Mind Games…

The term ‘mind games’ has emerged this week in many guises in my life. Whenever I am researching a potential character for my writing, I look around in the world to see how people operate. Usually it’s physical traits I look for, such as facial expressions or non-verbal communication, as writing these actions in gives the reader a better description and fulfills the ‘show not tell’ guidance.

However, my current character conundrum is a nasty piece of work. Appearing plausible and polite, it’s his psychological warfare that causes trouble for others. This was difficult to think about as a psychologist as, in real life, people who play ‘mind games’ are usually much more transparent than the realise.

Mind games are a kind of power dynamic. The person who feels vulnerable and threatened devises a set of psychological tricks to play on other people in order to make others feel vulnerable and insecure. These can include obvious verbal statements of power such as constant interruptions or speaking loudly over other people, but are usually more implicit. Such hidden mind games include pretending you have a skill or qualification that you do not, use of written statements that appear innocent but are tinged with drama and threat – there are many example of this in the tabloid press, obviously not listening to others or disregarding what others say, and of course, overt lying with consequent denial.

This kind of psychological behaviour can be very destructive to others (and is intended to be) and is a form of bullying; any misuse of power is discriminatory.

However, there are several different responses to this behaviour. Most people will move away from the environment of the psychologically destructive person, recognising their motives immediately. In some cases this is not possible; in a relationship or work environment, it’s not always possible to escape someone who is focused on gaining psychological power over you. Whilst moving out of the environment this be interpreted as ‘winning’ by the mind game ‘player’, it is actually optimum use of self preservation by disengagement from a destructive situation.

The interesting dynamic in this is that whilst the person who is operating in ‘mind game’ mode assumes that their actions are invisible, they are, in fact, visible to almost everyone. When some people are in the direct path of the person engaged in this behaviour, they retaliate and engage in a psychological battle and the power dynamic is unbalanced. Most of us are driven to defend ourselves against attacks as part of out fight/flight hard-wiring. The time and energy taken by both parties engaging in these psychological activities can lead to stress and even depression, as the battle, started by someone who is already insecure, is focused on belittling another person – a lose/lose situation.

The best way to deal with someone who is using ‘mind games’ is to disengage. In this case, the ‘flight’ option in the fight/flight hard-wiring is the better choice. This can be very difficult as relationships and work environments are difficult to disengage from. An aspect of personal development, featured in ‘Project: ME!’ can help with this: the knowledge that you never have to explain yourself personally.

If your experience is in the workplace, you may have to explain aspects of your job. This can be done in a professional and precise way. In a relationship you may have to explain an aspect of your relationship in terms of behaviour – this can be done clearly and calmly. You never have to explain your inner self to anyone, yet the person who is operating a ‘mind game’ is attempting to key into your thinking to gain power by affecting your psychological core and making you feel insecure. They are attempting to influence the feelings and emotions you experience, often through thinly disguised personal attack, and to influence the interpersonal and societal aspect of identity construction in order to affect the assimilation of this into your ‘personal self’ by constructing a false reality in your environment.

The crucial point here is that disengagement from the situation is often mistaken by the ‘player’ and other people who are observing, as lack of knowledge about the ‘mind games’ in operation. At this time it is immaterial, as the target is no longer a victim, and the effectiveness of the behaviour ceases.

My instinct, as a writer, is to construct the relationship between my characters in a way that allows the ‘mind games’ to remain a hidden force. This would add an air of mystery and power to the relationship dynamic. In reality, mind games are rarely invisible, despite what the person operating them thinks, and are destructive to both parties involved. It’s rare that the efforts of someone attempting to influence at this level goes unnoticed, no matter how deluded they are or how superior or clever they feel as a result of their actions; however, the response makes all the difference to the effectiveness of their actions.

I’m going to have fun writing this character!