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How Transactional Analysis Helps Your Psychology When Gambling

No matter what games you play, your psychology has a profound impact on what takes place on the casino floor.

What motivates you and what you believe about yourself and your place in the world are significant determinants in the decisions you make as you play.

That is not just true with games of skill like poker, either. In fact, your psychology can also have an influence on what happens when you play games of chance.

Of course, there is nothing you can do in terms of internal work to sway the hand of chance in your favor.

But your perception of yourself and the factors that drive you may influence the way that you manage your money and time, your likelihood of going on tilt, and even how often you cash out at a win or a loss.

One powerful tool—or set of tools—you can use to learn more about yourself is transactional analysis (TA).

In this gambling psychology guide, I will explain what transactional analysis is, go over key concepts with you, and give you some insights as to how those concepts may be at work when you play casino games.

The more you understand about yourself through TA, the more you will be empowering yourself to approach gambling in a new way with more positive outcomes.

What is Transactional Analysis?

Transactional analysis is the name of a psychoanalytic theory that dates back to the 1950s. Psychiatrist Eric Berne is its creator.

The name “transactional analysis” refers to the concept of “transactions.” Basically, this method is grounded in an exploration of how our social interactions—our “transactions”—have influenced our development, and how we continue to play out our beliefs through our interactions today.

Key Concepts in Transactional Analysis

Life Positions

The first concept important to know in transactional analysis is that each of us is operating from a basic life position. The options include:

Sometimes we’re okay, others we’re not. It’s okay.

I’m OK – You’re OK
I’m OK – You’re Not OK
I’m Not OK – You’re OK
I’m Not OK – You’re Not OK

There can be variations as well, i.e. “I’m Not OK – You’re Even More Not OK.”

This is the emotional stance from which you operate regarding yourself and others. You may or may not be totally conscious of what it is. There could also be a contradiction between what you believe it is and what it actually is.

Indeed, it is helpful to acknowledge that in general, there is often a gap between one’s “stated policy” and one’s “done policy” — how you want to behave, or would in an ideal world—and how you actually behave or respond emotionally to situations.

Observing the latter—your “done” policy, will be far more useful to you if you want to make life changes, even if you do not like everything you see.

Ego States

Next up are “ego states.” Each comprises thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. These include:

Parent: What we copied/took in from our parents or guardians growing up.
Controlling Parent: Parental thoughts/feelings/behaviours associated with molding identity or controlling thoughts, feelings, behaviours or beliefs in a child.
Nurturing Parent: Safe, supportive, nurturing, unconditional parent thoughts/feelings/behaviours.
Adult: Our responses to the present reality that are a fit for the present reality.
Child: What we experienced as children and are re-experiencing internally now.
Natural Child: The playful, open, vulnerable aspect of the child.
The Little Professor: The curious, exploring dimension of the child.
Adapted Child: The aspects of the child that alter thoughts/feelings/behaviour to try and either 1-conform, or 2-rebel.

Sometimes, the Little Professor and Natural Child are known in combination as the “Free Child.”

Most of us go through life more or less assuming in most moments that we are acting from “Adult.”

But oftentimes, we are acting from Parent or Child states, and are not aware of it.

Indeed, that might even be true the majority of the time, depending on the person.

Life Scripts

Our next important TA concept is the “life script.”

When we were born, we all entered the world helpless, utterly at the mercy of our caregivers.

Some caregivers are malevolent. Others are well-intentioned. But in either case, adverse circumstances can result, mistakes can be made, and children may find themselves without a secure base.

Regardless, your early formative experiences created a “life script” — a set of beliefs about your place in the world coupled with unconscious decisions made to survive in that world.

When you were a child, your life script was, to your unconscious mind, your best shot at survival and at making sense of your existence.

But as an adult, it can limit you in severe ways. This is particularly likely to be the case if you did have an adverse childhood.

But here’s the thing — until you are aware of your life script, it will run in the background of your mind, feeding into your every decision.

Only by identifying your life script can you change it.

Games

One more concept in TA to know for our discussion regarding gambling is that of “games people play.”

Basically, when you interact with people or make decisions, overtly, you are aiming for positive results.

But covertly, you may be trying to prove out your life script, complete with any negative beliefs that go with it.

