Games: Wooden Leg, WAHM, NIGYSOB & Trapdoors

Transactional Analysis is the examination of areas of human behaviour divided into what are termed games.  Eric Berne’s original book “Games People Play” has long been out of print,  but is well worth looking at.  I wanted to look at a game titled “Wooden Leg” today.  Wooden Leg is best played by someone disadvantaged in some way,  it becomes the excuse card.  The Player can use race,  age,  physical or mental disability,  bereavement,  or any other disadvantage to play.  This disadvantage is termed the Wooden Leg.  The player is given a job to do,  or a set of responsibilities to oversee,  and fails completely to take the job or responsibility seriously until something goes very wrong.  When called to account for their failure,  all accusations are brushed away with the phrase “Well, what do you expect from someone with a wooden leg?”.  Thus the failure and consequences are shrugged off and the player of the Wooden Leg card expects there to be complete mitigation on their part.  Of course,  we have so many examples of what people can achieve regardless of their disadvantages in life.  Achievement begins with attitude,  so players of the wooden leg card should note that to play the card is to lose future opportunity to do well.

Kick me is generally played by men who,  by their attitude,  have an imaginary sign around their neck with the words   “Don’t Kick Me” on.  So strong is this message that its hard to resist,  and he ends up inevitably being kicked.  He then protests  “Hey,  I said DON’T kick me”,  and continues in the game of “Why does this always happen to me?” (also called WAHM for short).  The aim of WAHM is to prove that “My misfortunes are bigger than yours”.  Threadbare is the Female equivalent of Kick Me.

NIGYSOB (Now I’ve got you,  you son of a bitch),  is played by the person who perhaps needs some work done,  and is anxious to fix a price before the tradesman begins the job.  The work is completed and done very well,  but the tradesman discovered the necessity of some small replacement part that adds a tiny amount to the bill’s total.  Outraged,  the client vents anger,  refusing to pay until the bill is adjusted back to the agreed amount,  and taking the opportunity to insult the tradesman’s ethics,  skill,  family etc.  Inevitably,  having no real other choice,  the tradesman gives in and adjusts the bill to the original agreed amount.  The client has taken the opportunity to play NIGYSOB,  rather than negotiate as an adult,  and has delighted in the chance to vent his rage.  The tradesman was playing WAHM. The value of understanding life games is this:  If you understand how the game is played,  you can change the rules and prevent the game from continuing to its conclusion.

Transactional Analysis advocates a process early in therapy that calls for “Closing the Trap Doors” The theory is that by the age of about four,  every one of us reaches a trapdoor conclusion that “If the worst comes to the worst,  I can always:  a) Go mad, b) Kill myself, or c) Kill someone else.  Closing the trapdoor is the verbal contract the therapist requests the client undertakes that they agree not to take any of those options within the duration of the therapy.  Of course,  the client must agree to it,  not to please the therapist,  but voluntarily, because the need to change is weakened in a client who is “doing it for somebody else” It must always be the client’s own decision if it is to be effective.  I have used this system,  though not in every case,  but have found it useful when I have employed it,  and have yet to lose a client in such extreme circumstances.  For the client who is made aware to the trapdoor script,  the removal of the option seems not to increase pressure on them, but allows them to focus on getting through the therapy to the desired conclusion.  As such it is a powerful tool.

Please let me know if you’ve enjoyed hearing about these games.  If popular I can discuss more games with you.




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3 responses to “Games: Wooden Leg, WAHM, NIGYSOB & Trapdoors

  1. Tiggy

    Its amazing how many people in the world have a wooden leg! 🙂

  2. Andy

    What worries me with this analysis is that it can lead to invalidating responses when these things are actually true. e.g. someone is unable to do something because of a disability, it’s put down as “Wooden Leg”. Someone repeatedly suffers racist discrimination, they conclude they’re a victim of racist discrimination, it’s put down as WAHM. Someone gets angry at being repeatedly abused by others, it’s put down as NIGYSOB. A person with a sleep disorder has tried a dozen therapies and nothing’s worked, it’s YDYB. We end up with an inhuman world where reality is “just an excuse” and others’ claims (both ethical and empirical) can be dismissed all too easily as just games.

    • ginatoaster

      To be honest Andy, i believeI I have failed to adequately express myself if that is your understanding of the essay. I am myself disabled and a wheelchair user, despite which I am seen by others as being very capable. The attitude is key. I understand my limitations, and I consciously and carefully challenge them. I have no figurative wooden leg simply because I do not trade on disability to gain either sympathy or help from others. Society often seems to classify those who are disabled or have problems as helpless in many ways, though we shortchange ourselves if we allow ourselves to be compromised into negative thoughts or behaviours in a fulfillment of those expectations. There are many who claim a wooden leg rather than motivate themselves into doing more, there are also many who rise above it enough to be capable and positive in their thoughts and actions. There are many tjhings worse than having a wooden leg, and much we can do despite it.

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