You are on page 1of 12

Capitolo II

The Six Advantages to Games and their Use in Treatment1


Brenda B. Bary and Frederick M. Hufford

Homeostasis and the Six Homeostatic Functions Berne (1964) stated, "The general advantages of a game consist in its stabilizing (homeostatic) functions. Biological homeostasis is promoted by the stroking, and psychological stability is reinforced by the confirmation of position" (p. 56). Thorndike-Barnhart (1978) defines homeostasis as "the tendency of an organism to maintain its internal equilibrium by regulating its bodily processes, e.g. body temperature, pulse rate, and fluid content" (p. 1012). By inserting the word "psychological" after internal and substituting the word "intrapsychic" for bodily in this definition, we have a clearer understanding of what Berne meant to convey by the word "homeostasis": "The tendency of an individual to maintain internal psychological equilibrium by regulating his or her own intrapsychic processes." This implies that the individual unconsciously and automatically accepts whatever reinforces his or her pre-set views and, in the process, ignores, discounts, or misinterprets everything else. Thus, if one is used to receiving negative strokes and has an existential position of not OKness, any evidence to the contrary will be discounted at whatever level necessary to maintain the homeostasis. The following sections define Berne's six reasons for games and show how each interconnects and reinforces the others in order to maintain the original homeostatic balance.
1

Bary, B. B., Hufford F. M. (1990). The Six Advantages to Games and their Use in Treatment. Transactional Analysis Journal, 20, No. 4, 214-220.

Brenda B. Bary and Frederick M. Hufford

Factor I: The Biological Advantage to Games The biological advantage to games relates to how a person gets the strokes needed for survival. As one develops from infancy to childhood to adulthood there is a progressive transition from the need for physical strokes to the need for recognition strokes and a structure in which to obtain them (Berne, 1964). If warmth, attention, smiles, cooing sounds, touch, eye contact, and other necessary nurturing strokes are available, they are accepted and used. The child begins to expect and seek positive physical strokes and moves on to seek and accept positive recognition strokes and a structure for obtaining them. However, in the all-too-frequent case where healthy strokes are not available or are infrequent or inconsistent the child unconsciously begins to accept negative strokes -such as rough handling and criticism- as well as a structure for obtaining such strokes in the future. Once the expectation for a certain pattern of stroking is established, it develops a tenacious stability, leading eventually to the child's decision on life position and later evolving into his or her life script. Throughout this paper we refer to the case of Rita, used by Berne (1966, pp. 264-267) to illustrate the interconnections between the six advantages of games and how they reinforce each other. Rita's father, an alcoholic, was warm and affectionate when sober and mean and rejecting when drunk. This inconsistency and unpredictability led Rita to expect negativity from her father, and later all men, because it was too painful to hope for good responses and to feel the abandonment of her rejecting father. Because she could not make her father consistently loving, it was easier to expect the worst than to face his inconsistency; after all, she could always make things go negatively even if it meant avoiding her father when he was sober and available. In time this pattern (Biological-Factor I) led her to an existential life position (Factor II) from which all men were viewed as beasts, which in turn led her to play "Rape" games; this kept her pain focused in the here-and-now, thus warding off memory of the pain of early childhood abandonment by her father (Internal Psychological-Factor III). This life-style prevented her from learning about true intimacy (External Psychological-Factor IV) and gave her lots of material for conversation with others and around which to focus her own fantasies (Internal Social-Factor V and External Social- Factor Vl). In the following paragraphs we refer to these interconnections in discussing each factor so that their mutual reinforcing attributes will be dear (see Table I).

The six advantages to games

Factor II: The Existential Advantage of Games The existential advantage of games relates to establishing and continually reconfirming a basic life position regarding the OKness or non-OKness of self, others, and the world in general. Maintaining a basic life position can be comforting because it suggests a sense of predictability about life, even if this is an illusion. The anxiety that accompanies accurately perceiving life's unpredictability is thus minimized or avoided entirely. In fact, to a certain extent it is adaptive to have a false sense of security; it would be too difficult to go through life being aware at every Table I moment of all that could go wrong. Berne's Six Advantages to Game ------------------------------------------- However, for most people who come to therapy, the problem is a false I Biological sense of insecurity. One's life System of stroke exchange position is established at an early remains predictable. age, and it depends on the specific stroking available in the family of II Existential Life Position origin. If this stroking is primarily Basic frame of reference about OK-ness and not-OKness of self, negative or unavailable, the person's others, and the world remains life position will also be limiting predictable. and negative. As an adult, when under stress III Internal Psychological and most in need of new options, a The original primal pain and the client will, for security, cling most decisions emanating from the tenaciously to his or her old position early scene(s) remain repressed with all its limits and negativity. and are recreated in repetitive For example, people whose reenactments. position about self is "I'm not OK" IV External Psychological will work hard to get people to call Interface with the environment in them stupid by not thinking and by areas where one anticipates defeat getting others to laugh at the is avoided and/or minimized. stupidity of their behavior. People who hold the position that others are V Internal Social not OK will work equally hard to Time structuring in fantasy prove that contention. remains predictable. The Gouldings (1979) noted the importance of the existential VI External Social position when they described the Time structuring behaviorally fourth part of their game formula:

