A Stroke of Genius ?

Another Psychiatrist, and born in Montreal in Canada, always a winning combination.

Eric Berne brought game theory to Psychiatry, creating Transactional Analysis, focussing on people’s social interactions and how this affects human behaviour. Thomas Szasz, Tsar of the anti-Psychiatry movement was also a game theory fan in this context.

Let’s take a look at some of the highlights of the books in this field and Berne’s best bits…

First, “Games People Play”.

He introduces the term “stroking”, rather important to say here it doesn’t mean physically, but it is an act implying recognition of another’s presence, an exchange of which with another would be a transaction.

Satisfaction may then be sought through rituals, pastimes, games, intimacy or activity.

An ego state is defined as a system of feelings accompanied by a related set of behaviour patterns. Parent (like a parent or parent substitute would have felt or behaved, or if not directly active, as an influence), Adult (objective and non-prejudiced, usually to be desired) or Child (as you would have reacted then, either natural and spontaneous or adapted to what parents would have wanted) will be exhibited in a situation and to some degree can be shifted between.

All three states have positive aspects at the right time, as long as a healthy balance isn’t disturbed.

Transactional analysis is looking at which ego states are involved in a transactional stimulus and response.

Ideally transactions are complementary. Crossed transactions are more problematic, e.g. Adult-Adult switching to Parent-Child. They can be simple or ulterior- the latter sub-divided into angular or duplex.

One type of stereotyped social activity is a procedure, which is most efficient and effective with Adult ego input.

Another is a ritual, a series of complementary transactions programmed by external social forces, more Parental, which can be formal (Roman Catholic Mass) or informal (superficial “Hi, How are you?” social pleasantries). For the latter, a certain balanced number of “strokes” will be expected to prevent awkwardness.

Pastimes are time-fillers often occurring at parties and include chit-chat.
The types may be classified sociologically and can be played at different levels. They can be projective or introjective and form a social selection purpose and to confirm roles, stabilising positions.

A game is a series of complementary dishonest ulterior transactions leading to a well-defined dramatic payoff. An operation, in contrast, is based on honesty.

But people may be unconscious of their dishonest actions in the game, and it is not necessarily fun.

The first game analysed in the book is “If It Weren’t For You” Marital type. Thesis, antithesis, aim, roles, dynamics, examples, the transactional paradigm, moves and advantages (psychological, social, biological and existential) can be scrutinised.

Some people will react badly to a game and it’s payoff ending, even falling into despair. But game-free intimacy is the ideal.

Games can be classified by number of players, currency used, clinical types, zonal, psychodynamic and instinctual and also in terms of flexibility, tenacity and intensity. Stage-wise games can progress from first to third degree.

An entertaining thesaurus of games then follows in the book. They are divided into Life Games, Marital Games, Party Games, Sexual Games, Underworld Games, Consulting Room Games and Good Games.

Life Games include “Alcoholic”, “Debtor”, “Kick Me”, “Now I’ve Got You, You Son of a Bitch” and “See What You’ve Made Me Do”.

Marital Games are “Corner”, “Courtroom”, the controversial “Frigid Woman”, “Harried”, “If It Weren’t For You”, “Look How Hard I’ve Tried” and “Sweetheart”.

Party Games are “Ain’t it Awful”, “Blemish”, “Why Don’t You- Yes But” and “Schlemiel”.

The moves in a typical game of “Schlemiel” are as follows:-
1W. White spills a highball on the hostess’s evening gown.
1B. Black (the host) responds initially with rage, but he senses (often only vaguely) that if he shows it, White wins. Black therefore pulls himself together, and this gives him the illusion that he wins.
2W. White says: “I’m sorry.”
2B. Black mutters or cries forgiveness, strengthening his illusion that he wins.
3W. White then proceeds to inflict other damage on Black’s property. He breaks things, spills things and makes messes of various kinds. After the cigarette burn in the tablecloth, the chair leg through the lace curtain and the gravy on the rug, White’s Child is exhilarated because he has enjoyed himself in carrying out these procedures, for all of which he has been forgiven, while Black has made a gratifying display of suffering self-control. Thus both of them profit from an unfortunate situation, and Black is not necessarily anxious to terminate the friendship. As in most games, White, who makes the first move, wins either way. If Black shows his anger, White can feel justified in returning the resentment. If Black restrains himself, White can go on enjoying his opportunities.

The real payoff in this game, however, is not the pleasure of destructiveness, which is merely an added bonus for White, but the fact that he obtains forgiveness. This leads directly into the antithesis.

