Games People Play

Forty years ago, Games People Play revolutionized our understanding of what really goes on during our most basic social interactions.

More than five million copies later, Dr. Eric Berne’s classic is as astonishing and revealing, as it was on the day it was first published.

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We play games all the time… sexual games, marital games, power games with our bosses, and competitive games with our friends.

Detailing status contests or combat between lethal couples like “If It Weren’t For You”, to flirtation favorites like “The Stocking Game” and “Let’s You and Him Fight,” where Dr. Berne exposes the secret ploys and unconscious maneuvers that rule our intimate lives. (more games are mentioned and explained further down)

Explosive when it first appeared, Games People Play is now widely recognized as the most original and influential popular psychology book of our time. 

In the 1950s, Berne synthesized his theory of “human gaming” and built on Freud’s psychodynamic model, particularly the “ego states” to develop developed Transactional Analysis.

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Transactional analysis, according to physician James R. Allen, is a “cognitive behavioral approach to treatment and that it is a very effective way of dealing with internal models of self and others as well as other psychodynamic issues.”

Transactional analysis (commonly known as TA to its adherents) is an integrative approach to the theory of psychology and psychotherapy.

Integrative because it has elements of psychoanalytic, humanist and cognitive approaches.

It was developed by Canadian-born US psychiatrist Eric Berne during the late 1950s and the theory still stands, found in people and characters, until this day.

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1) People are OK; thus each person has validity, importance, equality of respect.

2) Everyone (with only few exceptions, such as the severely brain-damaged) has the capacity to think.

3) People decide their story and destiny, and these decisions can be changed.

Resolution:

Freedom from historical maladaptations embedded in the childhood script is required in order to become free of inappropriate, inauthentic, and displaced emotions which are not a fair and honest reflection of here-and-now life (such as echoes of childhood suffering, pity-me and other mind games, compulsive behavior, and repetitive dysfunctional life patterns).

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The aim of change under TA is to move toward autonomy (freedom from childhood script), spontaneity, intimacy, problem solving as opposed to avoidance or passivity, cure as an ideal rather than merely making progress, learning new choices.

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the walk

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Some core models and concepts are part of TA as follows:

The Ego-State model

At any given time, a person experiences and manifests their personality through a mixture of behaviours, thoughts and feelings.

Typically, according to TA, there are three ego-states that people consistently use:

  • Parent (“exteropsyche”): a state in which people behave, feel, and think in response to an unconscious mimicking of how their parents (or other parental figures) acted, or how they interpreted their parent’s actions. For example, a person may shout at someone out of frustration because they learned from an influential figure in childhood the lesson that this seemed to be a way of relating that worked.
  • Adult (“neopsyche”): a state of the ego which is most like a computer processing information and making predictions absent of major emotions that cloud its operation. Learning to strengthen the Adult is a goal of TA. While a person is in the Adult ego state, he/she is directed towards an objective appraisal of reality.
  • Child (“archaeopsyche”): a state in which people behave, feel and think similarly to how they did in childhood. For example, a person who receives a poor evaluation at work may respond by looking at the floor, and crying or pouting, as they used to when scolded as a child. Conversely, a person who receives a good evaluation may respond with a broad smile and a joyful gesture of thanks. The Child is the source of emotions, creation, recreation, spontaneity and intimacy.

Berne differentiated his Parent, Adult, and Child ego states from actual adults, parents, and children, by using capital letters when describing them. These ego-states may or may not represent the relationships that they act out.

For example, in the workplace, an adult supervisor may take on the Parent role, and scold an adult employee as though they were a Child. Or a child, using their Parent ego-state, could scold their actual parent as though the parent were a Child.

Within each of these ego states are subdivisions. Thus Parental figures are often either more nurturing (permission-giving, security-giving) or more criticizing (comparing to family traditions and ideals in generally negative ways); Childhood behaviours are either more natural (free) or more adapted to others.

These subdivision categorize individuals’ patterns of behaviour, feelings, and ways of thinking, that can be functional (beneficial or positive) or dysfunctional / counterproductive (negative).

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Types of diagnosis ~ ego states.

1. behavioural diagnosis,

2. social diagnosis,

3. historical diagnosis and

4. the phenomenological diagnosis of ego states.

