I’m reading this book called The Book of Strange New Things by Michael Faber, and while I’ve got a few mixed feelings about it, overall it’s superbly written, and very thought-provoking. One of the things it’s increased my awareness of, for better or worse, is the human tendency toward egoic posturing. All the little ways so much of what we do is really just to commmunicate:
look at me!
see what i did/know/thought/can do!
i’m worthy of your attention/love/time!
Telling a joke is egoic posturing, writing a blog is egoic posturing, lots of things are egoic posturing. I am trying not to mean the term in a pejorative sense. This is just what the ego does, part of its organic function. It’s all ok behavior, and worthy of compassion and acceptance, but I have to admit, that there are certain kinds of posturing that can wear me the fuck down. In particular, lately I seem to have just zero patience for what, in my head, I call “games.” Here’s what I mean by a game, in this (very specfic) context:
• Some person wants something from someone else, be it love, care, affection, acknowledgment, validation, encouragement, support, whatever. “Good strokes” in whatever format those strokes are available.
• Rather than working directly, consciously and/or openly with other people to get the desired good strokes, the person manipulates circumstances, conversations, or people to get those strokes. This manipulation is the actual playing of the game.
• Like a game, this behavior has a particular desired outcome (usually good strokes, but ok, yes, sometimes bad, because sometimes bad strokes are better than none at all), but it also has rules: If I behave in this way, then other people are supposed to behave in this other way in response or This person did X, which means I’m allowed to do Y now or some such nonsense.
I almost don’t mind the actual game-playing. In fact, I wish there was a less judgey way of talking about it, because it sounds harsher than I intend it, when I say someone is playing games. I don’t actually mean the intentional, deliberate games that people play, when someone is being manipulative because they’ve consciously chosen to be. I don’t run into that too often, I’m happy to say. I’m talking about the kinds of games people play because they simply don’t know any other way to get what they need out of the world or the people in it. It’s the unconscious game playing that chafes, the kind you can’t legitimately call someone out on, because they’re not even aware they’re doing it.
It’s obvious these people need attention and love and care, just as any of us do, and all this game-playing does read loud and clear to me as a cry for validation. That’s what makes it so exasperating. There’s almost a kind of bravery to these people — some might call it effrontery — because they have needs, and they’re trying to get them met. But there’s also some kind of inability or blind spot that’s holding them back, keeping them from consciously engaging with that need and bring it forward in a more honest and direct manner. That inability, to me, though, well, and I’m not proud to say this, looks like cowardice, like they’re unwilling to do the self-work necessary to excavate the particular shape and texture of their own needs.
So help me, but this is almost always my own failure when I run into these games: I read the inability as unwillingness, like blaming a blind person for not being able to see what’s right in front of his face. This twin barb of what I think I see, and this knowing that I’m seeing it wrong, this is why I get so exasperated, frustrated, or irritated. When people are being needy in the particular way, it always evokes in me the response that’s least likely to be productive in that particular situation. I’m not too comfortable directly asking to have my own needs met, I know that, so who am I to judge but still…
But that’s usually how it works, isn’t it? The weakness we aren’t comfortable with in ourselves, well, other people wind up being great targets for us to lash out at for that weakness. Too much effort to change? Let’s outsource our frustration at that roadblock to a third party.
Or maybe that’s just my own game.