Lesson 6 - Power Games

A Power game is
A series of moves with a snare, or ˜gimmick”

A power game is an ongoing series of complementary
ulterior transactions progressing to a well-defined,
predictable outcome.
Descriptively it is a recurring set of transactions, often repetitious, superficially plausible, with a concealed motivation;

Or, more colloquially,
A series of moves with a snare, or ˜gimmick.”

Eric Berne, Games People Play p 44


An idealistic and inexperienced counsellor
can be deeply entangled in power games where
the client "scores points" on the counsellors behalf.


A story about Everybody

This is a story about four people named Everybody, Somebody Anybody and Nobody: There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have?

Author unknown


Examples of power games:
The purpose of the game is not to get solutions,
but to reject them […], never to surrender?

Eric Berne: Games People Play? p 103

Top dog and Underdog
Why don’t you - yes but
See what you-made-me do
Now I’ve got you, you bastard
Stupid, or smokescreen?
Lets you and him fight
Excuse Me
Double bind
Stop the flow

Top dog and Underdog


Perls calls topdog and underdog the two clowns of the personality, constantly acting out their self - torture game beneath the level of conscious awareness. We have a top dog and underdog for each specific conflict, so whenever a conflict is sparked off by some present problem or event in life, the two clowns emerge and start their self - torture game. Both strive for control, and it is a battle to the death, dissipating all the energy which should be used for constructive and positive living.

Dr. Ann Faraday: Dream Power p.143 ff


The bear-trapper game

"The bear-trapper sucks you in and gives you the come-on, and when you are sucked in, down comes the hatchet and you stay there with a bloody nose, head, or whatever. And if you are fool enough to ram your head against the wall until you begin to bleed and be exasperated then the bear-trapper enjoys himself and the control he has over you, to render you inadequate, impotent, and he enjoys his victorious self which does a lot for his feeble self esteem"

Perls, "Gestalt Therapy Verbatim" page 53.


Why don’t you - yes but

Plot: Why dont you - yes but? is the game most commonly played in groups of all kinds, including psychotherapy groups. The following example will serve to illustrate its main characteristics:
White: My husband always insists on doing our own repairs, and he never builds anything right.?
Black: Why doesn’t he take a course in carpentry??
White: Yes but he doesn’t have time.?
Blue: Why dont you buy him some good tools??
White: Yes but he doesn’t know how to use them.?
Red: Why dont you have your building done by a carpenter??
White: Yes, but that would cost too much.?
Brown: Why dont you just accept what he does the way he does it??
White: Yes but the whole thing might fall down.?
Such an exchange is typically followed by a silence. It is eventually broken by Green, who may say something like, Thats men for you, always trying to show how efficient they are.?
[¦] a good player can stand off the others indefinitely until they all give up, whereupon White wins. In many situations she might have to handle a dozen or more solutions to engineer the crestfallen silence which signifies her victory.

Eric Berne: Games People Play? p. 101 - 102

See what you made me do - Im only trying to help you
The aim of this game is vindication.

The external psychological gain (avoidance of responsibility) is prominent [¦].

The existential position is I am blameless.?

White [¦] Perhaps all he wants at the moment is to be left alone. An intruder, such as his wife or one of his children, comes either for stroking or to ask him something like, Where can I find the long nosed pliers?? This interruption causes? his chisel, paintbrush, typewriter or soldering iron to slip, whereupon he turns on the intruder in a rage and cries See what you made me do.? […] Of course it is not the intruder but his own irritation which ˜causes the slip”, and he is only too happy when it occurs, since it gives him a lever for ejecting the visitor.?

Eric Berne: Games People Play? p 76 “ 79

More power games
Now I’ve got you, you bastard
The purpose is to set the other person up so to ˜reveal a lesser quality with the other (whether he has one or not).


The whole range from light-hearted laughing of own clumsiness, to acting from the belief, but not fact, that one is stupid; the real reason beneath the ˜stupid façade may be fear, but it surfaces as an avoidance of for example an educational offer, a promotion or the like,.

In the middle of an intelligible dialogue, both of you coherent and at the ball, suddenly you cannot think straight. If this is because of a ˜smokescreen, it means the other is consciously or subconsciously thinking on something with the purpose of hiding something else.

Lets you and him fight
Typically a feminine mating game. A woman manoeuvre two men into fighting, suggesting she will be with the winner?.
Depending on who set up the game - herself or society- and on how honest the game-rules were, she can then fulfil her bargain happily, grudgingly or even run away with a third person.

Excuse Me
Someone will instead of attempting to change offending behaviour, attempt to disarm the offended by a less than sincere apology

Double bind
Doomed if you do, doomed if you dont

Stop the flow
A suggestion is answered with a non-inviting one letter word such as ˜yes ˜no, ˜maybe etc. followed by silence


For example a therapy session is entered into with the attitude, If you dont cure me, I will ruin your career?.

Ways of avoiding and breaking power games:
1. Remember, there have to be at least two persons to play a Power game
2. Go with the resistance
3. Agree kindly with the client that you cannot help her
4. Confront the client with the Power game
5. Adjust your body to a straight, upright and balanced position
6.Change your physical position, move from your chair, move your chair, walk around in the room.
After Games What?
The sombre picture presented [in the book Games People play?, and here in excerpts], in which human life is mainly a process of filling in time until the arrival of death, or Santa Claus, with very little choice, if any, of what kind of business one is going to transact during the long wait, is a commonplace but not the final answer. For certain fortunate people there is something which transcends all classifications of behaviour, and that is awareness; something which rises above the programming of the past, and that is spontaneity; and something that is more rewarding than games, and that is intimacy. But all three of these may be frightening and even perilous to the unprepared. Perhaps they are better off as they are, seeking their solutions in popular techniques of social action, such as ˜togetherness. This may mean that there is no hope for the human race, but there is hope for individual members of it.

Eric Berne: Games People Play  p 16