head games

“Head or mind games” means conscious one-upmanship, or psychological manipulation used to confuse and deceive people. Mind games used in the struggle for prestige appear in everyday life in every field. 

Played most intensely perhaps by Type A personalities, office mind games are often hard to identify clearly, as strong management blurs with over-direction, healthy rivalry with manipulative head-games and sabotage.

The serious sportsman will also be prepared to meet a variety of gambits from their rivals, attempting meanwhile to tread the fine line between competitive psychology and paranoia.

In intimate relationships, mind games can be used to undermine one partner’s belief in the validity of their own perceptions. Personal experience may be denied and driven from memory; and such abusive mind games may extend to denial of the victim’s reality, social undermining, and downplaying the importance of the other partner’s concerns or perceptions. These are ploys well-used by narcissists of both sexes. 

Eric Berne wrote a best seller on this subject and described around three dozen such games, as well as variations of each. He defined a psychological game as an organized series of ulterior transactions taking place on twin levels, psychological and social, resulting in a dramatic outcome when the two levels finally came to coincide.

According to one transactional analyst, “Games are so predominant and deep-rooted in society that they tend to become institutionalized, that is, played according to rules that everybody knows about and more or less agrees to. The game of Alcoholic is so popular that social institutions have developed to bring the various players together,” such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-anon.

Psychological games vary widely in degrees of consequence, ranging from first-degree games where losing involves embarrassment or frustruation, to third-degree games where consequences are life threatening. Berne recognised that “games all have some element of exploitation,” and the therapeutic ideal he offered was to stop playing games altogether.

I certainly agree with refusing to play games with people. Solitaire on the computer, however, is another thing entirely! 


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