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

The Physics of Narcissism

Some patterns emerged over the summer that made me think of Sir Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion: to every action there is always and equal and opposite reaction.  I was never particularily good at physics and so I looked it up and found that physics is one of the oldest sciences.  I also found that Newton said some stuff that although he was referring to the study of matter and nature that some of it could be applied to human interactions, not only to the interactions of objects.

For each behaviour of a narcissist an equal and opposite behaviour is expected (and manipulated) from others

Many of the patterns I saw in how my family and friends were behaving became clearer the more silent I was.  Silence revealed their behaviours and exposed the truth (see post, The Power of Silence)

“I keep the subject constantly before me, and wait ’till the first dawnings open slowly, by little and little, into a full and clear light.” – Sir Isaac Newton

Here are my observations over the summer:

1.  Narcissists asks you a question, to get the question in return

Skype between DH and his brother (I was in the background taking notes):

BiL: How was the biking during vacation?

DH: It was challenging at times because we didn’t expect so many hil- (interrupted)

BiL: We went biking in Seattle and we had some hills, we had to walk some of them, we were able to cruise down the rest of it…blah, blah (He went on and on about it).

DH tried to share our vacation experience and in the end he never got to because BiL kept interrupting.  BiL wanted to talk about his biking experience on his vacation, he didn’t really want to hear our story.  Our interactions with BiL and SiL are often like this.

2. Narcissists do feelers (not feelings): They respond, you offer.

Samy (DH’s best friend’s wife) doesn’t really e-mail me.  We don’t have a realationship outside of our husbands.  If they got divorced, I would not ever talk to her (as with DH’s best friend’s first wife).  The only e-mail conversation she had with me was back in 2011 before her trip to Europe and they had stayed with us.  I got an e-mail from her this summer out of the blue that has a lot of stuff and there was once sentence that caused an enormous about of anxiety.  I had insomnia for 3 days in a row after this sentence:

“We are anxious for you to move a little closer, but hoping to get another trip in before you return.”

After the trip from last time, which was awful, I didn’t want them to come over and stay with us.  When they were here last (fall 2011), Samy said ‘Next time we can just stay at your place for a week and take day trips to different cities.’  I immediately thought of this when I read what she wrote in the e-mail.  And I couldn’t sleep for 3 days thinking it was coming – 7 days in our home!

I spoke it over with DH and we didn’t know if that was her sole intention of the e-mail – to fish for an official invite.  After I responded she responded back with no questions and so I saw no need to continue the e-mail chat.

Then, she responded with this e-mail after our July visit home (we didn’t see them on this visit home because they were on vacation).

“hey! so sorry we missed you this trip. hope it was a great time and that you got to see everyone (else)… look forward to seeing you soon. Hope all is well on your side of the pond. Samy”

I freaked out over the phrase: ‘look forward to seeing you soon.’  In my mind, how is end of December soon?  We wouldn’t be back until around the New Year.  I responded with this:

“hi! I’m sure we’ll see you guys in december. Hope all is well too.”

I got increasingly upset with this and it got worse when DH told me about his interactions with Lou (Samy’s husband and his best friend).

Lou never, never ever initiates contact with DH.  DH is always the one sending an e-mail here or there to see how he is doing.  Lou’s birthday was this summer so DH sent a text with a happy birthday and to see how he was.  Lou responded with this:

“Thanks dude! Hard to believe, isn’t it?  Laid low yesterday, going to the basilica block party tonight and a 5k run/walk tomorrow morning.  Hope you had a great visit here.  Hated that we couldn’t meet up, but we’ll get it next time either here or there! Hope you guys are doing well.  Miss ya and thinking lots about you.”

I was again freaked out by ‘but we’ll get it next time either here or there’.  DH felt it might not mean anything.  Then, just last month DH sent an e-mail to see how he was and he responded with a whole bunch of stuff, never asked DH how he was doing and then at the end wrote this:

“Samy and I are seriously jonesing for some time in Europe!”

DH was upset and decided not to respond to the e-mail.  No questions, no response.