Brenda B. Bary and Frederick M. Hufford

"Payoff. Person feels angry, sad, anxious, or guilty, and so makes silent statements to himself about self and others, that solidify his existential position in terms of "I'm OK" or "I'm not OK" and "You're OK" or "You're not OK." ('I'm angry. She always criticizes me. I never seem to be able to please her') (p. 30)". The existential position is key to understanding the advantages of games because the individual structures his or her life around confirming this position. This single-minded, although unconscious, process makes life more predictable and, therefore, more stable in the individual's mind. For example, Rita's belief (Berne, 1966), based on her experience with her alcoholic father, is that "All men are beasts." As an adult Rita plays second-degree "Rape," that is, she acts seductively, the man gets turned on, but when he approaches her she refuses him. The man then gets angry and often strikes her; thus her position regarding men is confirmed, and the stroking pattern she had with her father-inconsistency leading to a negative outcome is recreated.

Factor III: The Internal Psychological Advantage of Games The internal psychological advantage of games focuses on the intrapsychic level, with the goal of avoiding the original pain. As long as the person plays the game, he or she does not have to deal with pain that was repressed at the time of the early decision. At another level the "aim of the game is mainly in the pain" (Holloway, 1973, p. 19), that is, the game payoff is a negative, painful feeling that reinforces script. Thus, clients focus on the here-and-now pain resulting from games in order to avoid primal pain; they fail to understand that the suffering and accumulated pain from playing a game over and over for years is much greater than would be the working through of the original pain. The following example from the Gouldings (1979) illustrates the importance to the individual of maintaining internal psychological equilibrium: "Mary teaches that each person derives his own unique payoff and that this payoff is a repetition of important unfinished business in the past. Gary, George, and Gem each play exactly the same game; they come late to dinner parties and are criticized. Gary feels sad and says to himself, 'Others manage so much better than I,' and 'I never do anything right.' George is angry and says to himself, 'What kind of friends are they, anyway, to be so critical,' and 'I'd rather be by myself.' Gem is anxious and says, 'They must think I am perfectly terrible,' and 'I'm always getting mixed up... I wonder

The six advantages to games

what I'll do wrong next!' The late arrival or the explanation for being late is the ostensibly straight stimulus. The secret message is "Criticize me." The others criticize. The payoff is what each feels and believes about self and others. All of this is outside of Adult awareness. This means that the three players do not know that they arrive late in order to be criticized and to feel as they felt. They don't know that they are recreating scenes in the present that are repetitions of unfinished scenes in the past. Gary played the same game with his father, Gem with her mother, and George plays the game that his father played with George's mother". (p. 31) With respect to the maintenance of internal psychological stability, the pivotal phrases in this example are, "this payoff is a repetition of important unfinished business in the past" and "they are recreating scenes in the present that are repetitions of unfinished scenes in the past." If a client regresses to the time of this "unfinished business," we see the early primal scenes upon which the person's early decision and existential position are based as well as the "internal psychological" conflict that each client avoids facing through repression. In essence, then, game playing involves emotional blackmail, with the person paying through the here-and-now pain of the game payoff rather than dealing with the primal pain. The Child anticipates the "I can't stand it" of the original trauma or pain in the original scene or scenes and so through repression of the primal pain settles for the here-and-now pain of the game. Returning to Berne's example, Rita plays second-degree "Rape" rather than re-experiencing the primal pain of knowing that her father's primary relationship was with alcohol rather than with her mother and her. As Rita avoids facing this pain (Internal Psychological-Factor III), she reinforces her early stroke patterns with her father (Biological-Factor I), her basic existential position that all men are beasts (Existential-Factor II), and her early decision never to love a man again, which was the cognitive outcome of her repressed primal pain (Internal Psychological-Factor III). She also continues to structure her time (Internal and External Social-Factors V and VI) in ways that prevent her from learning the tasks involved in true emotional closeness (External Psychological-Factor IV). Factor IV: The External Psychological Advantage of Games The external psychological reason to play games is that one avoids in the external world that for which there is insufficient internal support. For example, it is difficult to attempt intimacy if one's internal perception of self