The result is “games,” which are patterns of dysfunctional behavior.

Why would anyone do this to themselves? Well, it isn’t consciously done (usually). But remember,

your life script is tied to your sense of survival, and
it is the underlying unconscious set of beliefs you have that hold your perception of the world and your identity as they are together.

Dismantling that can feel scary. It might even feel like the end of the world. It isn’t — but it is understandable why it would seem that way when you once needed that life script to survive.

What is Your Life Position, and How Does It Impact How You Gamble?

stacked-poker-chips-online-casino-games

Ooh, gambling. Fun stuff.

Okay, now that you took my crash course in TA, let’s talk about gambling!

To start, you can take the Life Position Scale by Fredrick A. Boholst.

Ideally, you want to eventually be operating from I’m OK – You’re OK.

Such a position does not mean you necessarily are okay with all of your or other peoples’ behaviors — just that your overall attitude is one of acceptance, respect, and essential value for yourself and others as human beings.

Here are some things that might happen to you as a gambler if you believe you are fundamentally not OK:

You may underestimate your performance in games of skill.
You might forgo opportunities to leverage skills you underestimate.
You might have a tendency to overestimate your opponents at the poker table, even if you can contend with them better than you think.
You might attempt to punish yourself for success you feel you do not deserve.
You might engage in self-sabotaging behaviors to keep proving to yourself how not OK you are.

Here are some things that might happen to you as a gambler if you believe others are fundamentally not OK:

You might ignore advice from other gamblers who can help you play better.
You might have a tendency to underestimate your opponents at the poker table.
You might scorn what you see as obvious mistakes by other gamblers, even if you are making the same mistakes yourself (possibly without realizing it).
You may feel that other people have success they do not deserve, and resent that.

Again, it is very important to understand that your “stated” policy and “done” policy may differ.

For example, you might grasp intellectually the essential value of every person on the planet, including yourself.

But emotionally, you might “lag” in another Life Position. Even if you tell yourself you are OK, you might treat yourself like you are not, or feel emotionally like you are not. The same could also go for your attitude toward others.

You can change your Life Position, but to do so, you need to figure out the scripts that are telling you that you or others are not OK.

How Different Ego States Can Influence Your Gambling

Now let’s talk a little bit about ego states and gambling. The variations of how these states are experienced and are expressed are individual and endless. When we operate from different ego states than others with whom we interact, signals can get crossed and interactions can become confusing.

Gambling is an activity that is largely solitary. We do interact with other players, and with other people in our lives, in the context of gambling. But mostly, we interact with ourselves.

But let’s take an example of a gambler we’ll call Jeff. Jeff is actually just getting into gambling, having had a long sublimated interest in it. He loves probabilities and math, finds casino games fascinating, and is excited by his new hobby. But he was brought up by parents who disapproved of gambling.

Jeff is married to Lisa, whose father was a problem gambler, and whose mother tried to keep the household in order. When Lisa finds out Jeff is getting into gambling, she is concerned. An interaction could unfold like this:

Jeff (Natural Child): “I had such a fun time gambling online today!”
Lisa (Adult): “That’s great. What is the appeal?” (asked from a place of genuine interest)
Jeff (Little Professor, inwardly): Why is she asking this question? Maybe she disapproves. Perhaps we should alter our behaviour.
Jeff (Adapted Child – conforming): “Eh, it isn’t that great. Never mind.”
Jeff (Controlling Parent – directly inward): You know what? Shame on me. Gambling is stupid. What was I thinking?

At this point, Jeff terminates the conversation, represses his interest in gambling again, and avoids it for months.

Here is another way the interaction could go:

Jeff (Natural Child): “I had such a fun time gambling online today!”
Lisa (Adult): “That’s great. What is the appeal?” (asked from a place of genuine interest)
Jeff (Little Professor, inwardly): Why is she asking this question? Maybe she disapproves. Perhaps we should alter our behaviour.
Jeff (Adapted Child – rebelling): “Why are you interrogating me? It’s just something I enjoy, okay?”
Lisa (hurt Natural child, inwardly): Why is he attacking me? My father used to behave like this. Now I feel scared.
Lisa (Controlling Parent, mimicking her mother): “You enjoy throwing away your hard-earned money? Shame on you.”

