Personal Attitudes, Personal Relations

Mind Games: Why We Play Them

mindgames2A mind game is defined as a psychological tactic used to manipulate or intimidate. No matter how decisively someone might say, “I don’t play games,” to some extent we all do. The brunt of this post isn’t about whether people play mind games. Instead, we will examine what drives this behavior.

It’s quite simple: we play mind games because we want to take charge. The reason we want control is also simple: we want it because we feel vulnerable, defenseless, insecure, powerless, or unsure.

For example:

  • You’re not sure of your girlfriend’s feelings for you. Instead of asking her directly, you flirt with other women in front of her just to see her reaction.
  • You don’t know if you can trust your new co-worker. Instead of letting time tell, you test him by deliberately leaving money out in the open to see if he will steal it.
  • You’re tired of being abused by your spouse. You keep telling him, but nothing is changing. Instead of leaving, you give him the silent treatment.

In each situation, the person playing the game wants something. Instead of using honest, direct communication, or because they’re not getting what they want when they use that method, they resort to psychological tactics.

Does playing a mind game mean that your intentions are malicious? Not always. Sometimes mind games can be a wise course of action. For instance, if you want to know whether someone committed a crime, asking them outright could cause them to take offense or they might lie to protect themselves.

In this case, you might ask certain questions that could lead you to the truth without revealing what you feel inside: that you doubt the person. Cops, lawyers, and investigators do this all the time. In these situations, mind games are applied to manipulate the other person into revealing the answers. But even then, the reason the game is being played in the first place is to get a handle on the situation.

Why do people play malicious mind games? Some people play mind games because they need to feel superior. To them, mind games are a pastime, where inflicting emotional torture upon others becomes entertainment. They get satisfaction out of toying with others because it makes them feel superior and in control.

In some cases, people play mind games because they know no other way to defeat their adversaries. Others do it because someone is playing mind games with them and they want the other person to know how it feels. In the latter case, a dangerous game of tit-for-tat ensues. Both parties are locked in psychological warfare, where the goal is to bully the enemy into submission.

How to tell if someone is playing mind games with you? This is difficult, because mind games are so subtle. The dilemma here is that you’re relying on your gut instinct to verify the games, which is an unreliable source in the eyes of others. A mind game is a powerful, tough-to-prove weapon. Still, a good indicator is when you get a feeling that you just can’t put your finger on. You can’t see the games, but you can feel them.

How to respond to sinister mind games? Easy: refuse to participate. A game is no fun if you have no opponent. When you refuse to play, the initiator has no one to engage him or her.

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