Break out of Playing Games

Ways to respond to gaming

If you do not break out of a TA Game you will stay the same. None of us are insulated against the TA Game, and that includes me. The only issue is when are we playing a TA Game, and with whom? My header illustration identifies some ways of behaving differently.

The TA Game tends to be played out with intimates and important people in our life. Often it is ‘politic’ to play the Game, rather than speak directly and assertively.

This page says more about this natural, if unhelpful, human tendency. It seeks out the small, safe experiments that might make a difference for you in some relationships.

On other web pages, I mention Time Structuring, as it is understood in Transactional Analysis founded by Eric Berne.

On that page, you will read that the ‘Game’ is one of the six categories of time structuring; the six ways we spend our days, weeks or months. I do not go into detail about the Game on that page as it’s complex. So here I offer my starter!

A specific TA Game: the Drama Triangle

On another page, I describe the Karpman Triangle; a specific model of a TA Game most often involving a small number of three people. Have you ever noticed how much room for conflict arises when three are gathered together! That page comments on the persistence of our own seemingly self-defeating actions, and here is more.

It may not be obvious what drives humans to follow outdated strategies. Reason suggests that we believe our habits, established in early years, could still work in adult life. The fact is that ‘reason’ does not come into it! Our habits are very powerful.

Therefore, it’s better to practise some different ways of making important connections with other people in our lives. If you practise and practise you may find you become quite skilful!

So, this page is given over to highlighting those alternative options and to inform your own view of TA Gaming.

You can study further using this slide show explaining the Transactional Analytic notion of the Game at


So what is a TA Game?

The TA Game (note the capitals, here) is a tricky concept that requires a liking for complexity, illustration, formulae and, if I may say it, an ability to get to grips with mangled English!

Eric Berne, the founder of Transactional Analysis, described the Game as:

….. an ongoing series of ulterior transactions that lead to a predictable outcome

For ‘ulterior’, here, read disguised, or out of our awareness. Subconscious, if you like.

So what might you do that is just a little bit different? For instance, the condition, looping, can be an indicator that a TA Game is operating; two people are getting no-where. There is a lot of sound and fury, but no actual change.

It takes two to tango

One important starting point is to emphasise that a TA Game can only thrive if at least two people are involved in the exchange. Therefore, please do not ask:

….. how can I stop this other person playing a Game with me?

Instead, ask:

….. is there anything the two of us can do together to be more authentic, one with the other?

For further information on ‘ulterior transactions’, please visit:

…. and look at the third illustration, down that page.

Now let me start on some small, safe experiments that might be an antidote to this complex human behaviour.

My header illustration summarises some responses available to people engaged in a TA Game. Let me say more and offer you some examples or page links.

Ways to respond to a TA Game

I will now describe six groups of safe experiments that may help avoid repeating history, or defaulting to habits that can get me into trouble.

Exploring and accepting my Achilles Heel

Humans are frail creatures. Achilles was a Greek Warrior. His mother, the nymph Thetis, dipped her son in the River Styx so the waters could confer immortality on him.

However, such immortality was conferred only on those surfaces that were in contact with the water. Thetis dipped her son only the once, holding the baby by the ankle. Therefore, that spot, the Achilles’ heel, remained mortal. When, as an adult, an arrow pierced Achilles’ ankle, he was mortally wounded.

So the common phrase “Achilles’ heel” refers to a weakness or vulnerability in an otherwise strong or powerful person, a vulnerability that will lead to downfall in time.

Some safe experiments

The safe experiment applying here is how to find ways to live more realistically with my Achilles’ Heel? Follow these links and see what they have to offer:

Generating more options for myself

This broadening of my awareness can help me respond to current events differently. There is a page on option formation at:

Action isn’t everything

…. where the need to stop acting, and think things through, is highlighted. This process can be helped further by ‘brain-storming’.


Being assertive: where saying ‘no’ means ‘no’

It is not a requirement that I stay in a TA Game.

I can convey my intention to do that something a little bit different, or I can simply leave the situation behind. That latter action may appear to be passive – aggressive, so it may be an even better part of a ‘new’ habit for me to speak up and say your piece.