At that point, perhaps Jeff again terminates the conversation, represses his interest in gambling, and avoids playing.

Or, maybe he thinks, “I’ll show her,” and goes back to the casino, goes on tilt, and promptly blows his bankroll.

While these are just a couple of examples, they should give you a general understanding of how ego states can affect us.

Think how differently things might have gone for Lisa and Jeff if they had both managed to stay in their Adult states in partnership with their Natural Child states, rather than falling into Adapted Child and Controlling Parent states.

Realistically, we are all going to hear from our Controlling Parents and Adapted Children pretty often.

But if we get to recognizing when we are experiencing life through these lenses, we can critically examine what those voices in our heads are telling us, and whether we want to act from those states or not.

In fact, hopefully Jeff will think back on the interaction with Lisa, and realize, “Wait a second—maybe Lisa wasn’t interrogating me. And even if she was, what does that really have to do with me? She could have been reliving memories of her father’s gambling problem. That isn’t me, I enjoy this hobby, and I am OK as I am. I will continue playing. I will tell Lisa this, and hopefully she will understand. But I can’t control how she sees me.”

What Life Script Are You Trying to “Prove?”

We all get our own script, it’s up to you to decide what to do with yours!

Moving onto the next concept in transactional analysis, let’s talk about life scripts, and how they might play out through your gambling decisions.

Eric Berne wrote, “From earliest months, the child is taught not only what to do, but also what to see, hear, touch, think, and feel….each person obediently ends up at the age of five or six with a script of life plan largely dictated by his parents. It tells him how he’s going to carry on his life, and how it’s going to end, winner, non-winner, or loser.”

Scripts are based on the messages we receive as young children from watching family members, by being told directly what we are or are like, by being encouraged in certain directions, and by receiving “injunctions” against doing, feeling, thinking, or being certain things.

Let’s imagine two hypothetical gamblers who are siblings, Susan and Dave. Susan and Dave were brought up by parents who pitted them against each other and treated them very differently:

Susan was raised as the golden child, frequently praised and spoiled. Susan seemingly could do no wrong in her parents’ eyes.

Dave was raised as the black sheep, the whipping boy of the family, rarely praised, and often punished. He could seemingly do no right in his parents’ eyes. Sometimes, it was faster, easier, and less painful when he noticed them getting angry to goad them into exploding than to wait for the hammer to fall.

Dave and Susan actually would have received some similar injunctions, as one of Susan’s would have been “Don’t be like Dave.” Nevertheless, Susan probably was allowed to do things Dave was not. Indeed, Dave may have been the one punished for Susan’s infractions.

In any case, Dave would certainly have ingrained a script that included being a loser. Susan’s might have involved being a winner or a non-winner.

Let’s imagine that the succinct versions of their scripts are:

Dave: You are unworthy of love, happiness, or success. Destroy yourself.
Susan: You are not safe. But you’ll probably skate by anyway. Get away with things.

Do not forget that neither Dave nor Susan are necessarily aware of their life scripts. Dave may not think of himself as a self-destructive person at all. And Susan may feel quite anxious all the time, and perhaps even concerned about failure or consequences.

Now, picture Dave and Susan head to a casino together and both decide to play slots. They may be standing right next to each other, playing identical machines, both subject to the same probabilities. They may even have the same starting bankrolls. But what do you expect to happen?

Assuming the two make identical decisions (they likely will not), any difference in outcomes will be entirely random. And if the two played for a very long time (i.e. many, many thousands of spins), we would expect them to show similar losses.

As it is, they probably are going to treat the activity very differently. They have different unconscious directives, after all. Susan’s is to skate by. Dave’s is to annihilate himself.

Here is how things might unfold for Susan that night:

Susan starts taking spins at the slot machine. She has some wins and some losses. She feels tense through the experience, and she is worried about losing, but under it is a thrill of anticipation.

She fully expects Dave to blow his bankroll, and she wonders if she should really be doing the same activity he is—but experience has taught her that unlike him, she’ll probably be okay.

At one point, she has significant drawdown, but then she gets most of the money back. She is now right around breakeven.

