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Games People Play: The Basic Handbook of Transactional Analysis. Paperback – August 27, 1996
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“An important book . . . a brilliant, amusing, and clear catalogue of the psychological theatricals that human beings play over and over again.”
–KURT VONNEGUT, Life magazine
From the Inside Flap
"We think we're relating to other people-but actually we're all playing games.
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. This anniversary edition features a new introduction by Dr. James R. Allen, president of the International Transactional Analysis Association, and Kurt Vonnegut's brilliant "Life magazine review from 1965.
We play games all the time-sexual games, marital games, power games with our bosses, and competitive games with our friends. Detailing status contests like "Martini" (I know a better way), to lethal couples combat like "If It Weren't For You" and "Uproar," to flirtation favorites like "The Stocking Game" and "Let's You and Him Fight," Dr. Berne exposes the secret ploys and unconscious maneuvers that rule our intimate lives.
Explosive when it first appeared, "Games People Play is now widely recognized as the most original and influential popular psychology book of our time. It's as powerful and eye-opening as ever.
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But two more subtle pleasures (which the other reviewers here have not yet mentioned) are the doctor's wry WIT-plus real WISDOM.
His thesis is uncompromising. Dr. Berne shows we play "games" taught us by our warped childhood, or the world and culture. Rock-bottom: "Because there is so little opportunity for intimacy in daily life, and because some forms of intimacy (especially if intense) are psychologically impossible for most people, the bulk of the time in serious social life is taken up with playing games. Hence games are both necessary and desirable, and the only problem at issue is whether the games played by an individual offer the best yield for him." Specifically, Berne says we should discard bad psychological games (based on invalid old life-scripts from the past), in favor of the better social games. (And indeed, the games seem giddily-toxic, especially "Look How Hard I've Tried," "See What You Made Me Do," and "I'm Only Trying To Help You")
So alas, for the intimacy-fearful MANY people, the goal-in-life is to cure the "sick" games, and then just play the non-pathological ones. But, for a FEW fortunates, the open-calm-easy-natural responsiveness of truer psychological maturity IS possible. Berne names it "autonomy." It comprises awareness, spontaneity, and intimacy.
Okay. Skim or skip the theoretical Part ONE. But savor the 106 games in the story-time Part TWO. I mean, who can resist such peppery plots as "Courtroom," "Frigid Woman," and "Now I've Got You, You SOB"?) And then ponder Part THREE, on true autonomy: wow. Berne notwithstanding, many CAN arrive toward truer autonomy. (I know. I did. It took me decades. Worth the trip.....)
But don't miss Dr. Berne's wry WIT. He tempers his pessimism by his dubious, ironic, "hopeful realism" you might say. I found irresistible such low-key, laconic gems about the Human Condition such as these:
(1) "She and her husband had little in common besides their household worries and the children, so that their quarrels stood out as important events; it was mainly on these occasions that they had anything but the most casual conversations."
(2) [On the difference between mathematical and psychological games:] "Mathematical game analysis postulates players who are completely rational. Transactional game analysis deals with games which are un-rational, or even irrational, and hence more real."
(3) "'Beautiful friendships' are often based on the fact that the players complement each other with great economy and satisfaction, so that there is a maximum yield with a minimum of effort from the games they play with each other."
(4) (On the game "I'm Only Trying To Help You": a welfare agency worker and her client.) "There was a tacit agreement between the worker and the client which read as follows: W: I'll try to help you (providing you don't get better). C: I'll look for employment (providing I don't have to find any). If a client broke the agreement by getting better, the agency lost a client, and the client lost his welfare benefits, and both felt penalized...."
(5) (On the game "If It Weren't For You":) "(1) On the surface: Mr. White: You stay home and take care of the house. Mrs. White: If it weren't for you, I could be out having fun. (2) But in reality: Mr. White: You must always be here when I get home. I'm terrified of desertion. Mrs. White: I will be if you help me avoid phobic situations."
(6) (On the game "Wooden Leg" or the defensive, resistant "what do you expect of a man with a wooden leg?") "Slightly more sophisticated are such pleas as: What do you expect of a man who (a) comes from a broken home (b) is neurotic (c) is in analysis or (d) is suffering from a disease known as alcoholism? These are topped by, "If I stop doing this (neurotic behavior), I won't be able to analyze it, and then I'll never get better." The obverse of "Wooden Leg" is "Rickshaw," with the thesis, "If they only had (rickshaws) (duckbill platypuses) (girls who spoke ancient Egyptian) around this town, I never would have got into this mess."
Aaaach, Dr. Eric, your demeanor-dubious, doubtful, disenchanted and yet also dedicated and doughty-is worthy even of the Master himself, Dr. Sigmund, indeed.....
And then the goal of it all, "AUTONOMY." Learning to see a teapot, hear the birds sing (and interact with self and others) in the way YOU yourself were meant to, directly. And NOT the way society, culture, your family, and the grubby benefits of game-playing tell you you should!....Four times in as many decades have I re-read Berne's description of this "autonomy." And each time I see more-because I'm slowly-surely getting closer and closer to autonomy. To this natural, friction-free, appreciative, mellow, engaged, honest, for-real interaction with self and others. (Of course, I had the benefit of useful and skilled psychotherapy in the interval.) But take heart: a long road can have arrival points. Dr. Berne points the way, with the wisdom and wry wit, the doubting but dedicated stance, of the best in the psychoanalytic tradition.
Berne's section on the theory behind games is fascinating. I recommend reading about some of the games first and then moving to the theories. By understanding the theories, you learn WHY you inevitably participate in these games. After I understood why I was being drawn into these patterns, I was able to understand my motives. And ultimately, after understanding my motives, I was able alter my actions and responses when needed.
Overall, I found this book to be very useful in understanding my relationships with people. It is refreshingly different than a lot of the self-help material out there. This book cuts right to the chase and gives you tools to live by. I highly recommend it. After reading this book, I also read What Do You Say After You Say Hello by Eric Berne as well as Scripts People Live by Claude Steiner.
It describes abusive games people play like "Let's pull a fast one on Jimmy" or "Broken leg" and tells you exactly how to end your role in them. If you have to deal with people who always make excuses, can't be trusted, constantly criticize you, etc, this is the book to read.
The only thing you need to be aware of, and it's important, is that ending "games", or even just your role in games others keep trying to make you play, can destroy relationships in the short term (and sometimes in the long term). If you have someone really toxic in your life who plays very destructive games, they will be FURIOUS and THREATENED when you terminate your part in the game. For them, playing the game may seem like a matter of life and death . . .
In that instance, you need to be working with a therapist who specializes in using transactional analysis as part of therapy. In fact, that's pretty much always good advice if you want to make big changes in your family, personal, and professional relationships. You can google for therapists that use TA as a method and its worth doing.
At any rate, this is a powerful book. I hope you enjoy reading it.