For a complete diagnosis, one needs to complete all four types.

It has been subsequently demonstrated that there is in fact a fifth way of diagnosis.

It is known as the contextual diagnosis of ego states.

For example if a man says, “On July 5th, 2007 the alignment of the planets will create a gravitational field so strong that there will be the biggest tides in half a century”, what ego state would be diagnosed?

If that man was of a disheveled appearance, had not shaven for 2 days and was sitting on a park bench drinking out of a bottle in a brown paper bag what ego state would be diagnosed? Probably some kind of regressed Child ego state.

If that man was in an observatory wearing a white coat and carrying a clip board what ego state would be diagnosed? Probably Adult ego state.

The different contexts for the same statement would tend to result in a different diagnosis. The context in which the statement is made is central to the diagnosis of ego states.

There is no “universal” ego-state; each state is individually and visibly manifested for each person. For example, each Child ego state is unique to the childhood experiences, mentality, intellect, and family of each individual; it is not a generalized childlike state.

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Ego states can become contaminated, for example, when a person mistakes Parental rules and slogans, for here-and-now Adult reality, and when beliefs are taken as facts. Or when a person “knows” that everyone is laughing at them because “they always laughed”. This would be an example of a childhood contamination, insofar as here-and-now reality is being overlaid with memories of previous historic incidents in childhood.

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“How we learn to speak, add up and learn how to think is all just copied from our teachers. Just as our morals and values are copied from our parents. There is no absolute truth where facts exist out side a person’s own belief system.”

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Transactions

are the flow of communication, and more specifically the unspoken psychological flow of communication that runs in parallel. Transactions occur simultaneously at both explicit and psychological levels. Example: sweet caring voice with sarcastic intent. To read the real communication requires both surface and non-verbal reading.

Strokes

are the recognition, attention or responsiveness that one person gives another. Strokes can be positive (nicknamed “warm fuzzies”) or negative (“cold pricklies”). A key idea is that people hunger for recognition, and that lacking positive strokes, will seek whatever kind they can, even if it is recognition of a negative kind. We test out as children what strategies and behaviours seem to get us strokes, of whatever kind we can get.

People often create pressure in (or experience pressure from) others to communicate in a way that matches their style, so that a boss who talks to his staff as a controlling parent will often engender self-abasement or other childlike responses. Those employees who resist may get removed or labeled as “trouble”.

Transactions can be experienced as positive or negative depending on the nature of the strokes within them. However, a negative transaction is preferred to no transaction at all, because of a fundamental hunger for strokes.

The nature of transactions is important to understanding communication.

 

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There are basically three kinds of transactions: (of which – even if you do not follow yet – worry not, there are examples given further on which clarify the whole by putting theory into application)

  1. Reciprocal/Complementary (the simplest)
  2. Crossed
  3. Duplex/Covert (the most complex)

 

Reciprocal / Complementary Transactions

A simple, reciprocal transaction occurs when both partners are addressing the ego state the other is in. These are also called complementary transactions.

Example 1

A: “Have you been able to write the report?”
B: “Yes – I’m about to email it to you.” —-(This exchange was Adult to Adult)

Example 2

A: “Would you like to skip this meeting and go watch a film with me instead?”
B: “I’d love to – I don’t want to work anymore, what should we go and see?” (Child to Child)

Example 3

A: “You should have your room tidy by now!” (Parent to Child)
B: “Will you stop hassling me? I’ll do it eventually!” (Child to Parent)

Communication like this can continue indefinitely. (Clearly it will stop at some stage – but this psychologically balanced exchange of strokes can continue for some time).

 

Crossed Transactions

Communication failures are typically caused by a ‘crossed transaction’ where partners address ego states other than that their partner is in. Consider the above examples jumbled up a bit.

Example 1a:

A: “Have you been able to write that report?” (Adult to Adult)
B: “Will you stop hassling me? I’ll do it eventually!” (Child to Parent)

is a crossed transaction likely to produce problems in the workplace. “A” may respond with a Parent to Child transaction. For instance:

A: “If you don’t change your attitude, you’ll get fired.”