“Phew,” she thinks. “You know what? I had a fun time, and I climbed back from those scary losses. Good for me. I think I’m outta here!”

She cashes out and calls it a night, pleased she “got away with” the risky activity she undertook.

Good job, Susan! You executed your life script. It wasn’t a guarantee, but it all worked out.

Like Susan, Dave has wins and he has losses. Let’s say he also has significant drawdown at one point.

Because Dave has a different life script than Susan, he reacts to the situation differently.

Whereas Susan felt nervous when she was experiencing drawdown, but still excited and hopeful for a positive or at least neutral outcome, Dave has a familiar sense of impending doom.

Let’s imagine that Dave also manages to climb back almost to breakeven. But when he gets there, his emotional state is very different than his sister’s.

By that point, Susan already felt like she had gotten away with something, and was content with that outcome. So, she cashed out.

Dave, on the other hand, has been getting increasingly dysregulated.

He feels desperate to cash out at a win, and finally prove that he can come out ahead of his sister.

Consciously, that may be the reason why he decides to keep playing at this point.

But he doesn’t have any confidence but this will be the case. Moreover, on an unconscious level, he feels sure he will lose everything, and might as well get it over with—just as he had to as a kid.

By now, he is in a state of full-on tilt. He suddenly increases his stakes significantly. A few more spins and a short dry spell later, he manages to bust out completely.

He thinks to himself, “Of course—Susan gets away with everything. But me? I’m worthless. Just look what happened. And I did it to myself. I’m no good! But hey—if I hadn’t done it myself, I’d probably have lost it all anyway.”

Congratulations, Dave! You also executed your life script. You think you proved to yourself that you deserve to fail and be miserable.

Moreover, Susan will also compare her experiences to Dave’s afterwards, and they will serve as further reinforcement of her own script. She’ll “know” she can get away with things other people can’t.

How Could Things Have Gone Differently?

Between these two life script, Dave’s is far more destructive than Susan’s. Although Susan does tend to believe she can “get away with things” and is something of an “exception” to the rules that bind others, she is just anxious enough from observing Dave’s misfortunes that she doesn’t fall into a trap of hubris.

Nonetheless, Susan’s life script does have her living in a fearful way. If she became aware of her script, she might decide to behave differently.

In this example, when she reached breakeven, she might have realized that the only reason she was thinking about quitting at that point was because she was scared of pushing her luck and not fulfilling her script.

Aware of that, she might decide:

It will not be the end of the world in this situation if she comes out at a loss (i.e. does not “get away with it”).
If she does come out at a small loss, breakeven, or a win, while Dave loses, it is not because he is Dave and she is Susan (in other words, she is not inherently exceptional or special). It is because Dave is going to screw up his money management plan to fulfil his own script.
If she keeps playing, there is a chance she will actually win.
She would like to take that chance, rather than denying herself that chance.
Either way, she is having fun, and does not want to deny herself the opportunity to extend that fun for longer, even if it means losing.
Even if she does lose big, she will still be Susan, not Dave. She also will not have lost by following his destructive life-script, just by bad luck after making a reasoned decision.
The good time she will have is a win that random chance cannot rob her of, even if she does lose her bankroll. This is what makes her decision to keep playing a constructive, well-reasoned one.

Thus, she can break out of the limitations of her script.

Dave’s situation is much thornier. His script doesn’t just make him a non-winner—it produces severe, emotionally destabilizing losses.

For Dave’s script to lose its power, two things must happen:

Dave needs to know what his script is.
Dave needs to shift his Life Position to realizing he is OK, thus removing the poor self-esteem that torments him.

If Dave can do this, here is how his situation might unfold differently:

As Dave experiences drawdown while playing, he doesn’t take it personally. He knows it is just random chance, not losses he is suffering because he is Dave.
Because he doesn’t believe the universe is punishing him, he is less dysregulated emotionally, and able to think more clearly.
Arriving near breakeven, he doesn’t feel an overt need to prove he is better than his sister. He is already OK as he is, and so is she.
He also does not feel a sense of certain doom, that he “is bound to lose and should just get it over with.”
That means Dave does not have a covert need to destroy himself.
Dave is now free to decide whether or not to keep playing based on whether he is having fun and/or wants to take a chance at coming out ahead.
Dave will likely not alter his money management plan since he has no motivation now to do so. He will keep staking the same amount, and won’t abruptly blow his bankroll with a few large bets.

