addictive behaviors relationships

Lets play games. Part I

If you ever knew someone struggling with addiction you will recognize this interaction immediately. Family members who are not addicted fall in the trap all the time without realizing it. Addicts often play the “the help rejecting complainer” game a.k.a the “why don’t you/ yes, but” game based on Eric Berne’s Games People Play. Let’s call the addict the complainer and the family member the helper. The transaction goes pretty much like this:

Complainer: I wish my life was better, I wish I didn’t have to depend on alcohol.

Helper: Why don’t you quit drinking?

Complainer: yes, but it’s not easy, I’ve been drinking for a long time

Helper: why don’t you get some help?

Complainer: yes but, I can’t afford therapy

Helper: why don’t you go to AA, it’s free?

Complainer: yes, but I can’t find a group in my area at a convenient time

Helper: why don’t you avoid going to bars?

Complainer: yes, but alcohol is everywhere, my roommate drinks too

Helper: why don’t you move out?

Complainer: yes, but this place is the only one I can afford

…this could go on indefinitely. Eventually the helper runs out of ideas and the complainer has a reason for why he/she can’t do anything to help him/her get what she wants. The complainer wins this game by demonstrating that the task is impossible and he/she should give up. It’s a hard life after all and quitting drinking is an impossible task. The helper is left feeling frustrated and resentful. The helper may go on to play a different game called “I was only trying to help” which can contribute to helper’s burnout and ultimately adopting the role of an enabler for the addict.

This game plays out similarly with other issues like losing weight, having more friends, dating more, having a better job, essentially anything that involves change. The best way to stop the game cycle is to stop trying to save the addicted person. It is not up to you. You are willing to listen but establish a rule: they are not allowed to complain about how bad things are unless they do something about it (or try to).

In a clinical setting, group therapy is ideal to challenge a help rejecting complainer. Families often times can serve as a group of people who lovingly but firmly and directly point out the complainer’s pattern of playing this game while also refusing to participate in it.

5 comments on “Lets play games. Part I

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