Sarah Sheard's Thoughts and Theories

Friday, December 01, 2006

Sarah's Theory of ... Game-Playing

Suppose you're normal and have a somewhat dysfunctional relationship with another person. It could be your mother wants you to stay a child, never spend time with friends and always be with her (even though you're way past 21). It could be that your boss thinks you'll be happy with a glass ceiling forever, and makes little put-down jokes whenever you start to feel powerful. It could be your friend is depending on you rescuing her from her follies.

Now suppose you decide to "get healthy" and quit doing your part of the dysfunction dance. Suppose you decide that it's mother's right to complain, but your right to have friends and spend time away from her. Or you eventually do grow more powerful than most of the men in your department, and you kind of like it, and want your due. In the case of your friend, suppose you decide that you're not going to bail her out of her problems any more, either figuratively or literally.

My theory (which I think came from a '70s book, Games People Play, by Eric Berne) is that the first thing people do when you stop playing their game is to increase the intensity by which they're playing, to try to rope you back in. You wish that you could quit the dysfunction, they would react and quit theirs, and you could both move on to where things are right for a change. But this does not happen! Instead you get pushback, and depending on how strongly you defend your new position, you could get a great deal of pushback! (You make the most trouble for yourself at this stage by wavering, by the way. Being firm and unyielding ends this phase the soonest.)

Your mother complains harder and harder. She pulls every trick in the book to make you feel guilt. She could even develop pretend, or believe it or not, REAL, medical issues, that could force you (she hopes) to tie yourself down to being with her.

Your boss increases the put-downs. He or she may recruit allies, in your department or in other departments. He/she isn't going down easy (after all, those who "went down easy" didn't make it to boss...) And mostly, he or she will deny that all of these put-downs are happening.

Your friend will get in more and more trouble, and insist that it has to be you who helps her out. She's bankrupt, and if you don't fork over the money for a car repair, she won't have a car. She is in the hospital.

Do not fall for any of these. Anticipate the hard game-playing, and steel yourself. For the boss, amass evidence: document the discriminatory issues. Enlist HR if necessary. In all cases, decide what you want and find some allies who can help you stick to your goals.

Just recognize that the stage after "fighting to keep the status quo" is giving up and allowing a new reality to take place. You have to see through the games to get a chance at arriving there, where you want to be.



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