Example 2a:

A: “Is your room tidy yet?” (Parent to Child)
B: “I’m just going to do it, actually.” (Adult to Adult)

is a more positive crossed transaction. However there is the risk that “A” will feel aggrieved that “B” is acting responsibly and not playing their role, and the conversation will develop into:

A: “I can never trust you to do things!” (Parent to Child)
B: “Why don’t you believe anything I say?” (Adult to Adult)

which can continue indefinitely.

 

Duplex or Covert transactions

Another class of transaction is the ‘duplex’ or ‘covert’ transactions, where the explicit social conversation occurs in parallel with an implicit psychological transaction.

For instance,

A: “I need you to stay late at the office with me.” (Adult words)

body language indicates sexual intent (flirtatious Child)

B: “Of course.” (Adult response to Adult statement).

winking or grinning (Child accepts the hidden motive).

 

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Two elements (phenomena) observed and examined, in order to asses with whom you are transacting, are:

Life position

“Life Position” refers to the general feeling about life (specifically, the unconscious feeling, as opposed to a conscious philosophical position) that colours every dyadic (i.e. person-to-person) transaction.

However, lately, an Australian TA analyst has claimed that in order to better represent the Life Position behind disorders that were not, allegedly, as widespread and/or recognized at the time when TA was conceptualized as they are now (such as borderline personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder, since these disorders have an altered life position and see things in a manipulative prism, using transactional analysis and games to their own benefit).

The difference between one’s own OK-ness and other’s OK-ness captured by description “I’m OK, You’re not-OK” is proposed to be substituted by description that more accurately captures one’s own feeling (not jumping to conclusions based only on one’s perceived behavior), therefore stating the difference in a new way: “I’m not-OK, but You’re worse”, instead.

Life (or Childhood) Script

  • Script is a life plan, directed to a reward.
  • Script is decisional and responsive; i.e., decided upon in childhood in response to perceptions of the world and as a means of living with and making sense of the world. It is not just thrust upon a person by external forces.
  • Script is reinforced by parents (or other influential figures and experiences).
  • Script is for the most part outside awareness.
  • Script is how we navigate and what we look for, the rest of reality is redefined (distorted) to match our filters.

Each culture, country and people in the world has a Mythos (a Greek word meaning “Legend”), that is, a legend explaining its origins, core beliefs and purpose. According to TA, so do individual people.

A person begins writing his/her own life story (script) at a young age, as he/she tries to make sense of the world and his place within it. Although it is revised throughout life, the core story is selected and decided upon typically by age 7.

As adults it passes out of awareness. A life script might be “to be hurt many times, and suffer and make others feel bad when I die”, and could result in a person indeed setting himself up for this, by adopting behaviours in childhood that produce exactly this effect.

Though Berne identified several dozen common scripts, there are a practically infinite number of them. Though often largely destructive, scripts could as easily be mostly positive or beneficial.

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Redefining and Discounting are the two characteristics most commonly found in the sociopath / psychopath / narcissist. 

 

Redefining

means the distortion of reality when we deliberately (but unconsciously) distort things to match our preferred way of seeing the world. Thus a person whose script involves “struggling alone against a cold hard world” may redefine others’ kindness, concluding that others are trying to get something by manipulation.

Discounting

means to take something as worth less than it is. Thus to give a substitute reaction which does not originate as a here-and-now Adult attempt to solve the actual problem, or to choose not to see evidence that would contradict one’s script. Types of discount can also include: passivity (doing nothing), over-adaptation, agitation, incapacitation, anger and violence.

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Injunctions & Drivers: 

Transactional Analysis identifies twelve key injunctions which people commonly build into their scripts.

These are injunctions in the sense of being powerful “I can’t/mustn’t …” messages that embed into a child’s belief and life-script: (negative thoughts often haunting people are actually named, categorized, verified and listed)

  • Don’t be (don’t exist)
  • Don’t be who you are
  • Don’t be a child
  • Don’t grow up
  • Don’t make it in your life
  • Don’t do anything!
  • Don’t be important
  • Don’t belong
  • Don’t be close
  • Don’t be well (don’t be sane!)
  • Don’t think
  • Don’t feel.
 

