For those of you not up to date on your "American", head games is a term commonly used in the US to describe a variety of mental and emotional manipulations. It's not easily "defined" .. if you look it up on the web you'll get something similar to: "delusion: the act of deluding; deception by creating illusory ideas". Personally, head games are more to me than that. They are a way of manipulating and controlling a person or a situation to ensure the best possible outcome for the person performing the "head games".
Wow, where to start with this? I've experienced more than my fair share of head games; especially at the hands of my ex-husband. He was quite the expert, continuously reminding me that I wouldn't be anywhere in life without him, that I was no longer a "person" but a "mother" and a "wife", and let's not forget reminding me that with my health conditions and my "mediocre" looks I'd never find anyone "better than him" to take care of me. The good news is that I'm no longer with this .... him and I'm well on my way to healing the damage he inflicted on my soul (the heart was the easy part to heal). I no longer believe the things about myself he insisted were true and know that I'm a strong, inspirational, compassionate and beautiful woman. Self appreciation at it's best right there, kittens.
Another fortunate thing about my 9 year stint with continuous head games was that I finally learned to recognize them and remove myself from the situation. The first part was far easier than the second part at times, but I'm here to help you through the whole thing. Well, maybe it'll help, maybe it won't.. but I can at the very least offer you my thoughts on it and how I handle it.
The first thing you need to learn is how to recognize "head games". Sometimes it's really obvious when someone is playing head games with you. They outright manipulate you, spread rumors about you, or tell you things that you know aren't true. They do this with the intent of getting you to either agree to "be on their side" or to do something they want you to do. However, those who are really good at head games play them without anyone realizing it.. and you suddenly find yourself either doing things that aren't in character for you or alienating yourself from people you would normally want in your life. Of course, there are hundreds of other outcomes, it just depends on what the person is trying to get out of the situation. Remember, head games are NOT about you ... they are about the person playing them.
Below you'll find several of the head game techniques I've come across in my dealings, and the examples I'm providing are ones that have happened to me personally. Yes, they are "significant other" focused, but remember, these games can be played by significant others, parents, siblings, friends, children -- basically anyone. I'm not saying that every time a situation arises that fits one of these categories that someone is automatically trying to manipulate you. It's all about recognizing the pattern when it's happening.
The Guilt Trip.
One of the most "beloved" head games out there is the good old fashion guilt trip; this is one of the many aspects of Passive/Aggressive -- but I think I'll cover that particular topic at another time. I'm sure we're all familiar with how it goes.
Me: "Do you have anything significant planned tonight?"
Him: "Not really, why?"
Me" "I was invited to an early dinner with a couple of friends from work. I think I'll go, I should be home around 7"
Him: "wow.. um ok. Go out with your girlfriends, it's not like I had a surprise planned or anything. I guess I'll just sit at home alone and wait for you to get home. Have fun" Of course, all of this is said with the woe is me Eeyore mentality and you suddenly start second guessing yourself.
Me: "You said you didn't have anything planned"
Him: "Well, I didn't want to give it away, but I guess it doesn't matter now.. go out and have fun, I guess I'll just make a sandwich or something, or maybe I'll just skip dinner tonight."
Sound familiar? Notice the start of the conversation, nothing was planned, and as soon as I said I was going to go out with someone else, it suddenly evolved into "I had something special planned" and suddenly he's not going to eat at all. I'm suddenly in a lose/lose situation - if I go out, he's pouting at home and not eating.. and will certainly tell me all about his boredom and lack of food when I get home. If I stay home, I disappoint my friends (and myself) and we would most likely end up not doing anything at all because "our fight put him in a bad mood." I don't remember a fight, do you?
Back Handed Compliments or Outright Insults
It's hard to feel good about yourself when you're constantly being put down, especially by someone who is supposed to love you. Outright insults are one thing -- they are pretty easy to spot and usually make you feel pretty crappy about yourself right out of the gate. Although keep in mind they may be said "in jest" .. that doesn't mean the person doesn't think it's true.
Him: "Wow, you really suck at this whole cooking thing, don't you?"
Me: "What? It's spaghetti .. and I thought it was pretty good"
Him: "Oh you know I'm just kidding ... you'd better get the kitchen cleaned up before people start thinking you're a slob .. hahahahah"
A three sentence conversation, and I'm pretty much convinced I have no place in the kitchen. Now, remember kittens...it's about pattern recognition - this wasn't a one time thing -- these types of conversations happened on a regular basis.
Back handed compliments are a little harder to recognize and much more effective sometimes. Someone compliments you on something, but marries it together with something that you've done poorly. It works for actions and appearance and just about everything else. I'm going to give two examples, one that's a little more obvious .. and the other that's a lesser recognized form of backhanded compliment.