Brenda B. Bary and Frederick M. Hufford

and others is not-OK. It becomes important to avoid real life situations that require involvement with one's environment, such as living independently, making commitments, handling competition, and achieving interdependence. By playing "Uproar," one avoids intimacy; by playing "Stupid" one avoids growing up; and by playing ''Why Don't You, Yes But" one avoids being responsible for one's own problems. Factor IV is similar to what psychoanalysts call "secondary gain" (Solomon & Patch, 1974). For example, a client with a hysterically paralyzed hand is unable to work and, hence, can stay at home and be cared for by others, thus obtaining relief from unpleasant responsibility. Rita does not face the task of building a true, loving relationship, nor does she face accumulating the knowledge or skills involved in such a relationship, for example, how to be assertive, how to ask for what you want, and how to give, refuse, ask for, and take in strokes of all kinds as realistically needed. Without these skills, there is little external support for, dealing with her primal pain (Internal Psychological-Factor III) or for changing her stroking pattern (Biological-Factor I), her life position (Existential-Factor II), or her ways of structuring time (Factors V and VI).

Factor V: The Internal Social Advantage to Games Although Berne (1964) stated that the internal social advantage of games involves how one structures time with intimates, whereas the external social reason (Factor VI) involves time structuring with non-intimates, we include all time structuring with others in Factor VI (External Social) as suggested by Erskine (1981) and let Factor V (Internal Social) represent how alone time (fantasy) is structured in ways that reinforce pre-set beliefs and patterns. For example, a person can fantasize about the past or the future and remember or anticipate some script reinforcing event, situation, or conversation: "Because of some rotten people in this department, I have no real support to become department head. If I have no support then I don't really belong no matter how successful I may be in sales, and so I'm not important enough to belong." Thus, through fantasy, clients may produce their racket feelings without any interaction with another person. Rita, for example, might think of some social event in which she had been pushed around by a man with whom she had played "Rape," or alternatively, she might fantasize about a future party and conjure up the same unpleasant experience. With those thoughts she can reinforce her stroking pattern (Biological-Factor I) and her life position

The six advantages to games

(Existential-Factor II), avoid the pain of her relationship with her father (Internal Psychological-Factor III), avoid learning to maintain a good relationship (External Psycholo- gical-Factor IV), and have her old familiar stories to tell to others (External Social-Factor VI) and to herself (Internal Social-Factor V), all without leaving her room.

Factor VI: The External Social Advantage of Games In our framework, this factor concerns the way we structure time with others and, specifically, the games we play with others. For example, Rita plays "Rape" with potential male intimates out of a desire for closeness that she cannot acknowledge without changing all of her homeostatic functions. She thus acts as if she wants closeness without ever having to actually deal with it. With her female friends, she might play "Ain't It Awful" about men, thereby avoiding having to deal with the changes in her structure that would be required if she acknowledged men as individuals with vast differences and distinctions. Structuring time this way (External Social-Factor VI) allows her the comfort and security of a familiar stroking pattern (Biological-Factor I), a predictable life position (Existential-Factor II), repression of the pain of her early emotional abandonment by her father (Internal Psychological-Factor III), avoidance of tasks for which she lacks the necessary skills (External Psychological-Factor IV), and justification for her negative fantasy musings (Internal Social-Factor V) about men and the hopelessness of truly loving. This example demonstrates an intricate, self-reinforcing system similar to the racket system described by Erskine and Zalcman (1979). Both of these systems might more appropriately be termed the "Script System" because both rackets and games are elements of script and thus belong "in the realm of transference phenomenon" (Berne, 1961, p. 116). Each of the six factors is an element of transference.