What is maybe funny and not so funny about this interaction over the last couple of months is that, at the same time, a good friend of mine asked me if she could come visit me.  This was her request when I saw her in July:

“We are thinking about traveling to Europe around June 2014 and would love to see you, we don’t know which country, we could either come to your place, if this works for you, or if it works for you guys to meet up with us?”

Kara’s remark of how Ns complicate simple requests rings true here.  All of our friends have an open invite to visit us.  We don’t repeatedly ask because we have been here so long now.  All we ask is that they give us a heads up with enough time for us to arrange our own travel (if meeting them somewhere else).

My friend took my feelings into consideration, Ns don’t do feelings, they do feelers.

3. Narcissists hear No but respond to Maybe

This one was shocking to discover over the summer.  It is not surprising that No (a clear boundary) is often not tolerated by people who behave narcissistically.  My FiL is one of them.  His nice exterior has been washing away as I get to know him without MiL present anymore.

During our trip, we took FiL out to a lake to race some boats.  One of his hobbies is to run these small boats out on the lake.  We got the boat in the lake and FiL starts steering it and then DH steers it for a while.  I had no desire to steer it and when DH offered the remote control to me, I said No.  DH continues for a while then hands it over to FiL and then FiL says ‘give it to TR’ and I say ‘I don’t want to steer it, you guys go ahead’.  FiL raises his voice with a nasty tone and says ‘TR, just take the damn thing and steer it.’  I reacted to this without thinking and steered it.  I was so bored, I hate doing things like this.  I don’t like playing with remote control stuff.  It was the most unfun thing I have ever done in my life.  After a few minutes I gave it to DH and just sat there pissed that he had yelled at me for not steering the boat and not taking No as an answer! (I’m still hot over this and getting to the point of disgust with FiL)

I started to realise that FiL has a problem with this in a lot of situations.  When we went out to eat breakfast we came back to the apartment and we started to play cards.  After about 1,5 hours FiL takes out some snack food to put on the table.  I was still full from my eggs and pancakes so I didn’t eat any.  As FiL started eating the chips with salsa he says to me: TR, go ahead and take some.  I respond: ‘I’m not hungry, still full from breakfast.’  After about 10 minutes, he moves the bowls of chips and salsa towards me and in a way invades my personal space at the table.  He says: ‘don’t be shy, take some’.  I don’t respond and don’t take any.  I eventually move the bowls back to the centre of the table.

After some time passes, he says ‘well, I’ve got other stuff, I bought Cheetos for you’.  I respond with a No, thanks.

This scenario has happened often.  It was a pattern I didn’t recognise until this summer.  No doesn’t mean No in DH’s FOO, it means you are eventually going to say Yes.

They hear No but respond to Maybe.

4. Narcissists respond to Yes with a No

This one is somewhat funny looking back on it.  MiL was the puppet-master of the whole family.  She decided everything we did.  She would choose the restaurants even when it appeared that we had a choice.  MiL took us to a restaurant during the early years of my relationship with DH and I liked this one.  Whenever she would ask when we came to visit where we wanted to eat, I would mention this restaurant.  Ever since she found out I liked this restaurant too we never went back.  She would say ‘oh, it will be crowded’ and I would say: we can call ahead.  Yet, we didn’t go back to it.  This was a pattern when it came to doing things I enjoyed in the city they lived in.  We never did them again or went there again.  I find it funny (now, anyway) because DH and I stopped showing delight in stuff we liked and needless to say, this worked with them.  We know go to places we like, they just don’t know we like it.

If I say Yes once, they respond with a No the next time around.

The patterns I began to see made me hone in better on my responses to them.  I want to adjust my responses so I don’t allow myself to be manipulated.  I am unlearning many, many years of my own natural responses to behaviours that aren’t about my own well-being.  I’m starting to get out the traps they set and learn that there is another path that doesn’t lead to one.

Hugs, TR

P.S.  In reference to physics, SiL posted one photo from our visit in July on Facebook with this caption.  What do you think?


DH and BiL (DH’s brother) made Lego people this week. On the left is TR, with her disco shirt, purple pants and a wrench. In the middle is me (DH brother’s wife, my SiL), as a doctor, with a sword, and on the right is DH’s brother (my BiL), with side burns, mustache, plaid shirt and handcuffs. I would remain afraid if our Lego alter egos come anywhere near you.