In addition there is the so-called episcript:

“You should (or deserve to) have this happen in your life,

so it doesn’t have to happen to me.” 

Magical thinking on the part of the parent(s).

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Against these, a child is often told other things he/she must do. (thus rooting mania, obsession and compulsive behavior into a personality, since childhood)

There is debate as to whether there are five or six of these ‘drivers’:

  • Please (me/others)!
  • Be perfect!
  • Be Strong!
  • Try Hard!
  • Hurry Up!
  • Be Careful! (is in dispute)

Thus in creating his script, a child will often attempt to juggle these, example: “It’s okay for me to go on living (ignore don’t exist) so long as I try hard“.

This explains why some change is inordinately difficult.

To continue the above example: When a person stops trying hard and relaxes to be with his family, the injunction You don’t have the right to exist which was being suppressed by their script now becomes exposed and a vivid threat. Such an individual may feel a massive psychological pressure which he himself doesn’t understand, to return to trying hard, in order to feel safe and justified (in a childlike way) in existing.

Broadly speaking, scripts can fall into Tragic, Heroic or Banal (or Non-Winner) varieties, depending on their rules.

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Ways of Time Structuring:

There are six ways of structuring time by giving and receiving strokes:

  1. Withdrawal
  2. Ritual
  3. Pastimes
  4. Activity
  5. Games
  6. Intimacy

This is sorted in accordance with stroke strength; Intimacy and Games in general allow for the most intensive strokes.

 

Withdrawal

This means no strokes are being exchanged

 

Rituals

A ritual is a series of transactions that are complementary (reciprocal), stereotyped and based on social programming. Rituals usually comprise a series of strokes exchanged between two parties.

For instance, two people may have a daily two stroke ritual, where, the first time they meet each day, each one greets the other with a “Hi”. Others may have a four stroke ritual, such as:

A: Hi!

B: Hi! How are you?

A: Getting along. What about you?

B: Fine. See you around.

The next time they meet in the day, they may not exchange any strokes at all, or may just acknowledge each other’s presence with a curt nod.

 

Some phenomena associated with daily rituals:

  • If a person exchanges fewer strokes than expected, the other person may feel that he is either preoccupied or acting high and mighty.

 

  • If a person exchanges more strokes than expected, the other person might wonder whether he is trying to butter him up or get on good terms for some vested interests.

 

  • If two people do not meet for a long time, a backlog of strokes gets built up, so that the next time they meet, they may exchange a large number of strokes to catch up.

 

Pastimes

A pastime is a series of transactions that is complementary (reciprocal), semi-ritualistic, and is mainly intended as a time-structuring activity. Pastimes have no covert purpose and can usually be carried out only between people on the same wavelength. They are usually shallow and harmless. Pastimes are a type of smalltalk.

Individuals often partake in similar pastimes throughout their entire life, as pastimes are generally very much linked to one’s life script and the games that one often plays. Some pastimes can even be understood as a reward for playing a certain game. For example, Eric Berne in Games People Play discusses how those who play the “Alcoholic” game (which Berne differentiated from alcoholism and alcoholics) often enjoy the “Morning After” pastime in which participants share their most amusing or harrowing hangover stories.

 

Activities (Work)

Activities in this context mean the individuals work together for a common goal. This may be work, sports or something similar. In contrast to Pastimes, there is a meaningful purpose guiding the interactions, while Pastimes are just about exchanging strokes. Strokes can then be given in the context of the cooperation. Thus the strokes are generally not personal, but related to the activity.

 

Games

See below.

 

Intimacy

Intimacy as a way of structuring time allows one to exchange the strongest strokes without playing a Game. Intimacy differs from Games as there is no covert purpose, and differs from Activities as there is no other process going on which defines a context of cooperation. Strokes are personal, relating to the other person, and often unconditional.

 

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Definition of game:

A game is a series of transactions that is complementary (reciprocal), ulterior, and proceeds towards a predictable outcome. Games are often characterized by a switch in roles of players towards the end. Games are usually played by Parent, Adult and Child ego states, and games usually have a fixed number of players; however, an individual’s role can shift, and people can play multiple roles.

Berne identified dozens of games, noting that, regardless of when, where or by whom they were played, each game tended towards very similar structures in how many players or roles were involved, the rules of the game, and the game’s goals.

