Social Games People Play

Are you a Victim? A Rescuer? Or a Persecutor?

Believe it or not, you are all of them, at certain moments of your life. You are a victim, and then you are a rescuer and sometimes, without even knowing it, you are a persecutor. Don’t buy this? Let’s try some short examples:

1. At work, you hit a block: there’s a task so big and so complicated, that you can’t do it by yourself. What do you do? You reach out for help. Ask a colleague to support you. And why you do this? Because it’s too much for you. You’re overwhelmed. You’re a Victim (in this case, a victim of the circumstances).

2.  Suppose now you’re the other guy, the one who is asked for help. What do you do? You come to the rescue, you help the other person. Why? Because helping the other person fulfills some internal desire for recognition and self-esteem. You’re a Rescuer.

3. Now suppose you’re the boss of the two workers above. You spot the fact that one of them is asking for help and you don’t agree with that. You interfere: you forbid to the rescuer to help and leave the victim alone in finishing that task. You think it’s “your job as a boss” to do that, but in fact you’re playing a Persecutor.

These are just short, real-life examples when we are playing what I call social games. But the real social games, the ones that are shaping our lives in uncontrollable ways, are played without even knowing. We’re doing them for months, sometimes years, without noticing. Think you’re not doing things without knowing?

The Script

Fact is we’re all doing that. At various moments in our lives we’re all playing the part of the Victim, the Rescuer or the Persecutor. Sometimes we have a really good reason for doing it, sometimes, most of the times, we don’t: we’re doing it unconsciously, on auto-pilot. We’re following a Script. In fact, the real problems with those roles arise when we’re following a Script, not when we’re playing them for really good reasons. Some of the really good reasons includes saving a person from an accident (Rescuer) or taking attitude against an injustice (Persecutor).

By the age of 4-5 years, we all have our Scripts engrained in our main behavior. Based on these Scripts, we’re playing our parts for the rest of our lives. We’re playing at our job, to get a job, or to get rid of a job. We’re playing with our friends, by saving them, by asking for their protection or by hurting them. We’re playing in our personal relationships, looking for people who are going to fulfill our needs for protection, for saving or for hurting.

The Scripts are unconscious sequences we’re following, most of the time ending with a negative outcome. Also called the “pay-off”. Confused? Read on.

The Mechanics Of The Human Games

One of the most common Scripts is the victim – rescuer tango. The initiator, usually the Victim, starts to advertise his or her needs for protection. “I’m alone”, “I need somebody in my life” are common phrases for this part. Some variations are “Love me, feed me, never leave me” or even “I’m so available, can you just pick me up?”.

At this stage, a rescuer, or a matching partner for the victim advertised needs, is starting to make his or her moves. “Ok, I’m here now, you won’t be alone anymore”, or “I’m going to love you and protect you for the rest of my life” are common phrases for the rescuer. A junction is formed. The Victim and the Rescuer are starting their tango. Sometimes, most of the times, this tango takes the structure of a marriage.

But that’s only the initial part of the Script, and it’s usually the simplest part of it. As time goes by, the partners are starting to interchange their parts based on their unconscious Scripts. They take their turns at becoming Victims, Rescuers or Persecutors.

One of the most common variations is the following one: let’s say the Rescuer has some troubles. (By the way, because of the nature of their attitude, Rescuers are the most exposed to troubles. They’re reaching out trying to “help” other people because they didn’t properly addressed their own internal problems. So, they’re the most vulnerable actors.) Well, let’s say a Rescuer have some troubles so he can’t fulfill his part in front of the Victim. He runs out of money or he gets ill. He can’t “protect” her anymore. Now, what’s interesting is that the Victim is turning into a Persecutor.

You would expect the Victim will become a Rescuer, balancing the situation until the initial Rescuer gets back on his feet. Well, nope. In 99% of the situations the Victim becomes a powerful Persecutor, starting to blame him. The Rescuer become the Victim, only this time he has nobody to save him. He has only a Prosecutor who blames him for everything that goes wrong in the Universe.

From now on, the two actors can follow many paths. Some of them choose to address their issues and get rid of their roles. They are the lucky ones. And they’re also very few. The rest, the vast majority, is choosing to get out of the initial game with a “pay-off”. The “pay-off” is something like: “I knew it from the beginning” or “It’s over and I deserve to be unhappy”.  The “pay-off” is the negative outcome of the Script. It’s based on some past events which are tracing the main parts of the Script in the player unconscious behavior.

The “pay-off” acts like the trigger for the next game. It doesn’t end the circle, it just creates the premises for the next encounter.

The Victim will start advertising her needs again and the Rescuer will start looking for somebody to protect again. The Script is rebooted.

Assess, Decide, Do

The only way to get out of the Script is awareness. A Victim must accept his or her needs to control other people, a Rescuer must acknowledge his or her internal problems that must be addressed before trying to save somebody else, and a Persecutor must deal with his exaggerated sense of justice, coming most likely from the fact the he or she suffered the effects of some injustice in the past.

