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

Myth: A horse is a horse, of course.

“Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”

I didn’t understand this proverb until about six months ago when it came up in a discussion during my language class.  I found out that it means:

one should never be ungrateful or critical of a gift  

For me, one of the earliest triggers that something wasn’t right with my relationships was the act of gift giving.  Maybe because I was uncomfortable with lying about how thankful I was or the fact that the gift was a tangible reminder of the true nature of our relationship.  I don’t know, exchanging gifts has never been a positive experience growing up nor is it, today, with DH’s FOO (my in-laws).

horseIt felt like a good time to revisit it since the year of the Horse begins in China on the 31st of January and especially since some new stuff regarding this subject came up over the past six months with DH’s FOO, including this past holiday break.

1. Horse sense (common sense, practical thinking)

This past Christmas, DH received a really nice iPhone camera accessory from his brother (BiL).  This is a very cool gift…if you have an iPhone.  BiL makes fun of DH constantly because he doesn’t have one.  Needless to say, DH returned the gift.

This past summer during our visit home, BiL was showing us his new belt (don’t ask me why).  As we stood in awe of this invention to keep trousers in place, BiL says to DH: “you should get one”.  DH says: ‘No need, I have the same one already’ and points to his waist.  It was kind of a ‘funny’ moment (funny is code for totally ridiculous) to see the brothers wearing the same belt coincidentially.

A few weeks later, it is DH’s birthday and a package arrives for him.  And you guessed it, BiL sent him the same belt.  Not only was it the very same belt but there were two of them in the gift.  But wait, that is not even the best part.  BiL ordered the same size for DH as for himself.  Although, the two brothers are similar in height and used to wear the same size, DH’s size has changed drastically.  DH lost a tremendous amount of weight.  One could say BiL was playing it safe but wait, it gets really good.  DH lost this weight eight years ago and has maintained it since and has routinely communicated not to get him clothing (because it is always the wrong size – the old size).  The two belts (which cannot be adjusted for a smaller size) are waiting to be donated.

What about you?  Any gifts that made you say: huh?

2.  Beating (flogging) a dead horse (to insist on talking about something that has already been thoroughly discussed)

Following-up on a gift is quite common in DH’s FOO.  DH and I often have found ourselves saying ‘Thank You’ too many times that it ends up sounding like a broken record.

During the past holiday break FiL said we could use his car instead of renting one.  It was a generous offer until every day (12 days) when we saw him he would ask: “How is the car running?” and then repeatedly say “Bet your grateful that it has seat warmers in this cold”.  This is no joke – every day without fail.  And without fail, responding to the sound of FiL’s tone DH would say “Yeah, thank you for letting us use it.”

A couple days before Christmas FiL wanted to go to the supermarket to buy a ham for his old neighbour and then to drop it off at her house.  The situation transpired as such (DH was not with us):

FiL gives the ham and the Neighbour and her daughter thank him.  They share with us their holiday festivities and then:

Neighbour: What are you all up to? (I believe she was asking what we were doing for the holidays since she had told us what they were doing.)

FiL: Well, we went and got the ham, that’s what we have been up to.

Neighbour: Yeah, thank you so much for doing that.  How is DH?

(I answer her question.)

FiL:  I got you a good size ham because your family has grown (referring to the new grandchildren)

Neighbour: Yeah, we certainly have.  

Neighbour’s daughter: We especially love fighting over the bone every year (referring to the fact that FiL brings the ham over every year).

FiL:  Yeah, well this time, I got you the one without the bone so you can make soups out of it later, ya know (points to the ham resting on the table).

Neighbour’s daughter: (goes to the ham and picks it up) Oh yeah, thanks, good idea.  We will have to put it in a cool place…

The Neighbour and her daughter fuss over where to put the ham, in the garage, in the front closet where it is cold but won’t freeze, wrap in a towel, etc.  As they are doing this, FiL says his goodbye and we leave this awful, 100% uncomfortable situation for me, behind.

3.  Straight from the horse’s mouth (a source of insider information)

It is common in DH’s FOO to use clichés and reinforce them – like, it’s the thought that counts.  Referring to the fact that when someone gives you a gift, regardless of whether or not thought about the gift receiver was considered, the important thing to remember is the gift giver’s intentions.  This may well be the case in healthy relationships, bad gifts can be given with good intentions.  Except growing up narc, good intentions don’t mean much when it is frequently and consistently followed by hurtful behaviours or ulterior motives.  But do gift givers always have good intentions?  I got a little insight into how DH’s FOO view gift giving.

Background: BiL and SiL went on holiday and bought gifts for their friends.  Here is the conversation that transpired after (word for word):

BiL: …across from Town X and across that other bridge is another little town basically but it’s where XYZ vineyard, so the winery is there, so we picked up a bottle for a co-worker.

DH: That’s one who…? (asking who the co-worker was to see if he knew him)

BiL: Who will love you forever

(SiL answers DH’s question about who the co-worker is since DH does know him)

chocoPerhaps, he meant it as a joke.  And as the conversation continues SiL and BiL inform us they went to our supermarket to do their chocolate shopping (to bring back chocolates for friends back home) and began to laugh when telling the story.  They said that the chocolates were a lot cheaper at the supermarket than the boutique chocolatier stores.  The supermarket does sell speciality chocolates (as stated on the box).  To end the conversation SiL says (about their friends) with a laugh (word for word):

SiL: “And they don’t know really” (laughs)

Even If I cut them some slack because no body is a perfect gift giver, my intuition tells me the manner in which they told the story and how much they chuckled and laughed made me feel uneasy.

During this past holiday break, FiL (DH’s father) gave a box of food to some of his neighbours.  When he told us that he had done so, he added:

FiL: “I figured that will bring in dividends throughout the year, ya know.”

He is referring to the fact that he will get free meals from his neighbours throughout year.  What percentage return is FiL figuring?

“A gift is a gift, of course?”

The definition is:

“A gift or a present is an item given to someone without the expectation of payment. Although gift-giving might involve an expectation of reciprocity, a gift is meant to be free.”  (Source: Wikipedia)

When does a ‘gift’ stop being a gift?  When I think of BiL’s phrase “who will love you forever” I think about the times I tried so hard to give the best gift ever to my mother and how much I wanted her love in return and how that expectation never came through. A gift, for me, was a way to buy love and get recognition – I wanted something in return.  It was the hope that this one item would transform a relationship that was never based on anything of value – respect, unconditional love, trust – I used to believe that a gift was magic.

When I think of DH’s FOO and the gift giving expectations, I am conflicted with my disgust for them and for myself.  Mostly, because I know I carried this expectation of gift giving with many of my friends into adulthood.  My friends and I don’t exchange gifts anymore – not to punish myself or them – but to really understand its meaning for me.

This last holiday season I read an advertisement in the metro and it said:

“it isn’t the thought that counts, it’s thought that counts.”

That felt appropriate to how I am feeling about it after this past holiday season – I need to give this some thought.  Gifts are not about obligation or images or anything.  A gift is a gift – nothing more, nothing less.  If this can’t be so with DH’s FOO then I’ve got my work cut out for me during the Year of the Horse, fittingly enough.

Hugs, TR

Related posts:

@ IBC: Gift Giving by NarcissistsGiving Gifts to Narcissists

The Narcissistic Continuum: Super Santa

P.S. The photo of the horses is of a traditional event (“ring riding”) in a small village where the rider uses the pointed stick to catch the ring that is hung in the air while riding the horse down a short track.  As the competition goes on the diameter of the ring gets smaller.