Maybe Dave breaks even, maybe he leaves with a win, or maybe he leaves with a loss.

In some respects, it is immaterial, because whatever happens, he will know the following:

He is Dave, intrinsically worthy of love and happiness.
A loss resulting from random chance isn’t personal, and won’t change that.
A win resulting from random chance isn’t personal, and won’t change that.

So, Dave, like Susan, will have a good time gambling. Moreover, he will play responsibly, and will get the most out of his bankroll, whether or not he cashes out with a win. If he gambles regularly, he won’t make a routine of self-sabotage and avoidable devastating losses.

In short, even when you are playing games based purely on random luck, there can be patterns of outcomes that are not random. The decisions you make—choosing which games to play, deciding on your stake sizes, determining when to cash out or not—are driven by your script.

You cannot make decisions that control the outcomes of spins to produce wins or losses, but you can make decisions that open the doors of possibility—or shut them.

What TA Games Do You Play When Gambling?

Let’s talk about one more TA concept in the context of gambling: the “games people play.”

There are many recognized “games” that are common, but we’ll go over a few examples.

Wooden Leg

Pirate walks into a shrink’s office with a steering wheel attached to his pants. He says, “Yargh, this thing is drivin’ me nuts!”

This game involves leaning on a “wooden leg” as an excuse for failure. The “wooden leg” could be a real and present handicap, or it could be one the person imagines they have but do not really. It could also be one they invented whole-cloth, consciously or otherwise.

Let’s say Billy wants to become a professional poker player. He also happens to have an anxiety disorder.

Billy’s anxiety disorder is real, and does make it hard for him to take risks.

He doesn’t get very far in his goal to become a professional poker player, but he consoles himself it is not his fault.

After all, can one expect a person with a wooden leg to run, jump or dance? Can one expect a person with anxiety to excel as a professional poker player?

Nevertheless, people with wooden legs have learned to dance, and people with anxiety disorders can become professional poker players.

This is not to say that sometimes physical or psychological barriers are not sometimes insurmountable. But if a game of “Wooden Leg” is going on, that is not the issue.

It is not that Billy’s challenges are not real or daunting—it is just that they are not the ultimate reason for his failure.

But he can conveniently avoid confronting the ultimate reasons if he hides behind his “wooden leg.”

The good news is that if Billy notices he is playing this game, he can inquire into the real reasons he is not moving forward.

Maybe he is lacking sufficient motivation to tackle the challenges imposed by his anxiety (in other words, he is being lazy—that is not a “bad” thing, necessarily—perhaps another line of work will suit Billy better).

Or perhaps he is playing out a life script that ends in failure, and does not realize it. Once he does, he may change his behavior and finally make progress toward his goal.

This game is all about removing attention from one’s failings. The person who plays this game feels not OK in terms of Life Position, but mitigates their feelings by telling themselves that others are “even less OK.”

So, let’s talk about Billy again. Along with the game described above, this might be another one he uses to avoid confronting the real reasons he is not succeeding with his goals.

Every time he starts to think about his own failings, he immediately redirects his attention to somebody else’s.

He may, for example, spend a lot of time on poker forums where he can get to know other players who likewise are trying to become successful, and who may also be struggling.

He identifies a few members who are having an even harder go at it than he is, and who may seem to be doing even less work to overcome their obstacles.

That way, he can say things to himself like, “It could be worse. At least I don’t have John’s gambling addiction problem,” or, “Jill is always throwing it away on the worst hands, and then she wonders why she loses,” or “If Rhonda would just work harder, she’d do so much better.”

Compared to these people, he feels OK both with himself and with his lack of progress—at least on the surface. But so long as that is in order, he can maintain his status quo.

This game is similar to “Wooden Leg,” but replace a mental or physical handicap with a lack of resources.

Again, the lack of resources may be a real hurdle—but in the case of the game, it is being used as an excuse to cloak another issue.

So, let’s discuss how this might be a game Billy would play.

Maybe Billy got into wanting to play poker for a living in part because he does not earn a lot of money at his day job and is looking for an additional source of income.