This will involve disclosing my own part on the TA Game – not depositing responsibility for the situation on others around me. In the past, I’ve apologised, usually in writing, when a professional relationship has gone awry.

This website has helped as there are a few relevant pages that have helped me tell a different story in order to …..

seek more authentic Strokes

This required me to identify elements of my current Script to see what I was not able to see and to find other possibilities open to me. Taking one step at a time is one way to identify a more authentic Stroke, when it rises up.

This possibility will be more feasible if safe experiments around my Stroke Economy have been designed.

Take responsibility for our own part in the Game

Now here’s a tricky one. Who is responsible for what?

This can be an uncomfortable question as TA may not be the best model to address it. TA is an American model and, as I see it, imbued with the American culture. It places a large burden on the individual to ‘succeed’. Structural inequalities are like an embarrassing relative at the TA wedding.

Even so, the TA information relating to the Script can help. Read about the characteristics of the Script listed on this page, with particular attention to:

 … the Script helping me “to view the world, and, indeed, to ‘justify’ itself. “I am this way, because ….”

This can take me back to assertiveness; affirming myself as I am, and still being open to change.

Raise awareness in myself, and communicating with other people

Here’s another tricky one. How do I become more aware of ‘me’, when I am not aware! It may help – here – to revisit Dan Siegel’s notion of the Mind. He emphasises that my brain, body and family are not the only components of my ‘Mind’.

The Space-and-Time I occupy now, and the Space-and-Time I occupied then – and ALL the people in those spaces made me what I am today. My Body and the Spirit that keeps me alive are other important elements of ‘me’.

If I can sustain that quality of curiosity, about myself and others, then progress can be made. Special Time is a safe experiment that really helps me as it is one way to get a view of the world from somewhere else; from some-one else.

A final possibility is work on my ‘parts’. Those ‘parts’ are product of my past and present. I can have Special Time with them. Because they are all part of me, I find I can get a better class of conversation in my own ‘Parliament’.

All these possibilities help me:


…… to join in without knowing I am joining in. Another safe experiment that helps here is ‘Standing Back’; seeking the large picture.

Now there is a final option open to me; not the most wholesome, in my view, and it still needs a mention. That option is ..

To play the Game?

There is a problem here as it is difficult to do this once my awareness is raised! You may recall that the TA Game is ‘played’ when I am unaware of what is going on.

Now, this option of ‘playing the Game’ may sound rather perverse. Maybe you are tempted to say: “Oh, well I wouldn’t do anything like that“.

If something like this does happen, please return to the Johari Window. There are many ways in which us humans do not know things we do not know. If you want, there is a more ‘fun’ way to do this by considering what are ‘lions‘! Stories often help me see a different perspective. Then there are a few safe experiments around reframing to consider.

If you are still in doubt about your own frailties, then please consider the information available at:

The Discount Matrix

Taking a step at a time – one journey

When safe experiments falter

Obstacles to safe experiments

…. these pages affirm Virginia Satir’s view that:

“The strongest power in humans is not the survival instinct. It’s the habit.”

Therefore, given that humans are creatures of habit, we all play a TA Game at some time. We do need to seek out the familiar, if outdated strategies we learned in our early years.

In summary, then

The TA Game enable us to keep ‘friends’ close, and ‘enemies’ even closer:

  • To receive mutual attention and affection, albeit in a negative way
  • To avoid responsibility, commitment, confrontation or binding agreements
  • To keep close people at a distance, but still having an intensive exchange
  • To confirm our basic attitude, beliefs and ideology
  • To avoid situations that could challenge our view on things, our reference framework

By the way, you may know the phrase: keep ‘friends’ close, and ‘enemies’ even closer from Marlon Brando’s The Godfather, but it goes back much further coming from “The Art of War” written by an Eastern philosopher called Sun Zhu.

Burton and Taylor do a good job of demonstrating this feature in the film version of Edward Albee’s play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe.

Other leads to consider

Transactional Analysis as a model

Transactional Analysis: a communications model

Fitting TA in to the scenic route

What might a safe experiment consist of?

TA can help when other safe experiments falter

In my experience, this is a page that attracts questions and puzzlement. If you have one, let me know: