Last week a client (who I will call Belinda), was telling me about a situation at work where she was struggling with a colleague. They had been asked to work together on a project and she felt her colleague wasn’t pulling his weight. Belinda had been putting in extra hours to make up for this and was feeling irritated and resentful. She had been trying to set up a meeting with the people who commissioned the project and her colleague was being resistant to the dates she suggested. Belinda was left furious when he didn’t reply to an email she had sent him with an alternative date.
As we explored this situation Belinda recognised that this was a familiar situation for her. She would often put in extra effort to make up for people who didn’t apply themselves in the way she did. This could be at work, with friends or in her family circle. Her extra effort would go unnoticed and she would be left tired, frustrated and resentful. When I asked her what would typically happen next she said she would normal carry on seething and withhold from the relationship – perhaps by either not replying to messages herself or not being as prompt as usual. She may be sharp or non committal with the person when she next interacted with them. This would escalate until the person asked her what was wrong and then she would give them both barrels. After a moment of jubilation that she had given them ‘what for’, she would go away feeling ashamed and guilty about her behaviour and then anxiety would set in.
Belinda was describing to me a game she plays (Eric Berne, 1961) with a familiar pattern of behaviour and a predictable outcome. We all play games, often unconsciously and outside of Adult awareness, in an attempt to get our needs met. Unfortunately as games are not straightforward we often end with the same end result over and over, which doesn’t actually meet the need we had in the first place.
If you keep finding yourself in the same situation over and over try asking yourself these questions:
- what keeps happening over and over?
- how does it start?
- what happens next?
- and then what happens?
- how does it end?
- how do you feel after it ends?
(John James, 1973)
Belinda’s need was to feel recognised and appreciated however she felt unable to describe this directly to her colleague. So she resorted to her unconscious, familiar pattern of behaviour. As we were able to discuss this while she was still playing the game (i.e. before she had given him both barrels), she had the opportunity to consider alternative ways to resolve the situation. In the end she was able to describe to him that she would like to review the workload and split the work equally so she did not feel overloaded. He agreed and said he’d noticed that she had been putting in extra hours, then thanked her for picking up additional work. They redistributed the project between them and Belinda went away without the feelings of guilt, shame or anxiety, having had her needs fulfilled.
As we increase our awareness of the games we play we can notice the warning signs earlier in the sequence, allowing us to consider our options and choose how we behave – rather than reacting unconsciously. Sometimes we can raise our awareness on our own, other times it can be helpful to have someone to reflect back what may be going on as we all have our blind spots when it comes to our own behaviour.
Next blog we consider some ways that horses can be great partners in raising our awareness of our unconscious behaviours.