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How Can I Stop His Mind-Games? - Agony Aunt

Ask Anne

Dear Anne

My ex-boyfrind (father of my third, fourth and fifth children, all aged under 3) used to play stupid mind games with me, but I eventually got fed up after the third time he hit me for no reason and I threw him out. I built my life up again and got used to being a single mum of 5. I got lonely at times but thought the loneliness was a lot better than the having to watch my back all the time -not knowing what sort of mood he was going to be in. But he is still playing these games even though we are not together. If I want him around he'll go out of his way to keep away. If I do not want him around he makes a point of letting me know it, sort of thing. Deep down I love him a lot, but I also know his games are a form of control. What sort of kick do these men get from doing this and do they ever change? If so what motivates them to change? Anon

Dear Anon

Mind-games are unpleasant, aren't they? At least they are when you feel you're kind of helplessly on the receiving end. Before I answer your question, though, I invite you to consider a different point. Why do you want to know what the other person gets out of it, and why do you want to know how to motivate him to change? Is it, in fact, because you want to make him change? Isn't that, too, a form of control?

I've deliberately avoided using the phrase these men. That's for two reasons. Firstly, loads of women (both gay and straight) are into mind-games too, which are unpleasant for their partners. And more importantly, because nobody can play mind-games on their own. It's like tennis. There has to be someone hitting the ball back. For each game someone plays, there's someone playing a parallel game right back at them.

Why do people play mind-games? Two main reasons: that's the best way they know of getting their own needs met, and because they think it's a safer way of keeping contact than real intimacy, where they'd have to show their vulnerability.

So how can you motivate your ex to do something different? By doing something different yourself. You can't change anyone else, only yourself. You can't imagine Arnold Schwarzenegger getting stuck in mind-games, can you? So it is possible to do something different. Something where your emotional weelbeing doesn't depend on someone else, only on yourself.

Under each mind-game, there's a manipulative plea for attention. A common one is, If I do this particular thing, he'll be grateful and will give me some positive attention in return. But it doesn't work. Sure, it may seem to in the short term, but in the long term it builds up resentment and feelings of powerlessness. Then the players escalate the game, probably into a row, hoping to regain their sense of personal power. Or they share their complaints with sympathetic friends, Men, eh? or Women! Huh! And the cycle goes on.

With kids in common, you may still need to keep some contact with him. But how about not relying on him, but on finding alternate ways of getting support with the kids? What about playschemes, a baby-sitting circle, and so on? But since you know that despite his good qualities he's still going to carry on messing you around, why do you love him? Does your definition of love include being messed around? Wouldn't you prefer to find someone who's straightforward and shows consistent, nurturing love?

You might consider saying straight out, When you do x, I feel y, so are you willing to do z? Either he is or he isn't. Keeping things specific, rather than general, and avoiding blame games is a great tactic. And keeping an eye out for things you do yourself which might be manipulative (most of us try manipulations sometimes!) could help you get a handle on your own end of things.

I wish you self-esteem and a good, stable life. Whether that'll happen if you keep this guy around is another matter. Good luck!Back to Ask Anne

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