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SALT LAKE CITY — In this edition of LIFEadvice, Coach Kim explains some of the psychological games we learned in childhood and continue to play as adults. Understanding your behavior patterns is the first step to changing them.
I really enjoy your weekly columns on KSL.com. I read last week's article about dealing with criticism and found it very insightful. This article was addressed to the person on the receiving end of the criticism. If I may, I'd like to suggest another article with the critical person as the target audience. How can one start facing those core fears and stop being critical?
The first step to changing your negative behavior is to get conscious of how you are behaving and why. There is always a reason (or a payoff you are getting) for behaving this way. It is the real reason you do it. Once you can see clearly why you do it and what triggers it, you then have the power to catch yourself and choose something better.
Neuroscientists tell us that our subconscious programming is the real problem behind most of our behavior problems. Somewhere along the line (usually in childhood) you learned this bad behavior and thought it was a good thing (a win on some level) and so you have continued to do it.
Dr. David Krueger said, “Behavioral patterns and belief systems downloaded especially from parents in the first years of life become automatic. … Neuroscientists estimate that about 95 percent of our behaviors and core beliefs are pre-programmed in the subconscious mind, operating on autopilot.”
The ideas, beliefs or behavior patterns we learn in childhood become the rules that dictate the way we respond to life and the world, even if they are ineffective and relationship damaging. Dr. Eric Berne published an interesting book on this subject, back in 1964, called "Games People Play." In this book he describes these subconscious rituals or behavior patterns as games.
You can recognize a psychological game because it is a slightly manipulative or self-serving behavior and includes a selfish maneuver to get a payoff, which makes the game worth playing. I believe this payoff is mostly about quieting your core fear of failure or loss. Most of the time you are trying to quiet your fear of failure and shame.
In last week’s article, I mentioned the Shame and Blame Game. This is the one you are playing if you are critical and quick to judge other people. On the outside you may just look like a negative person, but it’s really about looking for faults in others so you can shift your shame (fear of not being good enough) onto someone else. The more bad you see or point out in others, the more your own shame is lessened. When you cast them as the bad guy, it makes you the good guy. At least that is what you think will happen. In reality putting other people down only makes you feel better temporarily, because focusing on their shame doesn’t really take yours away. It just distracts you for a minute.
Here are some other psychological games you might have learned as a child and still play as an adult:
The Self-Pity Card Game: This happens when someone calls you on some bad behavior and you immediately (subconsciously) play the self-pity card, asking them to excuse your bad behavior and feel sorry for you. You may say things like, “It is just that everything is going wrong for me right now, I’m having a horrible day, I have no friends, or I’m just so depressed that's why I behaved badly.” You basically use self-pity to manipulate your way out of being responsible for your behavior.
The downside to this game (and all games) is eventually people will lose respect for you and in the end, feeling pity toward you isn’t love.
The Sympathy Card Game: This happens when you constantly talk about how bad you have it or how terrible you are. This is a subconscious game to get validation or reassurance from other people. People play this game on Facebook when they leave posts like “Worst Day Ever” but they don’t leave an explanation about what happened. They do this because they are subconsciously making people prove they care enough to ask. This game is a subtle and immature way to get love and attention.
It’s Their Fault That I Can’t … Game: This game is about blaming someone else for making it impossible for you to do something you really should be doing. The payoff here is this gives you a great excuse for not being who you should be. “It’s my husband’s fault that I don’t eat healthy and keep gaining weight. I just can’t get him to stop eating junk food, so it’s what I have to buy.”
I’m So Overwhelmed: If you constantly talk about how overworked, tired and overwhelmed you are, you might be playing this game. You might even subconsciously take on too much, to make sure you stay in this state. There are a lot of payoffs with this game. You have a good excuse to turn down anything you don’t want to do. You get validation from what a hard worker you are and you get to use the self-pity card to excuse your bad behavior. You may be subconsciously choosing to feel terrible and overburdened all the time, because these payoffs are so desirable.
You Don’t Love Me: This is a common game in many marriages where one or both parties are looking for proof (in the other’s behavior) that they aren’t really loved, liked, wanted or appreciated. If you are subconsciously looking for evidence that your spouse doesn’t love you, you will find it. You will find whatever you are trying to find. It won’t necessarily be accurate, though.
When your wife is too tired for sex, it probably has more to do with her chasing small children all day, giving too much without taking care of herself, or her own body or sexuality issues. It may not be because she doesn’t love you. But if you are playing the You Don’t Love Me game, the goal here is to gather evidence that makes her the bad guy so you (by default) are the victim and good guy. This is about gathering evidence about who loves who less, so you can cast her as the bad one and thereby win the game.
Wives may also look for mean or disrespectful comments as proof they aren’t loved, thereby also giving them an excuse not to have sex or be loving to him — since he doesn’t really love her. The payoff here is that you get to behave badly (be unloving) and then blame the other person for it. This game will destroy your marriage if you don’t wake up and stop it.
The good news is you have the power to change your behavior!
You can wake up and choose more accurate, loving, mature behavior. You may also want to take the free Fear Assessment on my website. It will show you some of your subconscious behavior patterns on paper and this will be a good first step to discovering your subconscious patterns.
Then, you can start by questioning why you are behaving the way you are. Why are you behaving this way? What are you afraid of? What is the behavior giving you? What is the payoff? How could you subconsciously see this bad behavior as a win? What is this behavior really going to create in your life? Is this what you really want?
What do you really want? What kind of person do you want to be? What are the core values or principles you believe in and want to live by? Asking and answering these questions will get you started. Once you identify the behavior you can start watching for it and choosing something better. If you have a hard time seeing your negative behavior or knowing how to change it, you may want to get some professional help.
You also need to work on your self-esteem and learn how to escape your subconscious fears. I have written many articles on this subject and you can find them all here on KSL.com.
You can do this!
*About the Author: Kimberly Giles
Kimberly Giles is the founder and president of claritypointcoaching.com. She is also the author of the new book "Choosing Clarity: The Path to Fearlessness."She offers free coaching calls every Tuesday night.*