Secret Games We Play and How to Win Them

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Part 2 of the mental spring clean – click here to subscribe and get every instalment delivered fresh to your inbox

We all have a deep-seated craving for attention.

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Games People Play

Research shows that children who are not given regular attention are much more likely to suffer disease and depression.

Psychiatrist Eric Berne, author of Games People Play, looked at how we interact with the people around us.  He concluded that humans need “stroking” through regular attention to avoid emotional deprivation.

We need validation from others to bolster our sense of self.

Every time we interact with other people, we undertake a transaction. The simple act of saying “good morning” or “how are you” to a colleague or neighbour gives both participants a nice stroke.  We feel noticed, validated, part of a bigger whole.

We all become experts at getting strokes from others.  One way to do this is to learn games. Games are a set pattern of behaviour that we use to get attention from the world around us.  When we play games, we get noticed.

Games often serve a dual purpose, helping to confirm our story about the world.  The games we play reinforce our beliefs about our place in the bigger picture.

There are two main types of game – negative and positive.

Negative games

Many games we play seek negative attention (hey some attention is better than none). Here is a common game called “Kick Me” to demonstrate:

How it is played: The player adopts a social manner that is extremely defensive and paranoid. This is the equivalent of putting up a sign saying “Please don’t kick me”

What happens: The temptation to kick this person is too great and the world queues up to take turns.

The pay-off: The player gets stroked – however this is through plenty of negative attention.

The side-effect: The player’s story that the world is out to get me is reinforced. Every time they are kicked, the story gets stronger.

Our need for attention is so strong that we’d rather be kicked by the world than be ignored. We can play some crazy games with really negative outcomes.  Often these negative games can feel like a doom loop.  These negative games reduce our confidence and enjoyment of life.

As part of my mental spring-cleaning, I’m looking for games I play that seek negative attention.  Looking back on the past, I think I may have played “Kick me” on occasion, particularly in work interactions with people more senior than me.   That game is well and truly consigned to the dustbin of history!

Positive games

Another side to the mental spring-cleaning is to look for games that seek positive attention and reinforce positive stories about the world.

These games tend to have an amazing pay-off for all players – yet sometimes we forget to play them.

Here is the game “Happy to Help” to demonstrate:

How it is played: The player is constantly helpful and positive to the world around them.

What happens: People are grateful for the player’s help and admire their attitude.

The pay-off: People respond with positive attention and praise for the player’s actions.

The side-effect: The player’s story that the world is full of positive wonderful people is reinforced.

I love this game and play it as much as possible.  It can be played with everyone you meet and costs nothing. This game feeds the need for attention in a hugely positive way.  It brings us the stroking we need and makes the world a better place.

Other positive games include “Gratitude”, “People are amazing”, “We can do it” and “You’re the best”.

Choosing to play positive games and kicking out negative ones increases self-confidence, happiness and success in life….

Over to you

As you continue your mental spring clean, ask yourself:

  • What do you do to seek attention from others?
  • What happens as a result?
  • What kind of attention do you get?
  • What are the side effects?

Figure out the games you are playing and the positive and negative consequences.  Try to stop playing the games that you don’t enjoy and play more of the ones that feel good.


Eric Byrne’s website

Wikipedia links to Games People Play and Transactional Analysis

Games People Play – the classic performed by Jerry Lee Lewis

Photo by Miss Turner

Related posts:

  1. Spring Clean your Mind
  2. Thinking Big – How to Play to your Strengths
  3. Discover 5 ways to have an amazing day
  4. Find your Focus – The Power of Now
  5. Life's Too Short to be Ordinary


  1. Phil
    April 13, 2010 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    What games do you play? How do you get attention? What games might you kick out, and what games will you play more?

  2. April 13, 2010 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

    Phil,brilliant post! I once wrote a post on my blog – one thing everyone wants. And one thing I was talking about was “to be seen.” Attention in other words. So true. I like the positive game you are playing. I play it too from time to time:)

  3. April 13, 2010 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

    Hi Phil, Wonderful info presented here. Very useful. This made me think of an attention game I used to play. I had a girlfriend, “Karen” and whenever we would go out to parties or social events I would always ‘forget’ peoples names. This was her cue to chime in and tell me. I eventually became dependent on her to remember names for me. This was the game we developed. To this day I am terrible with names because of this pattern.
    .-= rob white´s last blog ..What’s Cooking Inside of You? =-.

