Self-Help Advice Books Games People Play

About the self-help book Games People Play by Eric Berne, history and advice from the book.



The Head Man: By his own admission a "cowboy therapist" and "psychoanalytic dropout," Freudian-trained Eric Berne began to develop Transactional Analysis while working in a W. W. II military hospital. He came up with the concept of Child, Parent, and Adult--the three ego states central to TA--when treating a 25-year-old lawyer, who said, "But I am not really a lawyer. I'm just a little Boy." In 1965 the International Transactional Analysis Association--Berne's brainchild--was founded; its members number in the thousands and claim success with treatment of alcoholics, prisoners, schizophrenics, unhappy spouses, and many others. Originally a textbook, Games People Play was made into a best-seller by laymen, who bought nearly 3 million copies, and was the basis for a Broad way musical of the same name. Berne, whose professional qualifications (including an M.D.) were beyond reproach, died in 1970 of a heart attack.

Overview: "If you are not stroked, your spinal cord will shrivel up," Berne said. He felt that "strokes"--physical and symbolic--are a biological need. An example of strokes among people is a transaction (example: two people saying hi to each other). Games are a "recurring set of transactions" with a gimmick, are basically dishonest, and have payoffs. "Games are a compromise between intimacy and keeping intimacy away," said Berne, who also stated that since intimacy is so hard to achieve, games are probably a necessity for human beings.

In playing games and in other life activities, people assume Berne's ego states: (1) the Child, who expresses anger and other feelings which are holdovers from the time the person was small and felt inferior to large, powerful adults; but who also expresses creativity, spontaneity, and curiosity; (2) the Parent, who is a reflection of the person's own parents, transmitters of the rules of society, some of which may be out-moded or unsuited to the person; and (3) the Adult, who came into being as the 10-month-old began to see he could do things, who estimates probabilities, and who deals in the data of the here and now.

Berne lists 101 games in his book. Among them are: Alcoholic; Now I've Got You, You Son of a Bitch; See What You Made Me Do; Frigid Woman; Schlemiel; Rapo; Uproar; Let's Pull a Fast One on Joey; Greenhouse; Wooden Leg. In each case, he tells what the game is, its antithesis, aim, levels, moves, advantages, and payoffs.

Help-Yourself Advice: Berne lists the following five "good games":

1. Busman's Holiday: using skills learned in one's profession to help others without pay--while on vacation, for example. Joining the Peace Corps (nominally paid) is a way of taking a busman's holiday.

2. Cavalier: giving compliments without expectation of sexual payoff. It is a man's game (the female version is Blarney), and its antithetical responses from women are: "I Admire Your Productions, Mr. Murgatroyd" (from the most perceptive); "Gee, You're Wonderful, Mr. Murgatroyd" (from the less perceptive); and "Buzz Off, Buster" (a form of Rapo).

3. Happy to Help: being helpful to others, with an ulterior motive, such as doing penance.

4. Homely Sage: giving others advice on practical matters, helping them with problems; usually played by a retired person.

5. They'll Be Glad They Knew Me: gaining prestige for the sake of showing others, who may have been good to the player, that they used good judgment choosing the player as an acquaintance.

Berne also says: "For certain fortunate people, there is something which transcends all classifications of behavior, and that is awareness; something which rises above the programming of the past, and that is spontaneity; and something that is more rewarding than games, and that is intimacy."

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