The games people play are the unconscious ones.

Imagine that you care for your friend, go above and beyond to help her, and you prioritize her needs over yours.  Further, your friend confides in you for her problems, believes that she is incapable of solving her own issues, and depends on you.  Over time, you may feel drained and overwhelmed by constantly taking care of your friend’s needs realizing that you have neglected your own well-being and personal growth.  Gradually, you start to criticize her behaviors and decisions, pointing out her mistakes and shortcomings, and projecting your own frustration onto your friend.  You may start to believe that by pushing your friend, you can motivate her to take control of her life.

In the above scenario, what’s truly emerging is a psychological game in which both you and your friend are actively engaged.

This can happen in any kind of relationship and any form of communication.

Free vector aggressive teenage boy arguing with his mother

What is a psychological game?

A psychological game happens when a message is communicated at the social level, but an entirely different message is conveyed at the unspoken psychological level (ulterior).  This could result in both parties harboring the same negative emotions, as well as accusations, blaming, ignoring, and walking out of a conversation.

During the game, you may take up the roles of rescuer, victim, and persecutor (Karpman, 2014, 2019).

In the above scenario, you assumed the rescuer role and your friend, the victim. Gradually, you shifted yourself unconsciously to the persecutor role.

These are not real-life roles, but psychological attitudes.  This is the pattern of unhelpful communication that always seems to go wrong.

“When you indulge in a game, there is an unpredicted breakdown in communication!”

You may ask yourself “Why does it happen this way every time?”

This is because you unconsciously set the scene for a familiar pattern of misunderstanding, and when it goes wrong, your beliefs about yourself, others, and the world are reinforced.

These beliefs may include,

“I am a loser”

“People are unfair”

“Life is a struggle” and so on.

Eric Berne (1964) postulates that people play games because they are unconsciously hooked into manipulative behavior with others. 

You may engage in psychological games so as to continue the unconscious decisions you made in your early life about your way of life, social interactions, and fulfilling your roles, which is also called a life plan or script.

”Life plans or scripts operate unconsciously and manifest in repetitive patterns of behavior, self-sabotage, and limitations in personal and occupational life.”


Recognizing and being aware of the roles that you might take can help you to get rid of the unhelpful pattern of communication that goes wrong always.

Choy (1990) discovered the hidden good intention behind each role – a strong longing for real connections and meaningful experiences, both in personal and professional relationships.

But, it is to be done with awareness by using productive ways of achieving them.

Free vector discussion concept illustration


“Clarifying assumptions and open discussions, especially at the psychological level is the key.”

Rather than engaging in rescuing behavior, you can adopt a responsive and caring approach.  You can ask the other person what he/she needs and share the responsibility appropriately, recognize your own needs, and at the same time, offer the support needed for the other person.

Instead of adopting a victim mentality, you may openly express your needs genuinely, confidently seek support and ask for help, using your vulnerability as a strength.

As an alternative to persecuting, you may effectively communicate your expectations to others in a respectful manner without aggression, punishment, or blame with assertiveness.

For a balanced and authentic life in both personal and occupational settings, you need to flow between all the above positive roles.  Further, bringing our awareness to the present moment helps us to choose which role is appropriate in a particular situation. 

Let us embrace the power to go beyond the games we play and craft authentic connections that enrich our lives!

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