Games People Play

transactional analysis

Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships’ is a 1964 bestselling book by psychiatrist Eric Berne. Since its publication it has sold more than five million copies. The book describes both functional and dysfunctional social interactions.

In the first half of the book, Berne introduces transactional analysis as a way of interpreting social interactions. He describes three roles or ego states, known as the Parent, the Adult, and the Child, and postulates that many negative behaviors can be traced to switching or confusion of these roles. The book uses casual, often humorous phrases such as ‘See What You Made Me Do,’ ‘Why Don’t You — Yes But,’ and ‘Ain’t It Awful’ as a way of briefly describing each game. In reality, the ‘winner’ of a mind game is the person that returns to the Adult ego-state first.

He discusses procedures, rituals, and pastimes in social behavior, in light of this method of analysis. For example, a boss who talks to his staff as a controlling ‘parent’ will often engender self-abased obedience, tantrums, or other childlike responses from his employees. The second half of the book catalogues a series of ‘mind games’ in which people interact through a patterned and predictable series of ‘transactions’ which are superficially plausible (that is, they may appear normal to bystanders or even to the people involved), but which actually conceal motivations, include private significance to the parties involved, and lead to a well-defined predictable outcome, usually counterproductive.

One example of these games is called ‘Now I’ve got you, you son of a bitch,’ in which A is dealing with B, and A discovers B has made a minor mistake, and holds up a much larger and more serious issue until the mistake is fixed, basically holding the entire issue hostage to the minor mistake. For example, say a plumber makes a mistake on a $300 job and underestimates the price of a part as $1 when it should be $3. The customer won’t pay the entire $300 unless the plumber eats the $2 error instead of just paying the bill of $302. Not all interactions or transactions are part of a game. Specifically, if both parties in a one-on-one conversation remain in an Adult-to-Adult ego-state, it is unlikely that a game is being played.

In the 1950s, Berne synthesized his theory of ‘human gaming’ and built on Sigmund Freud’s psychodynamic model, particularly the ego states to develop transactional analysis, which according to physician James R. Allen, is a ‘cognitive behavioral approach to treatment and … a very effective way of dealing with internal models of self and others as well as other psychodynamic issues.’ In 1993, American therapist-turned-author James Redfield self-published a New Age book, ‘The Celestine Prophecy,’ influenced by the theory of Berne’s human gaming. Specifically, the life games to which Berne refers in his book is a tool used in an individual’s quest for energetic independence.


One Comment to “Games People Play”

  1. i have this book

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