Playing Games

I love games.  Most kind of games, anyway.  Sports, board games, card games, trivia, video/computer games, dominoes, The Hunger Games and The Olympic Games.  I’m competitive.  I play to win.  I don’t routinely win but nevertheless, win or lose, I enjoy playing.

Luckily, during the holidays DH’s FOO (my in-laws) pass the time playing games.  They prefer to play card games and dominoes and I’ve learned a lot of new card games from them.  It is a way to get through uncomfortable time with them.

This last holiday break I began to realize something about how my in-laws approach game playing and had flashbacks to other times I have played games (not the mental kind 😉 ) with other narcissists in my life.  

When I read the post and conversation at Releasing Jessie (A Validating Response), I began to understand that there are fundamental differences in many of my relationships – not at an opinion, perspective level, but at a much deeper level.

“They assume that I operate in exactly the same way as them. And this in congruency makes any sort of real relationship impossible.” – Jessie

This insightful comment was apparent at a more surface level when playing games socially with not only my in-laws but also other friends.  Playing a game with them seemed to highlight how differently we operate on a microscopic scale.

Child’s Play

Whenever we visit the best friends of DH’s parents, we also pass the time with games, not the preferred card games or dominoes of my in-laws, but with their preferred game – Taboo or Catch Phrase.  The skill crucial to winning at such communication style games is to have an ability to relay information so that your teammates will guess the word or phrase stated on your card.

Word on card: Ice Skating Rink

Objective: have teammates guess the whole phrase correctly without using the words on the card or derivatives (skate, icy, etc.)

FiL: the place we used to take you kids, ya know, where we would go and one time you…

Every time, without fail, FiL or MiL would bring up his/her memory to help the teammates guess the word.  Perhaps, what is funny, and sad at the same time, is that the majority of the people playing the game (other party guests DH’s FOO didn’t know very well) couldn’t effectively guess (including me).  During the course of the game, it never occurred to them to adjust their approach.  If you were on their team, you struggled.

However innocent it is and not necessarily crucial to life, playing a communication style game like this with narcissists potentially reveals a fundamental difference in how they view the world.  And what is also revealing is the lack of self-awareness of how if one approach or strategy doesn’t work, maybe consider another.

The idea of viewing the world one way and not through another way or another person’s perspective illustrates a similarly between how narcissists and toddlers view the world – hence, adult narcissists engage in child’s play, literally.  I read an interesting article about how children begin to develop the ability to understand or consider the thoughts and feelings of others.  This switch happens at an early developmental stage and one that parents may be able to aid their children as to help them connect with others into adolescence and adulthood.

“this modest development allows us to survive and thrive in an interconnected, social world” – Rebecca Schwarzlose

Article: Scientific American, “The Benefits about Talking about Thoughts with Tots”


For all the enjoyment I get out of playing sports or games, it can easily be diminished by a postmortem – a re-telling, re-assessing – of the game when it is over and done with (excluding when it is done to gain knowledge, insight for the future).  There is no harm done with a bit of thrash-talk or teasing in someone’s ability to lose or win a game.  It is social camaraderie.  But often this can go too far with DH’s FOO and even with DH at times.

For example, when we play dominoes there are 10 rounds to 1 game that ultimately determines the winner of the game; the score is tallied at the end of each round and the sum of the rounds determines the winner.  At the end of each round FiL’s postmortems include:

If he wins the round:  “I knew that would work and get me out soon” or “I planned that well, didn’t I?”

If he loses the round: “If you hadn’t made that move I would have won” or “You messed me up, if you hadn’t played that, I would have…” or “You were being nasty by playing that”

Normally, a statement like this I could tolerate but consistently after each round for multiple games, it got to me.  I was slowly getting annoyed.  I couldn’t figure out why but then I realized FiL may view winning and losing very differently than many of us.

In most games, there is an element of ‘luck’ and also an element of ‘skill’.  When the proportion is well-balanced, the game is fun (when playing games socially).  In dominoes, the luck comes from the tiles you are dealt and the skill is attributed to what you do with your given hand.