Psychotherapy as a Re-calibration Process: Early Phase of Treatment Because the six factors so firmly support each other, meaningful change cannot occur in one unless it occurs in all six. Initially, the therapist's job is to build a working alliance with the client through empathic inquiry that reveals the client's psychological homeostasis. Regarding Factor I (Biological), the therapist's questions concern the adequacy of the person's

Brenda B. Bary and Frederick M. Hufford

stroke exchange system. Are transactions given, received, refused, and requested appropriate to realistic needs, or are the exchanges unnecessarily limiting and based on old patterns. If the client is limited, how and to what extent? A person can be deficient in all these areas or in only a few. The information that allows the therapist to understand the stroke exchange comes from stories the person tells about current life, early life, and most particularly, from here-and-now exchanges with the therapist. As the therapist begins to understand the client's current stroking system, it is useful for assessment and in order to begin re-calibration to interact in ways that caringly confront the client's established system in problem areas. For example, if someone appears unable to accept a positive stroke but likes to give them to others, the therapist might ask what effect the person thinks the client's refusal might have on the stroke-giver. At this point, such disruptions to the accustomed pattern should be aimed more at gently disconcerting than instructing. The purpose is to unsettle the established stroke exchange and promote Adult awareness, not to invite increased resistance to change by prematurely and too directly threatening the established order. At the same time the therapist is assessing and unsettling the stroke exchange, it is also important to listen for the existential beliefs (Factor II) about self, others, and the world. Sometimes these beliefs are easily discovered; sometimes structured exercises and guided fantasies are needed to reveal them. Here, too, the therapist wants to learn about conditions that existed when these beliefs were being formed. By asking appropriately timed questions, the therapist can suggest that these beliefs may be more a function of the client's particular past situation than universally accepted "truths". In this early phase of treatment, the therapist does not directly confront the primal pain (Factor III), but rather concentrates on establishing connections between the here-and-now pain (the precipitating event causing the person to enter treatment) and the there-and-then pain of the person's early development (neglect, abuse, trauma, misguided parenting, etc.). Taking a history in the session can be supplemented by autobiographical questionnaires, such as the Life Script Questionnaire (Holloway, 1973), which the client completes outside the hour. Through gentle and contactful inquiry regarding the similarities, the patterns, and the repetitions, the person's current internal psychological (Factor III) homeostasis becomes unsettled. In this phase of treatment the therapist does little regarding Factor IV (external psychological) except to note what is likely to emerge after a shift has begun. For example, if the individual begins asking for what he or she

The six advantages to games

wants, will a marital crisis be precipitated? If so, the therapist may want to build a "safety net" by, perhaps, seeing the couple together for a few sessions during which a positive valence can be attached to any expected changes. One woman so surprised her husband with her first slinky night-gown that he was unable to respond sexually; the change was too dramatic and needed some advance preparation. Factors V and VI (internal and external social) -involving how the person interacts with others in real life and in fantasy- usually include the material the person comes to therapy to discuss. In addition to listening and learning, the therapist might be curious about other options, but should be slow to suggest changes that are too close to the core problem. The client is unlikely initially to make such changes successfully, and such efforts might even undermine current confidence in the possibility of change. Sometimes, however, it is possible to facilitate successful change on the periphery of the system that will help build a foundation for later core changes. For example, a woman came to therapy with such low self-esteem that she invited abuse. Her two teen-aged daughters lived with their father and had learned from him to use and abuse her. In the beginning of treatment she was not even close to demanding respect and good treatment on her own behalf, but she was interested in being a good mother. She was, therefore, able to see that it was important for their sakes that she demand good treatment from her daughters. The benefits that this change brought to her relationship with her daughters greatly increased her confidence and facilitated later changes in her overall homeostatic system.

Working Through Phase of Treatment After gathering data about the person's stroke exchange system, life position, and beliefs as well as information about the early primal pain being defended against, the developmental phases yet to be accomplished, and the person's interactional patterns, and after working sympathetically, contactfully, and compassionately long enough to become a trustworthy ally, the working-through phase of treatment can begin. The primary work in this phase involves healing the early pain that had been previously repressed (Erskine, 1980). The client is encouraged to describe what it was like to be a child in his or her family in such detail and with such vividness that it eventually becomes a reliving. As the person reconnects to the painful events, the

