A Bitch” centers around individuals with pent-up frustration, who thrive on confrontations over trivial matters to unleash their accumulated fury. Understanding these psychological games can offer valuable insights into the dynamics of personal relationships and self-destructive behaviors.

Unraveling Marital Mind Games

The end of the honeymoon phase in a marriage can lead to psychological games being played by both partners. The seemingly harmless ‘Courtroom’ game often disguises a power struggle, where one spouse assumes the role of a Child complaining to a therapist, effectively forcing the other into a Parent role. The therapist, unknowingly, takes the position of moral superiority, validating the Child-spouse’s feelings. Similarly, the ‘Frigid Wife’ game features a wife playing both the Parent and Child roles, simultaneously provoking and rejecting her husband’s advances, reinforcing her own beliefs about men’s obsession with sex. These games reveal hidden, underlying relationship conflicts that require resolution for a healthy marriage.

In post-honeymoon marriages, partners often find themselves participating in psychological games that reflect complex power dynamics. A notable example is the ‘Courtroom’ game, in which couples seek a therapist’s help with marital problems. What appears as a cooperative Adult-Adult interaction transpires as one spouse adopting the Child role, complaining about the other partner. The unsuspecting therapist steps into the Parent role, unknowingly assuming moral superiority and validating the Child-spouse’s feelings. This unproductive game maintains rather than resolves marital discord.

Another prevalent game among spouses is ‘Frigid Wife.’ The wife plays a dual role—first offering herself provocatively as a Parent, but subsequently withdrawing in the same Parent role. The husband, acting as a Child, eagerly accepts and then faces rejection. The wife fuels her prejudice that all men care only about sex, leaving the husband feeling perpetually dissatisfied. Curiously, some husbands are drawn to partners who excel in playing ‘Frigid Wife,’ indicating that they, too, might not desire genuine sexual intimacy.

Both games exemplify how hidden conflicts and power struggles manifest within marriages, contributing to ongoing relational stress. To create a healthy, fulfilling partnership, it is essential for couples to recognize and address the underlying issues that prompt these psychological games.

The Deceptive Party Games

Party games like Schlemiel and Why Don’t You – Yes But may appear harmless, but they often involve manipulative undertones. In Schlemiel, the protagonist “accidentally” causes damage, forcing the host to forgive their actions, thus allowing them to maintain an irresponsible role. In Why Don’t You – Yes But, someone shares a problem and asks for advice. However, they consistently dismiss every solution, taking on the role of a helpless child. These games reveal the hidden dynamics of control and submission within social interactions.

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