What FiL, I believe, does unconsciously is attribute his ability to win to his skill and the reason he loses to luck or purposeful sabotage on another counterpart (blaming).  The principle of winning is attributed internally (to his ability) and the principle of losing is attributed externally.  When in fact, both luck and skill are factors in the outcome (in such games).  


Sore Loser

It sucks to lose a game.  It isn’t very fun.  When the stakes are high, losing can really suck. I can imagine for many Winter Olympic Athletes in Sochi that nothing less than the gold is crushing.  Losing at quiz night at a pub, not so much.

During our trip to Glasgow with Don and Lydia (good friends), we headed to a pub after dinner and coincidentally it was Quiz Night.  The place was full for a weekday and we were lucky to get a table to play.  We paid our admission fee for playing and ordered our drinks.  There are multiple trivia rounds to the overall quiz that determines the final winner.

As we collectively answered the questions in Round One, Don started to get antsy on the questions where we were uncertain.  At the end of the round, we handed in our answer sheet and the results of Round One were announced – we came in last place (only for the round, mind you).  Don gets up and says, “hurry and drink up, we’re leaving”.  DH and I look at each other confused (as there were more rounds to go).  Don, even before we were done with our drinks, gets up and heads out the door.  As we followed Don to another pub (no quiz night and ironically, no people) he begins to blame DH and me for the answers and why we came in last.  Don grew antsy again because the pub was too boring so we headed out to a club, where we spent the rest of the night, unable to talk because of the loud music.

This incident wasn’t inconsistent with other patterns.  We regularly had game nights with them (playing various games).  Whenever Don lost, he switched the game.  At one point he bought a new game – Top Gear Board Game – and DH, I and Lydia repeatedly lost (for none of us except Don watched this show and he is a car fanatic).  It may not surprise you that DH and I are no longer friends with them.

“I’m very competitive.  I love to win but worse, I hate to lose.” – Samy (wife of DH’s friend)

These words were stressed upon DH and me the first and only time we played games with Samy and Lou (DH’s friend).  They decided on Scrabble and unfortunately Samy lost (in all fairness she didn’t know that DH and I play this game often).  Well, we stopped after one game and she then asked us if we had ever heard of another game and we told her that we hadn’t.  Needless to say, she went and grabbed that game and she taught us how to play it and well, she won.  We continued this game into the rest of the evening.

The pattern of Sore Loser is a commonality I have seen with DH’s FOO and friends.  It is, of course, no fun to continuously play a game which one loses at.  Routinely beating someone takes away the fun in playing games socially.  For some, even one loss cannot be tolerated, for it takes on a deeper meaning in a psyche that cannot differentiate the shades of grey in life.

Predator or Prey?  Be neither.

Glimpses into how FiL, MiL, SiL, Don or Samy operate have often left me confused.  I have, at times, wondered if they view a different reality.   No doubt, how a person plays a game is not indicative of any sort of narcissism.  It goes far beyond the ability to have fun playing a game, the fact that there is no real connection and why, oh why, we never seem to have a real conversation, a real relationship is fundamentally the problem.  It’s when the games have gone too far.

Any stories about game playing with narcissists?


Further reading:

Releasing Jessie: A Validating Response

14 thoughts on “Playing Games

  1. Fascinating observations. I have very few memories of playing games, not of the mind variety. I’ve been invited to play Boggle (word game) and dominoes. I ask myself why I don’t like to play. I’m very competitive and not a particularly gracious winner or loser. It’s more than that. I watch NM and EF play, and the rules change as they feel like. I hate that. Of course, the change is always in their favor. They say that the score doesn’t matter, but they keep it… it generally doesn’t matter if they’re losing… If they lose, there is always some excuse. They’re tired. They’re distracted… it isn’t fun. Then again, they excel at sucking the fun out of pretty much everything… hmmm… snarky, much? A bit. You’ve given me a new perspective. Thanks ((TR))