  4. April 13, 2010 at 11:25 pm | Permalink


    You’ve got the best blog titles! I agree folks needs stroking and attention. We’re like any other animal on the planet. If you look at most of the folks who go on shooting rampages, you discover the person has been alienated from others.

    They’re lonely! Starving for attention.

    “Kick me” I do not play. Refuse to be any kind of a doormat! I believe we get what we give out, so I’m careful what I send around cause it’s coming back my way.

    Kindness goes a long way!

    Thx. G.
    .-= Giulietta the Muse´s last blog ..Attempt The Impossible =-.

  5. April 14, 2010 at 6:15 am | Permalink

    Hi Phil – Welcome back! Hope your travels were lovely. I think I’ve stopped playing the negative social games. I never was a “kick me” player, but perhaps some others, like “let me take care of you and make everything right.” Well OK, I do still play that one sometimes. It’s the shadow side of your “be constantly positive and helpful” game, which in my experience can veer off into martyrdom if we’re not careful. And then, what a lot of strokes we get for that! (I’m not talking about you, of course. Just a general observation from my own life experience). I guess my favorite game now would the “being real with one another, warts and all.”

    Very interesting post, Phil. Thanks!
    .-= Patty – Why Not Start Now?´s last blog ..Meaning Mondays: The Stuck in the Mud Edition =-.

  6. Phil
    April 14, 2010 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    @Patty – Thank you – yes travels were amazing. Glad to hear you’ve dumped the negative social games. “Let me take care of you” is a pretty exhausting game to play. I agree that you have to be careful with any “game” that you play. Typically the good positive games are ones where what you say is what you mean. Not every interaction we have is a game – when we speak authentically we transcend games, although the person we speak to may not. Thanks for your typically thought provoking comment.

    @Giulietta – Thank you! Lack of attention can really get to people. It is one of the things that causes most discontent and depression at home and in the workplace. Giving a little love to others is a great way to show appreciation and raise happiness levels.

    @Rob – It sounds like you played an interesting game with “Karen” – almost a version of “Stupid”. We can become dependent on these games to get attention and that is usually not a good place to be. It is great you are aware of what was going on, and that is the best way to move past game playing.

    @Lana – yes, being seen is a big psychological need. I like to think of interacting with others as playing sometimes because it has the air of playfulness and innocence. We don’t need a huge ulterior motive to play games – they can just be fun for everyone. Keep playing positive games!!

  7. April 14, 2010 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    Phil, you have such an amazing way of putting things across. You are an incredibly talented writer. I love that your writings are so thought-provoking.

    In my case, I think my wheelchair attracts all the attention. But I do agree with you that people yearn to be needed and to be recognized.

    Warm regards
    .-= Tracy Todd´s last blog ..I Am a Horse =-.

  8. April 14, 2010 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    “The temptation to kick this person is too great and the world queues up to take turns.” LOL that made me chuckle…like that scene from the movie ‘airplane’

    Great post Phil!
    .-= Amit Sodha – The Power Of Choice´s last blog ..Have You Discovered Your Unique Talent And Gift To The World? =-.

  9. Phil
    April 14, 2010 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

    @Tracy – thanks for the lovely accolades (blush). Recognition is what we crave (and fear) the most! At least finding out how to get it in a healthy and sane way is a good start.

    @Amit – glad it made you chuckle – we aim to please! Playing kick me is so self-defeating… yet hard to stop.

  10. April 14, 2010 at 11:13 pm | Permalink

    Hi Phil, I love how you wrote this. It’s very informative and made me reflect on the games I play. In my professional/work life, the dominant game I play is “let’s make this happen” when I organize action. In my personal life, I strive to play “let love rule” which, I hope, permeates all other areas.

  11. April 17, 2010 at 7:17 am | Permalink

    Hi Phil
    I’ve still got my own copy of “Games People Play” by Eric Berne.
    Great book for showing and explaining how we interact with each other and how we repeat the same behaviour.

    I’ve often tried to explain the principles of the book but never as well as you have done in this post.
    .-= Keith Davis´s last blog ..A helping hand… =-.

  12. Phil
    April 17, 2010 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    Keith – thanks for your comment. Games People Play is a great book and much more complex than any 600 word summary can do justice to. I’d recommend it to anyone from the human race! Really appreciate you stopping by and leaving a comment. See you again soon.


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