Antithesis. Anti-“Schlemiel” is played by not offering the demanded absolution. After White says, “I’m sorry,” Black, instead of muttering “It’s okay,” says, “Tonight you can embarrass my wife, ruin the furniture and wreck the rug, but please don’t say I’m sorry.'” Here Black switches from being a Forgiving Parent to being an objective Adult who takes the full responsibility for having invited White in the first place. The intensity of White’s game will be revealed by his reaction, which may be quite explosive. One who plays anti-“Schlemiel” runs the risk of immediate reprisals or, at any rate, of making an enemy.

Children play “Schlemiel” in an abortive form in which they are not always sure of forgiveness but at least have the pleasure of making messes; as they learn to control themselves socially, however, they may take advantage of their increasing sophistication to obtain the forgiveness which is the chief goal of the game as played in polite, grown-up social circles.

Thesis: I can he destructive and still get forgiveness.
Aim: Absolution.
Roles: Aggressor, Victim (Colloquially, Schlemiel and Schlemazl).
Dynamics: Anal aggression.
Examples: (1) Messily destructive children. (2) Clumsy guest.
Social Paradigm: Adult-Adult.
Adult: “Since I’m polite, you have to be polite, too.” Adult: “That’s fine. I forgive you.”
Psychological Paradigm: Child-Parent. Child: “You have to forgive things which appear accidental.” Parent: “You are right. I have to show you what good manners are.”
Moves: (1) Provocation-resentment. (2) Apology-forgiveness.
Advantages: (1) Internal Psychological—pleasure of messing. (2) External Psychological—Avoids punishment. (3) Internal Social—”Schlemiel.” (4) External Social—”Schlemiel.” (5) Biological—provocative and gentle stroking. (6) Existential—I am blameless.

Ah, now we’re talking, the Sexual Games. These include “Let’s You and Him Fight”, “Perversion”, “Stocking Game” and “Uproar”. I found them a bit Freud obsessed, some outdated attitudes and I have had to leave the name of one out altogether!

The Underworld Games are “Cops and Robbers”, “How Do You Get Out of Here?” and “Let’s Pull a Fast One on Joey”.

Relevant to health workers such as myself are the Consulting Room Games, I’m Only Trying To Help You”, “Psychiatry”, “Greenhouse”, “Indigence”, “Peasant”, “Stupid” and “Wooden Leg”.

Thesis: This game is one of the complements of “I’m Only Trying to Help You”. The following account illustrates the nature of this game and its place in our society.
Miss Black was a social worker in a welfare agency whose avowed purpose, for which it received a government subsidy, was the economic rehabilitation of indigents—which in effect meant getting them to find and retain gainful employment. The clients of this agency were continually “making progress,” according to official reports, but very few of them were actually “rehabilitated.” This was understandable, it was claimed, because most of them had been welfare clients for several years, going from agency to agency and sometimes being involved with five or six agencies at a time, so that it was evident that they were “difficult cases.” Miss Black, from her training in game analysis, soon realized that the staff of her agency was playing a consistent game of ITHY, and wondered how the clients were responding to this. In order to check, she asked her own clients from week to week how many job opportunities they had actually investigated. She was interested to discover that although they were theoretically supposed to be looking assiduously for work from day to day, actually they devoted very little effort to this, and sometimes the token efforts they did make had an ironic quality. For example, one man said that he answered at least one advertisement a day looking for work. “What kind of work?” she inquired. He said he wanted to go into sales work. “Is that the only kind of ad you answer?” she asked. He said that it was, but it was too bad that he was a stutterer, as that held him back from his chosen career. About this time it came to the attention of her supervisor that she was asking these questions, and she was reprimanded for putting “undue pressure” on her clients. Miss Black decided nevertheless to go ahead and rehabilitate some of them. She selected those who were able-bodied and did not seem to have a valid reason to continue to receive welfare funds. With this selected group, she talked over the games ITHY and “Indigence.” When they were willing to concede the point, she said that unless they found jobs she was going to cut them off from welfare funds and refer them to a different kind of agency. Several of them almost immediately found employment, some for the first time in years. But they were indignant at her attitude, and some of them wrote letters to her supervisor complaining about it. The supervisor called her in and reprimanded her even more severely, on the ground that although her former clients were working, they were not “really rehabilitated.” The supervisor indicated that there was some question whether they would retain Miss Black in the agency. Miss Black, as much as she dared without further jeopardizing her position, tactfully tried to elicit what would constitute “really rehabilitated” in the agency’s opinion. This was not clarified. She was only told that she was “putting undue pressure” on people, and the fact that they were supporting their families for the first time in years was in no way to her credit. Because she needed her job and was now in danger of losing it, some of her friends tried to help. The respected head of a psychiatric clinic wrote to the supervisor, stating that he had heard Miss Black had done some particularly effective work with welfare clients, and asking whether she might discuss her findings at a staff conference at his clinic. The supervisor refused permission. In this case the rules of “Indigence” were set up by the agency to complement the local rules of ITHY. 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).”
B. “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. If a worker like Miss Black broke the agreement by making the client actually find work, the agency was penalized by the client’s complaints, which might come to the attention of higher authorities, while again the client lost his welfare benefits. As long as both obeyed the implicit rules, both got what they wanted. The client received his benefits and soon learned what the agency wanted in return: an opportunity to “reach out” (as part of ITHY) plus “clinical material” (to present at “client-centered” staff conferences). The client was glad to comply with these demands, which gave him as much pleasure as it did the agency. Thus they got along well together, and neither felt any desire to terminate such a satisfying relationship. Miss Black, in effect, “reached in” instead of “reaching out,” and proposed a “community-centered” staff conference instead of a “client-centered” one; and this disturbed all the others concerned in spite of the fact that she was thus only complying with the stated intent of the regulations.
Antithesis: consists in withholding the benefits. Here the risk is not primarily from the player himself, as in most other games, but from this game being culturally syntonic and fostered by the complementary ITHY players. The threat comes from professional colleagues and the aroused public, government agencies and protective unions.

