We’ve all been on the receiving end of mind games, and we’ve all experienced people who like to ‘test’ us and put us through the psychological ringer. These people might be our colleagues, our friends, our family, or most commonly, our partners – but in any case it can be just as frustrating and potentially damaging. So how do you deal with it and how can you get the upper hand? Here we will look at why people play mind games, what this often entails, and how to turn it around.
Why People Play Mind Games
There are various reasons that people will play mind games, and the reason that you’re experiencing it will be to do with the individual who’s subjecting you to them, the context that’s surrounding the mind games, and your own personality. The reason a colleague plays mind games at work for instance might be very different to the reason your partner plays mind games and tests you.
The first reason that many people play mind games is undoubtedly in order to get back some control. If we can illicit a response from someone, or if we can get them to do what we want, then this can give us a great power buzz and make us feel like we are in control. If that person experiences little control in other areas of their life, then perhaps this is a way to make up for that and to regain that feeling so that they needn’t be quite so frightened. In short it’s a matter of insecurity.
This insecurity might also come with resentment. If they are feeling like they have no control of their lives, or perhaps like a failure, then it might be that they chose you specifically to take out their frustrations and this will often be because you represent what they want to be. Perhaps you exhibit confidence and success that they wish the possessed, and perhaps by playing mind games they can feel like the ‘winner’ for a change.
In relationships this can often be more complex. Here the mind games are often a form of testing in order to see how you react, to see how much control they have in the relationship, and to test their theories and concerns. Someone you are dating may for instance invite you to do one thing and then get angry when you take them up on the offer (perhaps going out with friends rather than spending time with them). The reason for this is not sheer emotional manipulation (ordinarily – though sometimes it can be used as a form of control still), but usually because they want you to demonstrate you’d rather be with them even when the choice is ‘up to you’. Likewise if someone is upset, they might not directly tell you or explain why, hoping instead that you will be sensitive enough to work those details out for yourself. This feels a lot like playing mind games, but it may not have such fiendish motivations.
Finally mind games can quite simply be a means to an end. If you want something from someone and directly asking hasn’t proved fruitful, and force is not an option, then sometimes manipulating that person can be seen as the only way to get the desired response.
How to Deal With Mind Games
The best way to deal with mind games is simply to rise above them. You should avoid trying to ‘beat them at their own game’, as doing so can actually end up with both of you getting hurt. Normally the mind games being employed are used for the simple reason that the person doing it is too afraid to confront you directly, or they know you would win the confrontation. They are using indirect and manipulative techniques, because they feel insecure, or because you are in the stronger position. Thus if you call them directly on what you suspect, and if you address the issue publicly, they will more often than not reverse course and back down and you will win.
So for instance if someone were to try and subtly undermine you in a workplace, you could try to do the same back and would end up with both of your reputations tarnished (and the fact that you were stopping to underhand methods would be a mark against you too). However if you simply told them you didn’t like what they were implying and that they should address you directly through the proper channels if they have a complaint, then you’ll find they often apologise and back down and that you end up with the better reputation.
Likewise in relationships this can work well too – simply ask directly what it is that is bothering your partner, and if there is anything you can do to help. This demonstrates sensitivity, but also means you aren’t engaging in mind games that will likely end up getting you both hurt. If they aren’t in a talking mood then the best thing to do is simply remove yourself from the situation – tell them that you have no interest in mind games and that you will talk to them when they want to speak openly and maturely.