One of the things that gets success gurus a bad name is the bloke (and it usually is a bloke) who sells some e-book or Get-Rich-Quick! online course promising the secrets of how they dunnit.
In the worst cases, they aren’t even rich, they’ve just rented a private jet / Lamborghini / bottle of Moet et Chandon by the hour…just long enough to take some pictures and post it on their Instaglam account.
If you see an advert for anything like this, I suggest you run in the opposite direction. Quickly.
With that said, let’s now look at the same reality from a different standpoint.
But this requires us first to stop making excuses and start taking responsibility for our own situation. Note that I said responsibility there: no blame, no shame. Your situation may not be your fault but it is always your responsibility.
We humans are masters of self-deception and self-sabotage. We invent rationalisations and we make excuses. We install glass ceilings via our own limiting beliefs. We procrastinate when, deep down, we really know that we should be taking action.
We are venturing deep into human psychology here. So maybe you’ll choose not to believe The Escape Artist (an accountant) on this. But perhaps you will believe a globally recognised academic, clinical psychologist and best-selling author from Canada.
No, I don’t mean Jordan Peterson, I’m talking about Eric Berne M.D. author of the best selling book Games People Play : The Psychology of Human Relationships.
This classic book was first published in 1964 and has sold over 5 million copies. In it, Berne explains some of the classic psychological games that people play. This includes the game of “Wooden Leg” where people blame an external factor for their own failings. To put it simply, they hide behind excuses.
The writing style is bone dry but there is also comedy here. As the style is a bit “old skool” I’ve made some edits for the modern reader. Just remember that human nature has not changed since 1964 (nor since 964 AD for that matter).
The Escape Artist
What we are concerned with here are the unconscious games played by innocent people of which they are not fully aware and which form the most important aspect of social life all over the world.
The use of the word “game” does not necessarily imply lack of seriousness, as anyone who has played poker or played the stockmarket over a long period can testify.
The basis of the game of “Wooden Leg” is
“What do you expect of a man with a wooden leg?”
Put that way, of course, no one would expect anything of a man with a wooden leg except that he should steer his own wheelchair.
On the other hand, during World War II there was a man with a wooden leg who used to give demonstrations of jitterbug dancing at Army Hospital amputation centres.
There are blind men who practice law and hold political offices (one such is currently the mayor of the writers home town), deaf men who practice psychiatry and people with no hands who can use a typewriter.
As long as someone with a real, exaggerated or even imaginary disability is content with his lot, perhaps no one should interfere. But the moment he asks for professional help (e.g. presents himself for psychiatric treatment) the question arises if he is using his life to his own best advantage and if he can rise above his “disability”?
In this country the therapist [TEA : or blogger] will be working in opposition to a large mass of educated public opinion. Even the close relatives of the patient who complained most loudly about the inconveniences caused by the patients condition may eventually turn on the therapist if the patient makes definite progress.
This is readily understandable to a game analyst, but it makes his task no less difficult. All the people who were playing “I’m Only Trying To Help You” are threatened by the impending disruption of the game if the patient shows signs of striking out on his own, and sometimes they use almost incredible measures to terminate the treatment.
The difficulties are illustrated by the case of the stuttering client who played a classical form of “Wooden Leg”. He was unable to find employment, which he correctly attributed to the fact that he was a stutterer since the only career that interested him, he said, was that of salesman. As a free citizen he had a right to seek employment in whatever field he chose, but as a stutterer, his choice raised some question as to the purity of his motives.
Wooden Leg is especially pernicious in clinical practice because the patient may find a therapist who plays the same game with the same plea so that progress is impossible. This is relatively easy to arrange in the case of the “Ideological Plea”:
What do you expect of a man who lives in a society like ours?
One patient combined this with the Psychosomatic Plea:
What do you expect from a man with psychosomatic symptoms?
He found a succession of therapists who would accept one plea but not the other so that none of them either made him feel comfortable in his current position by accepting both pleas or budged him from it by rejecting both. Thus he proved that psychiatry couldn’t help people.
Some of the pleas which patients use to excuse symptomatic behaviour are colds, head injuries, situational stress, the stress of modern living, American culture and the economic system.
A literate player has no difficulty in finding reasons and authorities to support his plea:
“I drink because I’m Irish…this wouldn’t happen if I lived in Tahiti”.
But the fact is that patients in mental hospitals in Tahiti are very similar to those in American hospitals.
Special pleas of “If it weren’t for Them” or “They let me down” should always be evaluated very carefully in clinical practice – and also in social research projects
Slightly more sophisticated are such pleas as: What do you expect of a man who a) comes from a broken home b) is neurotic c) is in analysis or d) is suffering from a disease known as alcoholism?
These are topped by:
“If I stop doing this, I wont be able to analyse it and then I’ll never get better”
The opposite of Wooden Leg is “Rickshaw” with the thesis:
“If only they had [rickshaws / duck billed platypuses / girls who spoke ancient Egyptian] around this town, I never would have got into this mess.
Countering “Wooden Leg” is not difficult if the therapist can distinguish clearly between his own Parent and Adult and if the therapeutic aim is explicitly understood by both parties.
If the therapist acts as “Parent”, he can be either a “good” Parent or a “harsh” one.
As a “Good Parent” he can accept the patient’s plea, especially if it fits in with his own viewpoints, perhaps with the rationalisation that people are not responsible for their actions until they have completed their therapy.
As a “Harsh Parent” he can reject the plea and engage in a contest of wills with the patient.
Both of these attitudes are already familiar to the player of “Wooden Leg” and the player of the game knows how to extract the maximum enjoyment from each of them.
As an Adult, the therapist declines both of these approaches. When the patient asks:
“What do you expect of a neurotic / person from a broken home / man with a wooden leg?”
(or whatever plea the patient is using at the moment) the appropriate reply is:
“I don’t expect anything. The question is: what do you expect of yourself?”
The only demand that the therapist makes is that the patient give a serious answer to this question and the only concession he makes is to allow the patient a reasonable length of time to answer it.
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