Romantic Games 2: The Players

Transactional Analysis divides the psyche into child, adult and parent. Freud divided the psyche into id, ego and superego. Object Relations psychoanalysts divide the psyche into units of self and other that conglomerate into a unified self-identity with a variety of others that are related to. Some systems talk about a false self and a true self. The list goes on. What is clear is that the human psyche becomes patterned and human beings relates to themselves and others through this patterning. For this reason we prefer the term “relationship blueprint”. What it lacks in specificity it gains in accuracy.

Few would argue that this patterning is based in the past, especially early childhood, and past based events that are particularly intense, shocking or traumatic. Most would agree that difficult experiences play a larger role in conditioning our self and other imprints because it is advantageous to survival although it may not improve the quality of life experience.

All of this poses a problem, actually two problems, a psychological problem and a spiritual problem. We are experiencing life through a largely negative filter and our sense of self, our identity, is perceived through this filter. The more negative the filter the greater our psychological problem and the more fixed the filter the greater our spiritual problem or loss of contact with deeper self. Transactional Analysis does a good job of describing two of the consequences of this negative filter. Firstly, being left with the core experience of “I’m not OK” and, secondly, dealing with the pain and difficulty of this “position” (as they call it) by playing games, or being inauthentic in relationship.

Although we like the simplicity and accuracy of “relationship blueprint” to describe the human dilemma, at some point it is useful to expand the concept to include relationship patterns that play out for most people. While we mix and match a few systems, the famous psychoanalyst Ronald Fairbairn’s divisions of the human psyche are most influential on our elaboration of the “relationship blueprint” and match our observations of people most accurately.

The internal characters that we find most common in the human psyche are divided between more conscious and less conscious identities, basically healthier and less healthy patterns of relating. First and foremost is the identity of a good child pursuing some version of it’s ideal self that mimics the “ideal” qualities of one or both parents.  This identity tends to be conscious because self and others typically approve of it. This is the central ego, the good person, trying to do what is right and what is expected of oneself. For example, little Johnny may want to be a doctor like dad or kind like mom, and so on.

The most common unconscious or buried identities are the “bad” or more painful parts of the child parent relationship. “Bad” in the sense of being disapproved of by our self and society at large, and thus relegated to the unconscious. One is a needy child pursuing the attention of an unavailable parent.   This child identity tends to feel deficient and somehow wrong or “not O.K.” Basically, “mommy please pay attention to me”.

The other buried identity is an angry child who has turned against their needs to defend themselves against a rejecting parent, but is also actually mimicking the parent’s rejecting attitude. Basically, “I’m tough, I don’t need anybody’s help”.

To the triad we could add a collapsed child who has given up on it’s needs being met. This fourth identity is not the case for everyone. And, of course there are many variations of the needy self image and anti-needs self image and their paired others.

We find that these internal characters drive the games that are being played out externally, especially in romance since these are often the central relationships in a person’s life. The unconscious and painful qualities of some of these characters lends themselves perfectly to the person being inauthentic. In other words, the person isn’t usually even aware they are being inauthentic because there is little awareness of what is driving them or they are so committed to avoiding the pain that they actively avoid awareness of these parts of themselves.

For example, when someone is playing “Let’s fight” to avoid intimacy with their partner yet keep some form of relating intact, that person is probably not aware that this game is driven by an angry child denying their need for intimacy while trying to fulfill that need. Or when someone is playing “Something is wrong with me, please help” they are probably not aware that they are seeking attention from their romantic partner in the only way they know how while trying to maintain the “position” or belief “I’m not O.K.” because that position seemed to work with mom and dad.

Even the more conscious central identity or central ego plays games. For example a person might consciously play “I’m better than you, but I’ll keep you around” because this type of superior attitude may have been reinforced through the competitive nature of most schools and some families. Conscious games are still inauthentic because the payoffs, like being right or superior, are seldom acknowledged. Instead they are portrayed as the truth.
It is very useful to find out which parts of your relationship blueprint are playing what games. In fact, the elaboration we have described of the relationship blueprint is basically a set of games or patterns for survival played by most people in some respect. Each individual plays some more that other’s and everyone has his or her own personal style. So we recommend taking the most common romantic games (from last session) or your own variations and mapping them onto this elaboration (or your own adjusted version) of your relationship blueprint.

We also find the Gestalt approach of distinguishing the characters and then creating a dialogue between an adult or objective self and each character a particularly useful way of liberating the attention and energy absorbed in these patterns. By getting each character’s perspective and reasons for playing their game (what they like about it and what they are getting out of it), as well as, making the real consequences conscious in a non-blaming way a more authentic and unified self becomes available. Ultimately, one is simply present as oneself without past pattern based identities and the games that they play being projected into one’s life.

Alicia Davon