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
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
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
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
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?
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.
Returning to Joe Navarro’s words in Psychology Today, we must wrestle
with tough questions when it comes to potentially toxic relationships:
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.