As a result, he does not have much money to invest into learning how to play or improving his performance.

He wants to take a class, but has not managed to save up the money for it. He wants to use a particular software suite for tracking his play, but cannot afford it.

He tells himself, therefore, that if he only had these things, he would be doing a lot better. Thus, if he is not succeeding, it is to be expected given his lack of resources.

In telling himself this, he conveniently ignores the fact that others with similarly few resources or even fewer than he has have managed to succeed.

He also could neglect stopgap solutions like using a less expensive program or even a free one, or asking a friend who plays well for help for free.

What he should be asking himself is, “What is stopping me from pursuing these other solutions? What is really holding me back?”

What Would You Do Without Me?

It is also possible Billy is or has been involved with social games that have not helped him.

Let us imagine that Billy has a view of himself as being highly incompetent. He is plagued by self-doubt in all that he does.

Perhaps when Billy was young, his mother regularly set him up for loss in a game called “What Would You Do Without Me?”

For instance, say that Billy got his learner’s permit, but his mother finds excuses for him not to drive when they need to go places (she drives instead). On the rare occasion he does drive with her in the car, she makes sure to constantly tell him what to do in order to prevent even the smallest mistakes.

Billy avoids driving on his own, because he knows he lacks experience, but then one day his mother demands he drive somewhere by himself on an errand. He does so, gets lost, panics, and makes a mistake, resulting in a ticket.

When he gets home and tells his mother, she scolds him for his incompetence, and says, “What would you do without me?”

As onlookers, we can see how Billy’s mother engineered this situation, consciously or otherwise, setting Billy up to fail—but Billy himself may scarcely be aware of this (if at all). And even if he is, it does not remove his sense of shame or helplessness—or the feeling he just cannot thrive independently.

Should we be surprised if Billy struggles today to learn new things, or that he gets anxious when taking risks?

Worse, he might still be getting this kind of reinforcement. Imagine Billy grows up to marry Denise. When they met, Billy was down on his luck, and Denise gave him a place to live.

Denise helps Billy feel safe (at first), so he falls for her. But alas, as a classic rescuer who derives her sense of self-esteem and value from helping those who cannot seem to help themselves, she is always up for a round of, “What would you do without me?” Billy falls into it all too easily.

Maybe Denise usually cooks dinner, and tends to hover and “fix” Billy’s recipes when he cooks, sometimes without even informing him when she adds spices. But on a day where he has to cook by himself for visiting guests, the outcome is tragic—and Denise reminds him, “What would you do without me?”

So, now think of Billy trying to learn to be a professional poker player. He has no mentor, nobody to hold his hand.

Given his disposition and the games he falls into, this may actually be a good thing in some respects.

But think how low his opinion is of himself. His life is stacked with “evidence” that he cannot handle what he takes on.

Should we be surprised that Billy may resist moving forward? He expects to blow it, like has with “everything else.”

Unfortunately, even the smallest mishap may persuade him that he is on the road to disaster.

But if Billy figures out what has been happening over all these years, and realizes that he was set up for failure and never given space to properly learn, he may realize that nobody is doing that to him now.

With nobody actively working to “rescue” him from small mistakes, he can actually make those mistakes unobstructed, learn from them, and improve his game.

He will develop self-reliance and a skill he can be proud of. He won’t have to worry anymore about what-he-will-do-without-so-and-so’s “help.”

He will just need to have confidence in that process, and in himself.

Why Don’t You/Yes, But…

Given what we know of Billy’s disposition, he also seems likely to fall into a social game called, “Why Don’t You/Yes, But …”

It can also be called “Yes, But …/I’m Only Trying to Help!”

This game has two players. Here is an example:

Billy: “I cannot afford to pay for this expensive poker class.”
Denise: “You could join the local poker club and learn that way.”
Billy: “Yeah, but what if nobody there is competent, and I don’t get the education I am looking for?”
Denise: “You could learn what not to do then.”
Billy: “Yeah, but I could also pick up bad habits.”
Denise: “Argh, I am only trying to help.”

