Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Games People Play by Eric Berne

Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships is a bestselling 1964 book by psychiatrist Eric Berne. Since its publication it has sold more than five million copies. The book describes both functional and dysfunctional social interactions.


In the first half of the book, Berne introduces transactional analysis as a way of interpreting social interactions. He describes three roles or ego states, known as the Parent, the Adult, and the Child, and postulates that many negative behaviors can be traced to switching or confusion of these roles. He discusses procedures, rituals, and pastimes in social behavior, in light of this method of analysis. For example, a boss who talks to his staff as a controlling 'parent' will often engender self-abased obedience, tantrums, or other childlike responses from his employees.

The second half of the book catalogues a series of "mind games" in which people interact through a patterned and predictable series of "transactions" which are superficially plausible (that is, they may appear normal to bystanders or even to the people involved), but which actually conceal motivations, include private significance to the parties involved, and lead to a well-defined predictable outcome, usually counterproductive. The book uses casual, often humorous phrases such as "See What You Made Me Do," "Why Don't You — Yes But," and "Ain't It Awful" as a way of briefly describing each game. In reality, the "winner" of a mind game is the person that returns to the Adult ego-state first.

In the game entitled "Now I've Got You, You Son of a Bitch," one who discovers that another has made a minor mistake in a matter involving them both holds the entire matter hostage to the minor mistake. The example is where a plumber makes a mistake on a $300 job by underestimating the price of a $3 part as $1, so the plumber sends a bill for $302, the correct price. The customer won't pay the entire original $300 unless and until the plumber absorbs the $2 error instead of just paying the (undisputed part of the) bill of $300.

Not all interactions or transactions are part of a game. Specifically, if both parties in a one-on-one conversation remain in an Adult-to-Adult ego-state, it is unlikely that a game is being played.


In the 1950s, Berne synthesized his theory of "human gaming" and built on work from Paul Federn and Edoardo Weiss and integrated results from Wilder Penfield to develop transactional analysis. Transactional analysis, according to physician James R. Allen, is a "cognitive behavioral approach to treatment and ... a very effective way of dealing with internal models of self and others as well as other psychodynamic issues.”

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Amazon.com Reader Reviews

5 Stars

An Oldie But a Goody

This book is one of the Bibles of the Transactional Analysis school of social psychology/psychiatry. The other "Bible" is I'm OK -- You're OK by Thomas A. Harris, M.D.

Before reading Games People Play, it is a good idea to read I'm OK - You're OK. There are two reasons why. First, I'm OK is a general introduction to Transactional Analysis whereas Games People Play deals with a narrow aspect of the subject. Second, I'm OK is written in an easier style than the present book. In fact, if I hadn't already studied I'M OK, I might not have understood Games People Play.

The author of Games People Play was the founder of the TA school. The author of the other book was his follower. Transactional Analysis was popular during the 1960s and 1970s. Since then, it has lost some of that popularity in America, although it still seems to be going strong in Australia. The society founded by Dr. Berne still exists in this country, today.

Before investing in a copy of the book, you might want to check Wikipedia which has an excellent article about Tranactional Analysis. Games, the subject of this book, are special behaviors that people use to accomplish ulterior designs. For example, the game called "If it Weren't for You I'd...." helps people feel better about NOT doing things they are really afraid to do.

I believe this book and the school of Transactional Analysis are worthwhile for everyone who wants to understand human nature.

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5 Stars

By Jonathan A. Long on August 6, 2014

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase

This is one of the best books you can read in order to handle people who seem to drain your energy. Games are forms of dishonest communication. For instance, there is someone who always complains about their job or their relationship. Whatever advice you give is dismissed as unfeasible. The point is that complaining to you is an excuse to talk to you, not really an effort to elicit your advise. And the complaining allows the person to interact with you without having to reveal anything personal about themselves, without having to expose themselves emotionally to you. This book has one or two page scenarios with tactics on how to counter the game. In the example above it probably advises to stop offering in an attempt to fix their situation. The examples are described in such simple and humorous language, you will laugh (or cringe with a bit of embarrassment) as you recognize others or yourself as having played certain games. And you will recall specific games or variations of games almost instantly when they occur. You end up putting a stop to other peoples games and have a harder time playing games of your own with a straight face after reading this book. And that is Eric Berne's approach to psychology--psychological break throughs are not about having a revelatory experience after 7 years of talking about yourself and you unconscious motives. Instead, it is all about understanding and recognizing surface patterns of unhealthy behavior and interactions. And the recognition is not like seeing God come out of the sky, it just becoming aware of the fact that a fly has been buzzing around the room, swatting it, and throwing it in the trash so that you can go back to talking to someone or finishing whatever you were working on. This book is a classic in its genre, it's very informative with actionable advice, enticingly easy to read, and very highly recommended. I've bought copies to give out to friends when they are in unhealthy situations and relationships.

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