It’s far more easier to say this than to do it. I agree. The Script is always easier to follow because it’s proved. Reality is uncertain. Becoming aware can put you in an unexpected situation, while the Script will at least give you some familiar feelings. You did this before and you got your “pay-off”. It’s a closed circle and gives a sense of security. Even if the outcome it’s negative, a Script is much more comfortable than an open confrontation with your own problems.

The “pay-off” will always enforce a negative conclusion about life, about yourself or about the Universe. Something like “I’m ugly, nobody wants me around”, or “I always give too much and I’m under appreciated”, or even “There’s no justice in this world and this is just not fair”. But it’s exactly the “pay-off” that makes a an actor to dive again in the next Script. Ok, I screw it up, but next time I’ll do better. I know where to start. I’ll strive and this time I won’t miss it.

Of course you will. The Script will run again.

Games People Play – The Book

Many of the concepts in this blog posts were borrowed from Eric Berne’s great book “Games People Play“, published 50 years ago. If, by any chance, this blog post raised a part of your eyebrow, then check out the book. You’ll find some amazing games described there, from the “Debtor” to the “Frigid Woman”.

Until then, feel free to share in the comments your opinions, games and current roles you’re playing: are you a Victim, a Rescuer or a Persecutor?



Running For My Life - from zero to ultramarathoner


The spooky thing about depression is that it sneaks in. There aren’t really trumpets and loud voices announcing: “Hail, hail, this is depression entering the room, all rise!” Nope. It’s slow, silent, creepy. It doesn’t even look like depression. It starts with small isolation thoughts like: “Maybe I shouldn’t get out today, I just don’t feel like going out”. And then it does the same next day. And then the day after that and so on. And then it starts to whisper louder and louder in your ears: “Why would you go outside, you loser? Didn’t have enough yet? Want more people to make fun of how much of a big, fat loser you are?”

And then you start to breath in guilt and shame, instead of air. Every breathe you take is putting more dark thoughts into your body.

Until you get stuck. You can’t move anymore. At all.

If you want to know how I got out of this space, eventually, check out my latest book on Amazon and Kindle.

Running For My Life -from zero to ultramarathoner

Dragos Roua

The guy who started all this. Entrepreneur, ultra-marathoner, tanguero, father and risk taker. I'm blogging here, but I also spend a lot of time in this marvelous space.. You're invited, by the way.

This Post Has 31 Comments

  1. Great post Dragos. I think there are more roles to this in life, but you did point out three of the main ones. These roles depend on which situation we are in.

    I mean taking blogging for an example. When people first start out, they are a victim sort of. They constantly ask people for help. The people who are the more experiences bloggers will usually provide help but they may have some internal problems of themselves as well. As for the persecutor, this can be the starting blogger who constantly harrasses the more experiences blogger to get it their way, only to never get a response back, or the more experience blogger trying too hard to try and harrassing the customers to buy a product from them. I admit that I have also played each of these roles in the blogging world.

    I would say that I’m playing the rescuer role, but then again, I’m not saying I’m perfect myself, nor do I want to be a person who constantly wants to “save” people. I like your method of stepping out of these roles or The Script is with awareness. The more aware we are of ourselves as well as other people, the easier it will be to see our actions from another person’s eyes so we can change our own actions to suit the situation better.

    1. Those roles are certainly dangerous by the fact they are played unconsciously. This is where the bad part is. Being a rescuer without knowing it will lead to the same bad ending over and over again.

    2. You are right Hulbert, I read GPL (Games People Play) about 30 years ago while entertaining a hobby of studying human behavior and religion.

      GPL actually breaks all of human society into many games the most well know being that of Victim, Savior, Persecutor
      But there are dozens of others, I don’t remember the exact breakdown, but in summary I think it was something like 36 major games with many having multiple players with multiple rolls, after all you can’t have very interesting games if their is only one player.

  2. Interesting. One point I like to add is that rescuers sometimes reach out to help other people, not because they haven’t addressed their own internal problems, but because they’re fulfilled by seeing others happy.
    Some people use food, sex, money etc for fulfilment. Rescuers use being needed or putting others before themselves. This can stem from various childhood situations.

    1. Of course it’s ok to rescue other people and that can lead to fulfilling feelings. But when you’re doing it without assessing your own needs first, you end up being the victim of the victim you just saved. Or at least this is my experience.

    2. The triangle is actually a very vicious circle played out in many of life’s situations, and as the game evolves each player rotates though each of it’s three roles.

      I would recommend any who are genuinely curious to read the book, but be warned, you will never look at human beings the same.
      It took me many years after studying that book to be able to be totally relaxed in social environments without feeling like I was having an out of body experience as I almost, but not quite, subconsciously analyzed all the people in a room and tried to identify which game was being played and whom was playing each particular role in it.

      One thing is certain, it is a VERY enlightening book that delves deep into what makes us tick.

  3. I think you are right, many of us play games without realizing it and we may be a different characters at different times.