10

Brenda B. Bary and Frederick M. Hufford

original feelings-anger, sadness, rage, despair, longing, loneliness, etc., are rediscovered, and the body and mind defenses against feeling them loosen their hold. These original painful events can never be erased, but the primal pain is felt in a comforting and supportive environment; this allows the person to tolerate the feelings long enough to heal without re-engaging a destructive defense system, one that, although it had diminished the perception of pain, had also diminished awareness and aliveness (Erskine & Moursund, 1988). This phase requires patience and faith on the part of the therapist; the client often feels lost confused, and adrift, and needs to rely on the therapist's inner strength while letting go of the old homeostatic balance. A useful treatment modality at this juncture is an extended, residential group session (weekend or longer). The potency and protection available when co-therapists work intensely over several days with a small number of clients allows clients to move forward into the unknown for the purpose of healing. Such events also provide an in-depth experience of positive stroking during which clients discover the comfort others can provide for them as well as the comfort they can offer others. Ideally such an experience is followed by weekly, ongoing individual and/or group treatment in which the person continues to heal, the early pain while exchanging support and comfort with peers and practicing being real instead of being pre-programmed. Many techniques can help facilitate this, healing-psychodrama, role play, "two-chair" dialogues, etc., but the emphasis is always on helping the client remember/re-live the early scene or scenes and this time to express whatever feelings and thoughts were not expressed originally. When therapists and peers respond empathically, clients feel their pain more deeply, not less. Erskine (1987) called this phenomenon ''juxtaposition". With the awareness of the pain thus deepened, healing can occur over time and at the deepest levels as the client's Child realizes that he or she can experience and survive the pain while giving up old defenses. Outside of sessions, other techniques may be used to promote healing. The client may hold, soothe, and nurture a doll that symbolizes himself or herself, thus helping to build a new and healthy self-parenting system. To continue the letting go of emotions that need expression, "not-to-be-mailed" letters can be written to significant others from childhood. Graveside visits can also contribute to healing previously repressed pain. Without the need to avoid primal pain, there is an automatic decrease in the rigidity of the homeostatic system, and all the other factors become more amenable to change. It is often appropriate at this point to recommend self-help books and tapes. However, this is also a time of much anxiety and

The six advantages to games

11

a feeling of being unsettled: clients may find they feel intensely sad when new positive experiences occur, and they may feel a deep and disconcerting envy of their own children because their children have a parent who is healing himself or herself. When reassured that these feelings are normal, especially by group members who have had similar feelings, clients may be able to see them as signs of growth to be celebrated rather than indicators of something troubling. Consolidation and Termination Phase of Treatment Several factors are particularly important in the final phase of treatment. First, it is advisable not to end treatment until a strong outside support, system has been developed. Old relationships, unless transformed in essential ways, will pull the client toward his or her previous homeostatic balance. Therefore, it may be important to assist the client in revising many of his or her important current relationships. Those relationships with no potential for modification may even need to be eliminated or at least minimized. It is also important to make sure the client has not simply cleaned up his or her outside act and taken the game structure inside into fantasy. If this occurs, more working through is indicated. When changes have really been internalized, new themes, a new tone, and new endings to most of the client's dreams and fantasies are evident. Usually a client will signal when he or she is ready to terminate. At that point, the therapist and client can use the six factors as a checklist to evaluate termination. A client is ready to terminate when he or she has a healthy capacity to exchange strokes; a healthy sense of respect for self, others, and life in general; an ability to see the truth of the past without defensive distortion; the capacity to confront normal developmental tasks of his or her age; healthy transactional and stroke patterns with intimates and acquaintances; and an internal dialogue that nurtures and guides versus one that excuses or condemns. Bibliography Berne, E. (196l). Transactional analysis in psychotherapy. New York: Grove Press. Berne, E. (1964). Games people play. New York: Grove Press. Berne, E. (1966). Principles of group treatment. New York: Grove Press.

12

Brenda B. Bary and Frederick M. Hufford

Erskine, R. G. (1980). Script cure: behavioral, intrapsychic and physiological. Transactional Analysis Journal, 10, 102-106. Erskine, R. G. (1981, April). Lecture: Six reasons people stay in script. Professional Training Program, Institute for Integrative Psychotherapy New York, NY. Erskine, R. G. (1987). Lecture: Juxtaposition: Treatment strategies for the borderline and narcissistic client. Professional Development Seminar, Institute for Integrative Psychotherapy, Kent, Connecticut. Erskine, R. G. & Moursund, J. (1988). Integrative psychotherapy in action. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications. Erskine, R. G., & Zalcman, M. (1979). The racket system. Transactional Analysis Journal, 9, 51-59. Goulding M. M., & Goulding, R. L. (1979). Changing lives through redecision therapy. New York: Brunner-Mazel. Holloway, M. (1973). The aim of the game is mainly in the pain. Monograph V, Medina, OH: Midwest Institute for Human Understanding. Holloway, W. H. (1973). Life script questionnaire. Medina, OH: Midwest Institute for Human Understanding. Solomon, P., & Patch, V. D. (1974). Handbook of psychiatry (3rd ed.). Los Altos, CA: Lange Medical Publications. Thorndike-Barnhart (1978). Dictionary. Chicago: Doubleday.