Each game has a payoff for those playing it, such as the aim of earning sympathy, satisfaction, vindication, or some other emotion that usually reinforces the life script.

The antithesis of a game, that is, the way to break it, lies in discovering how to deprive the actors of their payoff.

Students of transactional analysis have discovered that people who are accustomed to a game are willing to play it even as a different “actor” from what they originally were.

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Analysis of a game:

One important aspect of a game is its number of players. Games may be two handed (that is, played by two players), three handed (that is, played by three players), or many handed.

Three other quantitative variables are often useful to consider for games:

  • Flexibility: The ability of the players to change the currency of the game (that is, the tools they use to play it). In a flexible game, players may shift from words, to money, to parts of the body.
  • Tenacity: The persistence with which people play and stick to their games and their resistance to breaking it.
  • Intensity: Easy games are games played in a relaxed way. Hard games are games played in a tense and aggressive way.

Either consciously or unconsciously played, a game’s ulterior motives can be damaging.

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Based on the degree of acceptability & potential harm, games are classified as:

  • First Degree Games are socially acceptable in the players’ social circle.
  • Second Degree Games are games that the players would like to conceal, though they may not cause irreversible damage.
  • Third Degree Games are games that could lead to drastic harm to one or more of the parties concerned.

Games are also studied based on their:

Aim

Roles

Social and Psychological Paradigms

Dynamics

Advantages to players (Payoffs)

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Transactional game analysis is fundamentally different from rational or mathematical game analysis in the following senses:

  • The players do not always behave rationally in transactional analysis, but behave more like real people.
  • Their motives are often ulterior.

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Some commonly found games:

This is a helpful tool for you to realize which games you might be playing (perhaps unwillingly) and to identify games other people might be playing with you. Either socially or in more personal relationships..

Here are some of the most commonly found themes of games described in Games People Play by Eric Berne:

  • YDYB: Why Don’t You, Yes But.
  • IFWY: If It Weren’t For You
  • WAHM: Why does this Always Happen to Me? (setting up a self-fulfilling prophecy)
  • SWYMD: See What You Made Me Do
  • UGMIT: You Got Me Into This
  • LHIT: Look How Hard I’ve Tried
  • ITHY: I’m Only Trying to Help You
  • LYAHF: Let’s You and Him Fight (staging a love triangle)
  • NIGYYSOB / NIGYSOB: Now I’ve Got You, You Son Of a Bitch
  • RAPO: A woman falsely cries ‘rape’ or threatens to… (related to Buzz Off Buster)

Berne argued that games are not played logically; rather, one person’s Parent state might interact with another’s Child, rather than as Adult to Adult.

Games can also be analysed according to the Karpman drama triangle, that is, by the roles of Persecutor, Victim and Rescuer. The ‘switch’ is then when one of these having allowed stable roles to become established, suddenly switches role. The Victim becomes a Persecutor, and throws the previous Persecutor into the Victim role, or the Rescuer suddenly switches to become a Persecutor (“You never appreciate me helping you!”).

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Examples of Games:

 

Why Don’t You/Yes But

The first such game theorized was Why don’t you/Yes, but in which one player (White) would pose a problem as if seeking help, and the other player(s) (Black) would offer solutions (the “Why don’t you?” suggestion). This game was noticed as many patients played it in therapy and psychiatry sessions, and inspired Berne to identify other interpersonal “games”.

White would point out a flaw in every Black player’s solution (the “Yes, but” response), until they all gave up in frustration. For example, if someone’s life script was “to be hurt many times, and suffer and make others feel bad when I die” a game of “Why Don’t You, Yes But” might proceed as follows:

White: I wish I could lose some weight.
Black: Why don’t you join a gym?
W: Yes but, I can’t afford the payments for a gym.
B: Why don’t you speed walk around your block after you get home from work?
W: Yes but, I don’t dare walk alone in my neighborhood after dark.
B: Why don’t you take the stairs at work instead of the elevator?
W: Yes but, after my knee surgery, it hurts too much to walk that many flights of stairs.
B: Why don’t you change your diet?
W: Yes but, my stomach is sensitive and I can tolerate only certain foods.