    I have to check out this book, seems very intriguing. Is there a way to stop playing game you do not care to be in it? I hope there is a solution for it.

  4. Good observation. Human life is, indeed, a game. Everyone is actually living for one’s own ego (self), but no one would accept this fact because either they don’t realize it or because it sounds ugly. All the social activities are in fact targeted at feeding one’s own ego. It’s the game. We have given nice names to the relationships, but it’s all part of the game.

    1. I like the way you described and in fact it’s true: those games are parts of the ego, not of the real self. The real self actually gets hidden by those games.

      1. Right 🙂

        Here, what you called “the real self” is actually no-self. In spirituality when the ego (self) is destroyed one become “self-less”. Meaning, reduced to a mere spirit, the energy of which everything else in the world is made. That’s called being one with the spirit of the universe. Selflessness is the goal of spirituality.

  5. Hi Dragos.

    The way you describe people here is mechanical but I would agree with the way you chose to describe the relationships and games people play. We run through certain paths of choice that work in cycles. Rescuers sure may work as you have described, looking to help before helping themselves. Some folks get energy to help themselves after helping others. It is not so great when others are not around to help, but this is not too much of an issue in today’s society.

    The pay-off is something we see repeated over and over in our daily lives. That script really is rebooted. If we see people as one way, or as bad, or as not trustworthy, or as friendly, it is affirmed enough times for the cycle of thought to continue.

    1. Absolutely, Armen, the more diversity we’re ready to allow in our lives, the better our relationships. Nobody is able to fit in only one size, yet we tend to reduce our approaches to simplistic actions and then reinforce our own mechanical scripts.

  6. Hmmm. Tough question, Dragos. I know for sure I’ve been a Victim many many times but as I learned the ropes and became resourceful, I was (as often as I could be, for it gave me pleasure) the Rescuer! But trying to think of a time when I separate a Victim from a Rescuer, no (I did refuse the role of management many times! That may be why) :)!

  7. Dear Dragos, with your post you’ve touched a very important topic. In fact, it is all about manipulation and actualization. I think that there could not be good and bad plays. Matters whether a person is telling and doing what he/she really thinks or just want others to play his game…
    I recommend a very nice book of Shostrom E.L. “Man, the manipulation: The inner journey from manipulation to actualization”.

    1. Didn’t know the book but I’ll take the look. Yes, one of the reasons of playing games is to manipulate others (consciously or unconsciously)

  8. Awareness is indeed the first step to get our of our scripts. However, shifting from our script is a touch challenge we must face if we want to have full control of ourselves. Many are stuck with awareness and are unable to go to the next step because of the inherent difficulties they must face. I have been trying hard not to be controlled by my script and sometimes I win and sometimes I loss. But it’s better to make an effort than to be slaves of our programs. 🙂

    1. Don’t worry, Walter, I’ve been there many times and I still am. Sometimes I get over with my scripts, sometimes I don’t. 🙂

  9. I recently read a book about finding passion at midlife that talked about these different parts in our scripts and it really was fascinating to see how easily we can spot them once we know what to look for and how often we fall into the same part again and again. This post was great for fleshing out this subject more for me. Thanks!

  10. Great post. I have noticed this system of, Victom, rescuer or Persecutor in myself and in many others as well. It is a thick pattern to break. Thanks for sharing the topic

  11. Dragos, I don’t even know which role I’m playing, I sense a bit of Rescuer and Persecutor in me 😉
    Like everyone else already lined out: It’s a hard hard process, and even if you break it, it tends to come back. I’m deep in love with enhancing my personality, but you can’t shape as good as clay. My main goal is to get at least 80% right, I leave the rest to me being human. My new idea – changing your script in tiny baby steps, but every single week.

  12. […] Unconsciously playing games is happening more often than we know. For the vast majority of our time, we’re acting on auto-pilot. Some of these behaviors are useful (like answering to a “hello” instinctively: it makes your social life easier). But some of them, and I dare say most of them, are poisonous. We’re repeating stuff we engrained in our behavior when we were kids. We didn’t have the tools and experience to analyze those behaviors, we took them for granted. We became a Victim, a Rescuer, or a Persecutor. There are many other scripts, but some of the most common are those three, and they form the foundation for the social games people play. […]

  13. […] game of the family, the game of being rich or poor. By transforming every part of your life into a social game, you will empower yourself. It’s much easier to start a game than to repair a serious situation. […]

  14. I also really enjoyed that book. Though in the book, the roles of Victim, Rescuer and Persecutor were originally described in the context of the life long game called Alcoholic. I like how you’ve extended that to life in general, as those roles do underpin many other games. I like your clear workplace example. My favourite part of that book was the chapters about “beyond games” at the end. Particularly when Eric Berne described awareness. He become more poetic and encouraged us to see the coffeepot and hear the birds sing for ourselves, rather than how our parents taught us too.

  15. […] game of the family, the game of being rich or poor. By transforming every part of your life into a social game, you will empower yourself. It’s much easier to start a game than to repair a serious situation. […]

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