Hmm. I have a horrible feeling the Tory Government and companies like ATOS would try to get some mileage out of that one.

Finally there are Good Games, which though gamey still make a positive contribution to society. These include “Busman’s Holiday”, “Cavalier”, “Happy to Help”, “Homely Sage” and “They’ll Be Glad They Knew Me”.

The book finishes by recommending the attainment of autonomy, spontaneity over programming and finally instead of games, intimacy.

Some of the book rings true to me, but it is a bit dated, having come from the sixties, and none of the games really resonated, despite their often brilliant titles.

Onto the next Berne book, “Sex in Human Loving”.
It was probably quite radical at the time, its introduction discussing naughty words is weird but fun. In fact, a later chapter is called Obscenity For Fun.
The TA Parent, Adult and Child ego state diagrams then begin to creep in, and we get back to Sexual Games and then Scripts.
The Drama Triangle between Victim, Persecutor and Rescuer makes its appearance, more later.
There is finally a somewhat bizarre collection of epigrams on the subject from imaginary characters Berne at time pretended to be! I thought my books were weird…

A brief break from Berne and to Thomas Harris, “I’m Ok- You’re Okay”, also about TA. Not the Hannibal Lecter guy. He was a bud of Berne and passionate about TA.
He takes a while to get to the point, but does namecheck Timothy Leary along the way, which can’t be bad. He returns to the chilling idea we still have our parents and young child selves living in us. He goes into a lot more detail than “The Games People Play” before introducing the four life positions:-
1. I’m Not OK- You’re OK- inferiority feelings from childhood, strokes will be sought.
2. I’m Not OK- You’re Not OK- The stroking disappeared or perhaps was never discerned as in autism.
3. I’m OK- You’re Not OK- this could be a psychopathy developed by a survivor of abuse.
4. I’m OK- You’re OK. The good position.
Oh God it got so boring after that. So many P, A and C circles with arrows between them.
Not OK!

Let’s finish with Berne’s “What Do You Say After You Say Hello?”
Is it about conversation skills for introverts?
There is already a great book for that:-

UK:- http://amzn.eu/gPZ2HnL
US:- http://a.co/jie1d3k

Berne’s “Hello” is a weighty tome, but introduces itself with a certain epicness, with talk of the secret of the Zen “one hand clapping” and speaking Martian.

A lot of the “Games” material is gone over again, then Scripts get an airing, in terms of a preconscious lifeplan.

They are based on parental programming, and may have overlaps with fairytales.
The Hero With a Thousand Faces, a staple of this Astral Projects blog is referenced.
Oedipus and Electra complexes are mentioned, as Berne seems to still be enchanted by Freud.

There is a lot of blurb on the development of scripts, they can be analysed through their payoff, the injunction, e.g. “don’t eat those apples!”, the Come-on, the Electrode, Bags and Things, The Prescription, Parental Patterns, The Demon, Permission, The Internal Release, The Script Equipment, Aspirations and Conversations, Winners and The Anti-Script components of the apparatus.

The script apparatus of a loser consists of injunctions, provocations and a curse, the script controls. To combat he has an inner demon, and sometimes an internal release, understanding slogans gives him a counterscript.
It is the same for a winner, but they have more adaptive programming and autonomy with more permissions.

