The Mystery Questions

Ronnie O'SullivanThis article deals with the Game most of us play, using the framework of Transactional Analysis. I made the stuff as simple as possible, without losing the essential.

If you wonder, the guy in the image is Ronnie O’Sullivan, snooker world champion and widely regarded as the most accomplished player of our days. Take a look at his eyes, at his focus while weighting the possibilities and opportunities on the billiard table before him. When you play your own games, you’re just like him, but on an inner psychological level, typically not seen by others.

Take a piece of paper and answer to the following questions:
1. What keeps happening to me, over and over again?
2. How does it start?
3. What happens next?
4. …
5. And then?
6. …
7. How does it end?
8. How do I feel?
9. How do I think the other person feels?

As you can see, there are 2 absent questions. They are the mystery questions and the answers are given at the psychological level. It would be disturbing for you to be asked directly, so I will write some info about the games we play and then give the two questions at the bottom of the article.

The idea of the games we play with other people belongs to Eric Berne. Typically, the games are repetitive and happen without our awareness. They are played to avoid intimacy/love, mostly out of fear. There is always a moment of confusion or surprise during each game and you always experience painful feelings at the end.

You can’t play your game with everyone; you need to find a scenario compatible with your own scenario. Some people are too healthy to engage in games with you, others play a different type of game. You are attracted to those who might be potential co-players, while others go by you unnoticed. Good examples are good guys (victims) who are attracted by predator women (persecutors) but not by good girls. The reason is either because good girls are too healthy and don’t need to get in a relationship (game) with a victim, or because good girls are victims themselves and need a predator to abuse them and not another victim who won’t play well their part in their respective game.

There are several types of games, but in this article I cover the 3rd degree games or the hard games, those that overlap with the personal script and help the gamer to end up in hospital, tribunal or morgue.

Typically, a game follows this formula:
Con + Gimmick = Response > Switch > Confusion > Payoff

Con is the bait/trick used to lure a possible co-player, a secret message that includes a statement about the script of the player (“I’m a persecutor/victim/rescuer”). The Gimmick is what makes the other accept to play the game (a compatible statement from his own life-script, something like “I’m a professional victim for the persecutor I see in you”). These two are at an unconscious level, non-verbal at best. The Response is what we see consciously: a series of social transactions aimed at making sure that the players can play well the game together. At the surface, it seems like an exchange of information. At an inner level, the players check and cross-check each other to make sure the Con and Gimmick were real. The Switch happens when one player changes his role, the Confusion is what follows, and the Payoff is the amount of negative emotions at the end of the game.

Who are the players? Very basically, the players are the Persecutor, the Rescuer and the Victim. In reality, they are many more, but I try to keep everything simple. The Persecutor and the Rescuer see the others as not-OK, but the first puts others down from a baseline position while the second helps them from a superior position. It is sick to abuse people and it is also sick to help people while selling the idea that they are not okay and can’t find solutions by themselves. The Victim sees both him/her-self and the others as not-OK, and seeks a Persecutor who will confirm his/her “victim”-status or a Rescuer who will confirm his/her “cannot-cope-on-my-own”-status. By this, the Victim is also a sick gamer, not someone worthy of genuine care.

Any relationship may be a game. As long as the players stay in Response, everything is fine. This can take years. But in a game, at some point, one of the players makes the Switch… Something is no more as it should be… It’s either an attitude or a dispute and it feels like the magic is broken… This is the moment of Confusion, when the other player or both players become aware it was a game… It is as if something unexplainable rises from the unconscious. In fact, the other has just shown their own cards and the game is over. Obviously, the bereavement of the relationship follows quickly, this being the Payoff or the aim of the entire game. The negative emotions are collected as Stamps (in Berne’s own words) and will be used to justify to oneself the validity of the personal script. For instance, if your script says you’re going to commit suicide because of your depression, any sad feeling is collected as a stamp, and when you have enough stamps you can cash them for a suicidal attempt. Alternatively, you can cash only a couple of stamps for a hospitalization for severe depression. Either way, the more games you play, the more stamps you’ll get.

It’s time to give you the mystery questions so as to have the entire game plan:
4. What is my secret message to the other person?
6. What is the other person’s secret message to me?

So, what’s the idea? Question 1 highlights the repetitiveness of the games. The mystery questions are the messages of the compatible transaction at the inner psychological level (Con & Gimmick). Ask yourself if you didn’t hear the answers to the mystery questions at some point in you childhood? They could be either statements coming from your parents towards you or your own statements directed at your parents? Do the replies to question 4 and 6 seem familiar to you? They usually do. The answers to question 8 are your painful feelings for which you collect stamps. Peculiar enough, the feelings at question 9 are also your feelings and you collect stamps from them as well (you made someone suffer, you have empathy, you feel guilty, you collect stamps).

Chances are you played the game already several times in your life. The stamps you collected helped you advance your own life script already. If you have been disappointed by your relationships, the more you play, the more disappointed you have become. And now you have a reason to say that life sucks, which is exactly what is written in your life script: you will come to the conclusion that life sucks. The entire mechanism is a self-fulfilling prophecy aimed at reinforcing the life-script, confirming your life position (OK/not-OK), justifying what the players are already feeling and believing, and shifting the Responsibility from oneself to others & exterior circumstances.

Further reading on Transactional Analysis:
The Cathexis and the Feeling of Self
Berne’s Six Hungers


2 thoughts on “The Mystery Questions

  1. What is wrong with people who do such things. Life is not a games and people are not play things. I believe I had a Sociopath in my life who did such things. I believed he was a friend and loved him and his family. While the whole time he was coning, liying, manipulating, stealing behind my back. He did this for ten years. I was left bankrupt, with out a home, no money and a career destroyed. I cant say the amout of damage this person did to my life. Everything for his selfish gain. I have never heard of such games and Sociopath tell years later. These games and Sociopath destroy lives. I don’t play games with people,


    • You need at least 2 players to play a game: the persecutor and the pray, the victim. Otherwise, the game can’t go on. It would be helpful to ask yourself why you allowed the sociopath to harass you during the 10 years you played the game with him… Because I suppose you somehow became “blind” to the little signs that showed he’s not totally OK. You ignored the subtle clues and when he made the switch, you cashed all the suffering. Which is very unfortunate and I’m sorry to read this in you comment…
      One step forward for you would then be to assume that you too have took part in the game, vow to be attentive to future predators and heal you inner script. That is… assume your responsibility and accept the situation. Also have a look at this link; it might be of help:
      I agree with you that our aim is to cease playing games. Each of us is working towards this goal.
      Thank you for your comment!


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