The Payoff

Eric Berne died in 1970 I think, at the height of his career as a psychologist. He wrote a book about something he called Transactional Analysis, and it became a best seller. The book was Games People Play – The Basic Hand Book of Transactional Analysis. Perhaps when you consider that it is still in print and is read by perhaps more lay people than by psychologists, I consider that book to be a blockbuster.

In it, Berne described the human condition of man wanting to live an authentic life but also knowing that it was impossible to be vulnerable all the time, because people would take advantage of you. So Berne broke down human behavior into a series of transactions, where we do an action and expect another action. He called what we desire a “stroke” and where we bid for these is the “stroke marketplace.” At the heart of everything was the conflict between wanting to be authentic and connected to other humans yet wanting to avoid being exploited while we’re vulnerable.

So The Payoff is what we get after we engage in a series of complicated behaviors that an authentic person would probably find pointless. We might not even be consciously aware of the payoff, since in time the behaviors become habit and we’ve forgotten what our original thought process was. Perhaps forgetting was the original intention after all.

The Games people play have lots interesting titles, like “See What You Made Me Do,” and “Why Don’t You–Yes, But,” and “Let’s You and Him Fight.” There are many more. But in each, the subject wants something at the end. And oddly, the person on the other end of the transaction wants something too. It is odd only because the desired payoffs are not always clear.

This is the unconscious part of the ego at work, trying to protect itself. It’s fascinating, but it can also lead to madness!

Numbness and Incapacity

The Payoff with addiction is numbness and incapacity. Something inside hurts, and it hurts too much to think about why it hurts, or about how to make it stop hurting. So, lets just numb the bad feeling.

And this is the crux of the addictions I am talking about. I don’t really know anything about alcoholism or drug addiction or gambling. Yet, I know that the people who do it, that I know at least, don’t or can’t really enjoy doing it. Overeating, pornography, shopping addiction, media/TV addiction, video game addiction–these things seem attractive at the time, but once you’ve done them, there’s a hangover that comes just like with drinking too much.

The hangover sucks.

When you act out an addiction, it’s like letting the angry kid inside us throw a tantrum. And after the acting out is over, the kid inside is sulking and is still angry. He didn’t get what he really wanted after all.

I believe he forgot that he didn’t act out because he wanted to be happy. He acted out because he wanted to be numb.

He wanted to avoid being responsible for making his own choices. Steven Pressfield calls this incapacity. So the payoff is

  1. You can’t feel as bad (or as good)–you are numbed.

  2. You are so messed up inside by acting out that you cannot feel responsible for your actions or your life choices: Incapacity.

The lesson is that numbness cuts off your good feelings as well as bad ones. Also, incapacity gets you stuck, while doing your work will get you unstuck.

The difference between doing your work and choosing addiction is courage. And that the payoff for doing your work is feeling good a lot more of the time.