    • Thank you. Me2, totally competitive. :). In game play or sports, it is natural to be competitive, I believe, that is healthy competition – wanting to win. And playing with Ns like your NM and EF who take it too far manipulate that healthy competition in game play. Changing the rules, the game to suit ones whims isn’t, imo, a healthy competition. The fun of competition is lost. It is funny you should mention changing the game, rules, not keeping score – this is something my sister-in-law does. She has made game playing so un-fun. When she is playing with us, I don’t have fun – the changing rules, etc. Completely understand why it isn’t fun. ((Judy))


  2. I played games with my kids when they were little. My friend chastised me for beating them. She told me I was hurting their little egos. I assured her that wasn’t true. One of my kids beat me when she was visiting. They danced around the house crowing, “I beat mom.” Yup, they were taught to be competitive and yes we kept the rules on hand and they learned to play fair. Game playing is a skill that needs to be taught but too many parents let the kids win and the kids never grow out of it. Something my sister and I have observed that narcissitics seem stuck in toddler thinking. A lot of my counseling was designed to teach me how grown ups function. Took time to teach me skills that my parents neglected or don’t have themselves. Just my 2 cents.


    • Hi Ruth,
      You touch on a great point; life is full of disappointment and the goal isn’t to avoid at all costs – protect one from it, it’s to learn how to deal with it. Growing up in unhealthy households, can lead to missing a developmental stage, something we have had to go through at a later stage in life. Thanks for your comment. xxTR


  3. I don’t have a comment about the game playing but it is revealing how people respond to losing. I did notice how you really start to see what friends you have in your life and if they stick. On revealing Jesse’s comment about how narcs think we think like they do and we don’t, it’s hard for them to operate with us and they think it’s our fault. What she stated to was also like the revelation I read in Boundaries. The last part of the book was on leading a boundary laden life and the response others give you from how you have changed your response. The authors stated that the problem was always there you have now just chosen to change your response to it and they can’t handle it. It’s like it’s your fault for changing. The can’t see that it’s healthy because they are not mentally healthy. I’m noticing more and more how my DH & I have attracted very self centered people. Over the holidays, I told my DH or asked him if he noticed how much we are expected to go to our friends for convenience for them only. When we ask a good portion of our friends to join us at our home, it’s suddenly inconvenient. I’m also noticing how these people don’t really ask us anything about us. On New Year’s, I was sick and we had invited a couple over for dinner and to go out to an event after. They chose not to join us because they didn’t want to go out but asked if DH wanted to come over to their place since they didn’t want to drink & drive. First of all, why would he leave me on New Years Eve and I’m sick? 2nd….what makes them think it’s okay for my DH to drink and drive…it doesn’t. He is finally getting what I pointed out to him. I think a lot of non-friend dumping is going to happen in 2014 now that he is starting to see it too. Sad but we are better off, HUH???!!!! thanks again for your blog!


    • Another question….do you have kids? I’m noticing a lot of scape goated children have not had kids or married very late in life like myself.


    • Hi Kelly,
      Thank you for your comment and sharing your stories.

      The Predator/Prey, Win/Lose, Black/White is how some Ns (referring to it as a pathology) view the world – dichotomously. They figure that everyone else would try to ‘attack’ them so they attack first and that not everyone operates like that. So in some ways, I think, they figure being a Predator is better, winning is better, etc.

      That is a very interesting observation. Once we start to see how the cycle continues because of our own behavior patterns we can begin to break it and then their reactions, at times, can be frustrating and at other times, comical. That is terrific you have been able to do this. I am slowly seeing how my behavior patterns continue a vicious cycle and breaking them. I am going to check out the book you talk about, is it Boundaries by Cloud?

      The stories you mention, the New Year’s Eve – man, some Ns really don’t want to do any of the ‘work’ in relationships. And recognizing how we make it easy for them is a big part of that – realizing the true nature of the friendship.

      Thank you for your reading and will answer your other comments! xx TR


  4. Another brilliant post. I really enjoy reading your observations and how you lay it all out so well.

    “I like to win, but I HATE to lose.” Well, that just says it all doesn’t it. Winning somehow loses some of it’s luster if it’s only seen as the “other” option to losing. And if you aren’t really willing to lose, than you can’t ever really stretch yourself or take risks.

