How to Understand Relationship Games Using Transactional Analysis
In this week’s blog, a brief segue into the psychology of relationship games. I will be using some principles from Transactional Analysis (TA) to help frame and understand the source of people’s problems: those of psychological games and scripts.
What are Relationship Games?
A relationship game is basically a way for someone to gain attention, which is successful but negative. The classic example is of a child misbehaving and being told off by their parents. The child wins the ‘game’ (and the parents lose) as the child gets the attention, even though it is in negative form. As the child grows, they develop more and more elaborate strategies to obtain this attention, which sadly also deprives them from developing themselves to obtain what they are actually seeking – love and acknowledgement.
The Best Relationship Game – The Drama Triangle
Relationship games have an overriding structure which has become very popular in modern psychology: The Drama Triangle. To some extent, human beings play a game of drama within themselves (which can also neatly fit into other people’s dramas). The structure is Victim-Persecutor-Rescuer. A person enters a negative state and begins to feel like Victim.
They then play out in their mind ways to solve the issue, which usually involves either getting even with someone (Persecutor) or saving someone else (Rescuer). This shift in energy goes around in someone’s mind often in a repetitive inner-narrative. They then will act out on other people, with an intensity born of the pressure-cooking effect of this ongoing inner-narrative. These narratives extend to form the basis of life-scripts, where people unconsciously decide upon a role for themselves in a predetermined ‘play’ that is often wearily predictable. Here are a few examples:
Resenting the “Victim”
Old Mother Hubbard and the story of Atlas – both took the weight of the world on their shoulders – an exhausting script as a Rescuer. This also ‘invites’ their friends and family to play the role of Victim, which leads to frequent switches into Persecutor. For example, Atlas will begin to resent his ‘lazy and entitled’ children and may slip into outbursts (Persecutor) demanding they take pressure away from him.
There’s no Business like Showbusiness – whats Hollywood got to do with it?
From Snow White, Sleeping Beauty to Hollywood and beyond – all these cast the women as Victims waiting for their hero: Prince Charming (The Rescuer) to fulfil their dreams. Is it any wonder that modern relationships are filled with troublesome expectations? Disappointed men and women realise that their union did not release them from these roles, indeed a third one is added (the Persecutor) as they both move around the Drama Triangle in bewilderment.
The classic example is the alcoholic, where a drunken man returns home to persecute his wife, whereupon the children spring to mum’s rescue. At that point roles can switch, as the wife turns on the children (Persecutor) and the man protects them (Rescuer). It is when roles switch in this way that Drama truly begins. Of course, there are alcoholic women and this ‘game’ is played in a variety of ways.
What do we Really Want?
I cover TA over our Coaching and Advanced Coaching courses, with a focus of how to break the pattern so we can try and focus on what we want: love and acknowledgement.
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