Me: "I think I'll color and straighten my hair today, I need something different"
Him" "Good idea, it's looking a little dull I'm sure you'll look wonderful " (this, by the way is an appropriate answer and a nice compliment)
Me ... several hours later: "All done, what do you think?"
Him: "I like it, it makes you look older and it's much easier to look at than all those ridiculous curls"
So, as you see above, it's "almost" a compliment.. .he likes the hair - and the older comment was actually taken as a compliment. However, the comment about the "ridiculous curls" is a hidden insult; showing how much he dislikes something about me. (remember, I have naturally curly hair).
Here's a less obvious example of a back-handed compliment
Me: "I got a promotion at work! I'll be the executive administrative assistant to the Vice President!"
Him" "Congratulations, it's about time the recognized your talents" (again, genuine compliment there)
Me: "Yea, I'm so excited"
Him" "I'm happy for you. Glad I'm here to show you what you're capable of"
Not as obvious, but the intent of the sentence was to remind me that I wouldn't have been able to get the job if he didn't tell me I was good enough for it. One of the "backhanded" compliments I dealt with a lot was the "I helped you get to where you are". Um...NO you didn't... I did, thank you very much; I don't remember you being at the office doing my work for me.
Over the top praise / Well timed compliments
Ohhh the over the top praise thing. Other wise known as "false" praise. It's a way for someone to get what they want out of you by making you feel really good about yourself. PLEASE don't get this confused with actual praise from people that love and respect you. We should be able to get compliments from people without them expecting something in return. The pattern recognition comes into play when you realize that the ONLY time you get praise or compliments is right before something is asked of you - or when they tell you something that is wrong about you.
Him: "Wow the house looks great today, you must have worked really hard to make sure everything is clean"
Me: "Thanks,yea it took some time, but I finally got everything done."
Him: "Next time, don't forget about the bathroom floor, it's still sticky from all that hairspray you insist on using"
What happened here is obvious.. good job.. but NOT quite good enough.
Him: "Have I told you lately that you're amazing? You always understand me, and I really appreciate everything you do for me. I'm so lucky to have you in my life. You're the best thing that's ever happened to me."
Me (blushing of course): "awww thank you so much"
Him: "I have to cancel our plans to go to the zoo on Saturday. Steve is going to take me off-roading. I know you understand because you're amazing like that, you always know when I need to go off and be a guy. You're so perfect"
Overkill much? With all those compliments in one conversation, if I were to argue with him canceling our plans to go out with his friend, I'd look like a total bitch. Manipulation at it's best.
OK, I know that was a lot to ingest; and you're wondering what to do now. Like I said several times, if something like any of the above happens to you once in a while.. try not to put too much into it. We are ALL guilty of being on the giving end of something like this when we don't really mean it. Keep an eye out, though, if it starts to become a pattern - and most of the conversations you have with someone end up with you being manipulated, it's time for you to step back and re-evaluation the relationship.
Sometimes, you can talk to the other person and tell them what you're feeling. "Hey, I realized that the only time you ever really compliment me is when you want something. That makes me feel pretty bad about myself, like I'm only good enough for you when you want something." Or "remember that night I decided to not to go out because you said you planned something special? Did you really just want me to stay home that night?" Hopefully the person you're having the conversation with is mature enough to recognize the issue and will take steps to stop doing these things. If not -- then it's time for you to remove yourself from the relationship -- or at least distance yourself a bit. It's not always easy, and sometimes not possible to remove yourself completely -- but it's important to remember that nobody can hurt you unless you give them permission to. By allowing these types of scenarios to happen over and over; you are allowing someone else to manipulate you. Find some friends, talk to them, get their support and walk away as much as you can.
Here is my personal challenge to you: take a step inward and search yourself. Do you use head games? Sometimes? With any specific person? All the time? I'll be 100% honest with you, I have found myself doing it at times. I've realized that I'm pulling a guilt trip on someone .. or being passive/aggressive, or one of the other things I've talked about here. When that happens I STOP, look inward and try to understand why I did it. Was it because I didn't want to hurt their feelings so I took an alternative approach? If that's the case, I need to buck up and have a grown up conversation with them..not resort to games because it's "easier" for me. Is it because I don't like the person and want them to go away? See answer above. Is it because I don't respect them for some reason -- then there's a real issue and I need to re-evaluate the relationship as a whole.
So, I know this has been incredibly long and a whole lot to take in. I hope I haven't babbled too much about myself and my horrible 2nd marriage. Above everything else, I hope you got something out of it; and that you're able to improve your self and increase your personal happiness because of it. Much Love, Kittens!
Be at peace with yourself and you'll be at peace with the world