    It was interesting to about what you said about FIL attributing his “win” to skill and his “lose” to bad luck. That’s actually how my NM and NSIS think about life. Good things happen = they deserved them or they “earned” them. Bad things happen = it was all bad luck. They never attribute bad things to bad choices they may have made. They can not see how they actually effect things in their lives.

    My sister and I, due to our enmeshment, were very, very difficult to beat at board games. We were children, but could easily best adults at Pictionary or games like that (clues given to others). We were often so in tune to each other’s way of thinking that we could often predict what the other was drawing or referencing or whatever with very little to go on. (And not because we used personal memories, we were just really tuned into each other.) It got so bad that family members often wouldn’t allow us on the same team. I felt close to her at the time, but it really was more enmeshment than anything.

    I can think of tons of ways, if I look at it, that I can see how looking at people in my life reflects a deeper level of “going about life”. I can be competitive too, but I don’t have a problem losing. Sure it sucks, but it’s going to happen once and awhile. During the recent Super Bowl, I got to see a lot of people who got so wrapped up into whether “their” team won or lost, that it destroyed their whole week.

    And once, when NM was doing a puzzle with my 4 year old, she started taking all of the pieces from him and putting them in. She was so smug and proud that she was “beating” him at the puzzle. And it just clearly showed me how important being the “smartest” person in the room was to her (even if it was over a 4 year old). I agree with Ruth above that you can’t let kids win all the time but I think there is a level of dialing back your skills a bit so you don’t plow over the kids like NM did.

    Again, great post!


    • Hi Jessie,
      Thank you very much. I had ‘catalogued’ the weird game playing behaviors and hadn’t realized that it was similar to the Predator/Prey concept you talk about in your post. It really helped me understand the many behaviors and how it is similar to the win/lose view on the world.

      Hahaha, when Samy said that, I was taken aback because we were setting up the Scrabble board and she stresses the HATE word pushing it through her clenched teeth. It was so weird and it made my spine tingle. Excellent point, lose is associated with taking risks, stretching ourselves. When it is looked as only the other option there is little room for anything else, for any learning.

      The taking ‘credit’ for teams that they are associated with, etc. is something I notice. Almost like the win is associated with them. I’ve seen the sports stuff with many of my N friends as well.

      You and your sister doing really well at games is very, very interesting – the enmeshment allowing you to be in sync to guess each other thoughts. When you wrote about your sister I can see that you have individuated from her (correct if I’m wrong) – observing her behaviors from an outside perspective. I do think DH would have done well with MiL and FiL. BiL and DH have individuated to some extent at that point that their strategy became ineffective in game play.

      Yeah, competition is healthy, being competitive and wanting to achieve something isn’t a ‘bad’ thing. It is when it starts to creep into other elements that are just as important – like in social game playing – having fun, interacting. It’s that destructive element of it to ourselves and to others that you and CZ highlight in your conversation. It becomes impossible to have a relationship with them because it is destructive to the relationship.



  5. Hi TR, in my FOO when I was little, we’d play scrabble and monopoly as a FOO, but rarely. More often it was me and my sister. My parents came to feel that it was ‘beneath’ them to play games with children. But my parents would play tennis. And they became very competitive with each other…;-)


    • Hi CS,
      That is very similar to my FOO. I wanted to play games (board games and such) and my parents never wanted to. When I got older I could only join in if I played their favorite card game. What’s in it for them?

      I remember your tennis post about how you played against the wall while you played. I’m going to search it out and reread it. I think that highlights another element of it I hadn’t realized before. xxTR


  6. My mother is a sore loser too, and will change games when she feels at a disadvantage. What you wrote about narcissists believing their wins are due to their superior skill and their losses are due to back luck/unfair advantage of other players and/or accusing others of cheating is so true. The only games my mother likes to play are the ones that no one has a shot at winning. So I don’t play anymore.


    • Oh boy, the game changing, that is a common strategy – kind of reflected in some of their other behaviors in mental game playing. That is too funny you mention cheating – I almost added this one – I’ve often been accused of cheating and then come to find out they were cheating themselves during the game. xx



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