“Why Don’t You, Yes But” can proceed indefinitely, with any number of players in the Black role, until Black’s imagination is exhausted, and she can think of no other solutions. At this point, White “wins” by having stumped Black. After a silent pause following Black’s final suggestion, the game is often brought to a formal end by a third role, Green, who makes a comment such as, “It just goes to show how difficult it is to lose weight.”

The secondary gain for White was that he could claim to have justified his problem as insoluble and thus avoid the hard work of internal change; and for Black, to either feel the frustrated martyr (“I was only trying to help”) or a superior being, disrespected (“the patient was uncooperative”).

Superficially, this game can resemble Adult to Adult interaction (people seeking information or advice), but more often, according to Berne, the game is played by White’s helpless Child, and Black’s lecturing Parent ego states.

“Drunk” or “Alcoholic”

Another example of Berne’s approach was his identification of the game of “Drunk” or “Alcoholic.” As he explained it, the transactional object of the drunk, aside from the personal pleasure obtained by drinking, could be seen as being to set up a situation where the Child can be severely scolded not only by the internal parent but by any parental figures in the immediate environment who are interested enough to oblige. The pattern is shown to be similar to that in the non-alcoholic game “Schlemiel,” in which mess-making attracts attention and is a pleasure-giving way for White to lead up to the crux, which is obtaining forgiveness by Black.

There are a variety of organizations involved in playing ‘Alcoholic’, some of them national or even international in scope, others local. Many of them publish rules for the game. Nearly all of them explain how to play the role of Alcoholic: take a drink before breakfast, spend money allotted for other purposes, etc. They also explain the function of the Rescuer role in the game. Alcoholics Anonymous, for example, continues playing the actual game but concentrates on inducing the Alcoholic to take the role of Rescuer. Former Alcoholics are preferred because they know how the game goes, and hence are better qualified to play the supporting role of Rescuer than people who have never played before.

According to this type of analysis, with the rise of rescue organizations which publicize that alcoholism is a disease rather than a transactional game, alcoholics have been taught to play “Wooden Leg”, a different game in which an organic ailment absolves White of blame.

The script for “Drunk”

Roles: Victim (addict), Persecutor (usually spouse), Rescuer (often family member of same sex), Patsy (enabler), Connection (supplier)Pastimes: Martini (how much I used) and morning after (look what you made me do). Many addicts find unlimited access to these pastimes in organizations such as AA.The game is played from the Victim role as “see how bad I’ve been; see if you can stop me.” The purpose is self-punishment and the garnering of negative (persecution) strokes and positive ones of forgiveness, and the vindication of an “I’m not OK” existential position. The game often becomes elaborated into a self-destructive life script, especially if the parents were also chemically dependent. Effective antithesis and cure can be achieved through psychotherapeutic script analysis, redecision, relearning.

Racket

A racket is the dual strategy of getting “permitted feelings,” while covering up feelings which we truly feel, but which we regard as being “not allowed”. More technically, a racket feeling is “a familiar set of emotions, learned and enhanced during childhood, experienced in many different stress situations, and maladaptive as an adult means of problem solving”.

A racket is then a set of behaviours which originate from the childhood script rather than in here-and-now full Adult thinking, which (1) are employed as a way to manipulate the environment to match the script rather than to actually solve the problem, and (2) whose covert goal is not so much to solve the problem, as to experience these racket feelings and feel internally justified in experiencing them.

Examples of racket and racket feelings: “Why do I meet good guys who turn out to be so hurtful”, or “He always takes advantage of my goodwill”. The racket is then a set of behaviours and chosen strategies learned and practiced in childhood which in fact help to cause these feelings to be experienced. Typically this happens despite their own surface protestations and hurt feelings, out of awareness and in a way that is perceived as someone else’s fault. One covert pay-off for this racket and its feelings, might be to gain in a guilt free way, continued evidence and reinforcement for a childhood script belief that “People will always let you down”.

In other words, rackets and games are devices used by a person to create a circumstance where they can legitimately feel the racket feelings, thus abiding by and reinforcing their Childhood script. They are always a substitute for a more genuine and full adult emotion and response which would be a more appropriate response to the here-and-now situation.

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