Here is another example:

Billy: “I am too anxious to play poker.”
Denise: “It will be fine. If you don’t risk more than $X tonight, even if you blow the cash, we can pay our bills.”
Billy: “Yes, but what if something goes wrong and we have an emergency?”
Denise: “That’s really unlikely.”
Billy: “Yeah, but it is possible.”
Denise: “Why don’t you get therapy for your anxiety? It might help.”
Billy: “Yeah, but the world is still really scary, and therapy is not going to change that.”
Denise: “Why do you keep shooting me down? I am just trying to help you, here.”
Billy: “Why don’t you get why I’m having a hard time?”

You can see what is going on in these examples. In both of them, Billy has come up with excuses not to press forward with his plans. Denise proposes solutions, which he rejects out of hand.

Really, Billy felt when he made his initial complaint that his problem was insurmountable. He was never likely to seriously consider Denise’s suggestions.

What would motivate him to do this? Here are a couple of possibilities:

Maybe he wasn’t looking for solutions, just to vent. If this is the case, playing this game was unintentional and he can avoid circular discussions in the future by prefacing with this to prevent Denise’s rescue attempts (or he can avoid initiating completely, if that does not work).

Perhaps he finds Denise’s “I always have a solution, and you are incompetent!” mindset belittling and annoying. Thus, finding a problem Denise cannot solve gives him a fleeting sense of being on a level playing field. This is intentional game-playing.

Maybe was looking for solutions, but did not stop to consider that he already knows he won’t be satisfied with any Denise has to offer. He should avoid initiating, as this would be another unintentional game.

Similar to the above, he might have been seeking reassurances or validation in the face of his anxieties. But Denise doesn’t have any to give. Asking for them is a waste of time.

In the scenarios we gave, Denise was not the initiating player, but she lets herself get sucked in. If she doesn’t want to play, she can try simply asking Billy his plans to deal with his problem, or simply agree with him that these challenges are difficult.

Here is another scenario that could happen:

Billy stops initiating.

Denise misses the game. She needs to see Billy as incompetent and “one down” in order to feel useful.

Denise, out of the blue one day, might try to offer unsolicited suggestions without Billy prompting her at all. Alternately, she might simply say out of nowhere, “Why don’t you ask me for my help anymore?” Or, “You never ask for help!”

In any case, Billy is not going to benefit from engaging with Denise about problems she cannot solve. He will only distract himself from what he needs to do.

His best moves are

to solve a problem on his own if he can,
to ask someone whose solutions are likely to satisfy him, and/or
to live with an uncomfortable situation until he can find a solution that suits him. He will also want to
ask himself if the problems are really unsolvable, or if he is also playing another game, i.e. Threadbare or Wooden Leg.

Conclusion: Using TA, You Can Empower Yourself Toward Positive Outcomes While Gambling

We have now provided a primer on the basic concepts of transactional analysis (TA), together with some examples.

To summarize, here is what we learned:

Most of us are going through life with unconscious life scripts that drive our behaviors.
We often operate from ego states that are not Adult or Natural Child without realizing it.
Our life scripts, Life Positions, injunctions, and games are all things we picked up in childhood.
Until we become aware of our life scripts, they limit our behaviors, thoughts, feelings, and choices.
Life scripts can lead gamblers into self-sabotaging cycles. Some may be subtle, while others may be dramatic.
We might deny ourselves opportunities or rob ourselves of winnings based on these unconscious drives.
We “prove” our life scripts to ourselves with our actions, reinforcing them.
Other people find ways to reinforce our life scripts as well (and we do the same with theirs), often through games.
Life scripts are made, not born. That means that once we go through the hard work of identifying them, we can change them.
In flipping our scripts, we can open the doors to more opportunities to win, and stop setting ourselves up to lose. In short, even though chance will always be at play, we at least can give ourselves our best chance at success.

Gambling, like life, is full of risk and uncertainty. There are winners and losers. A lot of what happens is outside of our control.

But whether you are playing a game of skill like poker or a game of chance like slots, there is a lot that is in our control—or can be.

But first, we have to take control of ourselves, and that means taking a look at our hidden beliefs, imperatives, and motivations.

You may not be able to compel Lady Luck to make you win. But you can at least stop making yourself lose.

Once you do, your bankroll will go further, and you may be surprised by the doors that open to you on the casino floor and off of it.

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