Every game is a mind game, isn’t it? Don’t we play mind games as children, during courtship, and even in marriage?
Some of us love games – puzzles, cards, sports that rely on physical prowess as well as strategy and teamwork. We play for fun. We play for thrills. We play because we enjoy competition. Games ignite creativity, encourage problem-solving, inspire ideas and polish interpersonal skills.
Some of us especially love the games and challenges we set out for ourselves – in which we strive to beat a personal best.
Short of a true “game of chance” – can we agree that every game is a mind game to some degree?
What about mind games with the intent to damage? Mind games that take manipulation too far? Or mind games that callously disregard the consequences to others?
Are some of us more likely to maneuver ourselves into these situations? Are we too trusting? Too naive? Are we repeating self-sabotaging behaviors unconsciously, the result of childhood patterns? Are we simply on the receiving end of someone highly skilled at reading our vulnerabilities? The crazy-making boss? The crazy-making ex?
Are some of us perpetrators of the mind game because we find it “fun” to stick it to another person?
On the subject of mind games, deception, and specifically, social manipulation, Psychology Today addresses this topic. It’s a fascinating article by FBI veteran and author Joe Navarro, who offers this:
Sometimes there are relationships… where we are repeatedly taken advantage of and made to feel as if we are merely puppets – controlled and manipulated… [T]hese toxic relationships… involve a very devious, insufferable or calculating type of individual. There are individuals who leave you bewildered in their unbridled disregard for the rights and dignity of others. Individuals who are so brazen, indifferent, or cruel, or who are simply financially or emotionally exploitive.
The article goes on to explore the Narcissist, the Predator, and the Emotionally Unstable manipulator. These are adversaries you don’t want to tangle with in games that will leave you hurt, depleted, and even devastated.
Marital Mind Games… and More
We love our mind games when they don’t go too far. We love our master manipulators when they appear on the big screen. But when you live the mind games in a relationship, it’s a different story – and not a pleasant one.
You may find yourself in bed with a classic Narcissist. Who doesn’t recognize that our culture seems to be breeding them more and more?
You may find yourself engaged with a needy personality; what feels manageable in Year One may become intolerable by Year Three. Who wants the constant guilt trip, pulling at the heart strings, exploiting your sympathies and your insecurities?
When you live with a person who plays on your weaknesses (or creates them), who takes your trust and twists it (abusing the nature of your relationship), when you love a person who manipulates or you’re raised by a parent who can’t seem to interact in any other way, how do you see your way clear? How do you disengage from the toxicity?
Theoretically, you can divorce a spouse, though when children are involved it’s rare that you can escape the issues altogether. When the player is a mother or father, the words and acts of manipulation are intertwined with our earliest experience and the cruelest inner voices. We may spend years working to disentangle what is real from distortion.
Don’t Be a Victim
I’m not a psychologist or counselor of any sort. I do enjoy the exploration of human nature and behavior. A little manipulation? We all do it. Mind games? They can be useful. We like to win. We like to achieve. We learn the power of persuasion and its rewards, and we exert our influence without explicit intent to harm.
The challenge lies in not crossing the line, and recognizing when those we let into our lives are doing it.
Unfortunately, it’s not so simple to separate the Good Guys from the Bad Guys. There are no uniforms, no labels, no assumptions we can make based on looks or family or education. There’s only time, self-awareness, observation, and maybe a little luck. There is also fighting the isolation that manipulative personalities may cause – which is, of course, to their advantage.
The questions that need to be asked are very simple. No matter how hard you try, “Are they using their charms or behavior to control you or others for their own benefit? Are they manipulating you? Are they doing things that hurt you or put you at risk?… If the answer to these questions is yes, it is time to untangle yourself from the toxic strings that control you so you can get your life back. Take heed – you have no social obligation to be victimized – ever.
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