There are Never, Always, Until, After, Over and Over and Open-Ended scripts which Berne links to Greek myths. All have sexual aspects and bearing on the human orgasm.

A series of very wacky Script examples follow, often based on mythical or famous characters.

Here is one of the more sensible:-

Florence, or See It Through

Florence’s mother wanted her to marry well and settle down to a life in high society, but God’s voice came to Florence and told her that her destiny was to serve the human race. For fourteen years everyone around her fought her decision, but at last she prevailed and began her career as a nurse. By tremendous efforts and still against opposition from those around her, she gained the favor of the Establishment and even of the Queen. She dedicated herself completely to her work and would have no part of intrigue or public acclaim. She revolutionized not only nursing, but also public health throughout the British Empire.
Thesis: Florence’s mother wants her to be socially ambitious, but somewhere inside her a voice says she is destined for greater things. She fights her mother vigorously to gain her way. Other people put obstacles in her way, but instead of spending her time playing games with them, she goes around them to find more challenges, and becomes a heroine.
CLINICAL DIAGNOSIS: Adolescent crisis with hallucinations.
HEROINE: Joan of Arc.
ROLES: Heroine, Opponents.
SWITCHES: Victim, Heroine.
PARENTAL PRECEPT: ‘Marry rich.’ PARENTAL PATTERN: ‘Do as you’re told.’
PARENTAL INJUNCTION: ‘Don’t talk back.’ HALLUCINATED INJUNCTION (presumably father’s voice): ‘Be a heroine like Joan of Arc.’
POSITION: ‘I’m OK –if I produce.’ ‘They’re OK –if they let me.’
DECISION: ‘If I can’t serve humanity one way, I’ll serve it another.’
SWEATSHIRT: Front –‘Take care of the soldiers.’ Back –‘Do it better than before.’
TRADING STAMPS: Not a collector.
GAME: No time for games.
ANTITHESIS: None necessary.
PERMISSION: Already has enough. CLASSIFICATION This is a winner’s script, taking a losing script (Hannibal, Napoleon, Joan of Arc) and turning it into a winning one despite all external opposition. This was accomplished by leaving alternatives open so that she could go around the opposition instead of meeting it head on. This is the quality of flexibility, which in no way diminishes determination or effectiveness. Thus, if Napoleon and Joan of Arc had made conditional decisions, their script payoffs would have been quite different: for example, ‘If I can’t fight the English, I’ll fight disease.’

The story of Cinderella is then looked at in great detail as a script.

The script in clinical practice is then discussed, in particular how to listen for aspects of scripts in what the client is saying and how the therapist can then help. Some interesting case histories are given.

It ends with a truly cheesy section on what to actually say after you say hello, and a chat up line! At least the author doesn’t take himself too seriously.

A hard-going book at times, lots of theory, but if the theory isn’t based on truth a giant waste of time I guess. Although some patients will get better with almost any therapy if the therapist is kind and charismatic.

Looking at some of the latest books on TA, there are some nice little guides by a lady called Catherine Holden.

Then there is a book “How to Break Free of the Drama Triangle” by a couple called the Weinholds.
This was mentioned earlier, the players being Persecutor, Victim and Rescuer and they see the pattern in soaps, sit-coms, politics- everywhere. They give a good example of during the Cold War where the USA and USSR saw themselves as Rescuers of Victim states such as Vietnam and Nicaragua from the other as Persecutors.
The role of the Drama Triangle in The Games People Play is discussed, with the revelation that becoming the Victim is secretly the prize.
Others will have to meet your needs whilst you blame them for your problems. There can be rapid role switching.
The pattern is found in a swathe of Country and Western songs, as well as being embedded in modern Christianity, and they even explain that The Golden Rule is backwards and harmful!
Escaping the Drama Triangle means:-
1. Commit to getting your needs met by asking directly for what you want and need. This means giving up your victim behaviours and exiting victim consciousness.
2. Refuse to rescue other people. Don’t do anything for anyone else unless they have asked you to do it, or you get their permission to do it.
3. Learn to recognize and reclaim your projections. This involves looking at your judgments of others to see if they might represent things you don’t like about yourself.
4. Recognize and heal your developmental traumas. Notice the things that “trigger’ you and cause a reaction that is greater than the situation called for. This is an indication of an unhealed trauma.
5. Learn to authentically express your thoughts and feelings in the moment, rather than saving them up and then dumping them. When you don’t express your feelings at the time you first feel them, they tend to come out stronger and less authentically.

The other TA books recently out are crazy expensive!

Is it all a stroke of genius? Maybe flawed genius… TA TA for now.


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