It’s fun when it’s with entertainment, but it’s not so fun when it’s with people… here are 5 emotional games we need to stop playing.
If you’ve been on the Internet at all in the first few days of this year, you may have seen one of the number one trending hashtags and sets of posts was under the moniker #WasteHisTime2016. It started out as a humourous look at getting back at some of the stupid things guys have done to women over the years, and some of the posts are actually pretty funny, like this one:
Organise a fake double date and bring another guy, then ask your bf where his date is #WasteHisTime2016
When they were first coming through, it was kinda imaginative. As often happens with many of these things, it quickly turned into some pretty brutal suggestions, and the sad thing was, many women were simply writing what had happened to them at the hands of men. Like leaving him hanging at the altar, or texting him that you need to talk and then turn off your phone for the night. As a result, the hashtag #WasteHerTime2016 was born as a retort, pretty much mirroring exactly what the girls had been saying about the guys.
And so many of the comments really highlight a major problem we have in our society – our willingness to continue playing emotional games with each other.
I don’t know if we’re always aware we’re doing it. I think of times when you go on a long drive somewhere – most of us tend to automatically kick off a game of I Spy, without even really giving it much thought. It’s just what happens when we’ve been driving for that long, and we’ve been accustomed to playing it when we’ve been driving for ages. In a similar fashion, there seem to be a number of emotional games we play with each other without giving it much thought, whether it be with the opposite sex, in our families, with our friends, or even in the workplace, just simply because that’s what we’re used to doing when we enter those situations.
TD Jakes said on this topic in the book and teaching series, Making Great Decisions, where he said:
I counsel couples who are always playing games with each other… the only problem is that marriage is not for kids
Ouch. Brutal, but true. Our immaturity is perpetuated by the emotional games we play. Let’s look at some of them that we often go to.
I wonder if you and are are using these in any situations in our lives without thinking about it. Or maybe we are fully aware of what we are doing, which is unfortunately true most of the time. Here are 5 emotional games we need to stop playing with each other.
Attention for booty call
Well, here’s a real one to get started with. I couldn’t think of a better way to word this, so I think we’ll just go there and talk about a game that gets played so often in our society.
Most people reading just this title will know exactly what the situation is. It’s those numbers you have in your phone, those “friends” you have in your message list, that if you give them a little bit of attention or communication, you know that you can get them to come over and give you what you want. It’s amazing how many of us are even willing to brag about this online, touting our friends with benefits (as opposed to some of the other names they’re given).
To be fair, this one is usually a mutual agreement. It’s not like the other person isn’t aware of what’s going on. But it really means in doing this, the other person is reduced to their basest of functions. At the end of the day, it’s either taking advantage of another person, or allowing yourself to be taken advantage of. Surely this isn’t a game that anyone wins in the end. A night of comfort or whatever else it was needed for, for a much longer length of time of attachment or confusion. As fun as this game can be to play, it involves the heart of another person, and the realm of oxytocin – both of which are like playing with fire.
The silent treatment
Many of the clients I have been called to assist with usually engage our software expertise when they are in a dire point in their project – it’s either running overdue, or seems to be more expensive than they were anticipating. When we go in, we find half of it is usually a technical reason, but then the other 50% of the time, it’s just a simple people problem. He won’t talk to her because of some problem that happened 2 weeks ago. They’re annoyed, so they’ve locked up. There is an important topic that is deliberately being avoided.
It’s not good to see kindergarten type behaviour in the workplace, and it’s certainly not good seeing it in our other relationships, either.
We all know the silent treatment. You’re not going to respond to messages. You’re not accepting a person’s advances. You’re blocking out the things that are being said to you. It’s not endearing. Unfortunately, it still seems to be a technique we think is valid.
John Burns in the series, Can We Talk?, says of silence in our relationships that silence isn’t silent – silence screams. And it usually screams into people’s insecurities, into their fears, into their doubts. We don’t help anyone by avoiding communication, and we don’t help ourselves by doing so, either.
Still blaming our childhood
I think I need to be sensitive with this one, but hear me out.
I think we need to be very real that our childhood experiences have significant impact on our entire lives, even well into our adult years. I recently heard a clinical psychologist discussing a study about phobias by John B Watson, and how they had a young boy they induced fear into. They put a toy rabbit in front of him, then clanged some metal together behind his head making lots of noise and making him cry, and then removed the rabbit. A little bit later, they did it again. And again. Eventually they were able to make the child cry simply by placing the toy rabbit in front of him. He then went outside and saw a woman wearing a coat made of some sort of white fluffy animal, and even seeing that was enough to make him cry and make him flinch with anticipation of noise and pain. Pretty traumatic experiment, but I bet even reading the story, you can already see and understand the power of association meant the fear stayed with him for a long time.
And in our lives, a lot of those childhood things last for a while.
But I wonder what we would think of this man if in his 20s, his 30s, or his 40s he still flinched every time he saw a toy rabbit, or a fluffy animal. We would probably sympathize with him, but we would be wondering if he had done anything to this point to help resolve this fear in his life. It doesn’t seem right that he should still be ruled by what happened so long ago.
Unfortunately in our lives, too many times we continually refer to our childhood as our reason for why, or why not. “Oh when I was a child, this happened, so that’s why I am the way I am”. And I don’t think we should minimize that. But I think it’s sad how many years, decades even, we carry these unresolved, unaddressed issues with us, and whenever we see the toy rabbit in our own lives, we still flinch or react, and still blame an experience from so long ago.
I think part of maturity and wholeness is moving towards our removal of this game as our constant excuse, and rather let it help serve our future in helping others find freedom.
Treat them mean
This one is always sad. Unfortunately, too many times, this one works.
But isn’t it sad how hard we make people work for our approval and acceptance? We become closed and tell people that we’ll only accept them if they do this this and this. Oh yeah, and sit, roll over, beg, and jump through these flaming hoops.
Might be a fun game to play when you’re taking an animal through an obstacle course, but it’s not fun when you’re doing it to someone’s heart. Not cool.
Withholding the truth
The older I get, the more I find that dishonesty is the most divisive and destructive attribute in our relationships. The things he didn’t say, the things she’s didn’t directly communicate, the things we didn’t tell each other, the things we flat out lied about… there aren’t many cases where a lie produces a good result in our lives. And lies have to be covered by more lies to perpetuate the original one.
Jesus said simply let your yes be yes, and your no be no. If there was an option of “I don’t know”, then the advice probably would’ve also included just saying that. In unsuccessful software projects, there is usually at least one person who said they knew something when they should’ve just admitted they didn’t know something. In broken marriages, there is usually broken trust, instigated by the presence of a lie or the avoidance of the truth. In empty friendships, there’s usually someone who isn’t saying what they mean, or is refusing to open up to a deeper level.
Love doesn’t delight in evil, but rejoices in the truth. And if we want love to be present in our relationships, we have to learn to rejoice in the truth, too.
We have to stop hiding. We have to allow ourselves be seen. A theology professor I know wrote a great book called The Art of Not Disappearing, in which he discussed multiple traumatic experiences in his life that gave him every reason to hide and bury himself. Instead, he found freedom in opening up again. May we all be able to say that of our own lives, too.
I really wish we treated each other better. We always complain at a high level about all the problems in the world. But I wonder if in your life or in my life, if we’re not perpetuating the problems by stuffing people around. And there are so many more emotional games we need to stop playing.
What do you think of these games? Are there are any more that you can’t stand?