Home » Blogs » Psychoanalysis Now » Mind Games of the Third Kind

Mind Games of the Third Kind

At the turn of the 20th Century Sigmund Freud came along and discovered his neurotic defense mechanisms. These were, in fact, “games” people played with others (and with themselves) in order to defend against the truth. For example, “projection” was a defense mechanism that people use to unconsciously deny their own hatred and attribute it to others.

A few generations ago Eric Berne wrote a bestseller called, Games People Play, which began a new school of therapy called Transactional Analysis. He described some forms of manipulation that people used in his day and are still using today, such as the alcoholic game, a ritual for five people, the alcoholic, the enabler (i.e., the bartender) the persecutor (often the spouse), the dummy and the rescuer.

Today people have developed mind games of the “third kind.” These games are more extreme; they are games that Berne would label “third degree” games—games that are hostile, harmful and sometimes fatal. We live in a stressful era, and the games people play today are a crucial component and byproduct of that stress. Below I have listed a few of the mind games of today and have given them names. Both individuals and groups play these games.

Victim Game. In this game people become obsessed with being victims. Berne called a milder version of the victim game the “poor me” game. The identity of people who play these games is wrapped around being victims. This causes them to look for countless ways in which they are victimized, and then to constantly call attention to this victimization. Often the victims are hysterical and therefore arouse fear and obedience in those around them. A victim group arouses mass hysteria. The conscious or unconscious goal of victims is two-fold: (1) to take out anger on those who have allegedly victimized them and (2) to gain special consideration from others due to their victimization. Victims show no mercy towards those who they judge to be victimizers, since they view them as evil. Hence they will harass, smear, mock, persecute, fire from jobs, and sometimes even kill opponents. At the same time, if anyone suggests that those who identify themselves as “victims” are in fact guilty of victimization, their narcissism causes them to fly into a rage.

Apology Game. An offshoot of the Victim Game, the Apology Game is played by those who feel that a person has said or done something offensive or immoral. These people look for people to say or do the wrong thing (in their opinion) in order to call them out and demand an apology. Demanding an apology from someone will not lead to resolution, but this is not their goal. The goal of Apology Game players is to act out their anger on those who they view as speaking and acting in a way that goes against their own belief system. Venting their anger in this disguised way and demanding an apology (and generally getting one) confirms their feelings of superiority, assuages their need to control those who disagree with them, and allows them to release anger that dwells inside them and probably comes from an earlier time in their lives, not from the present incident. At its deepest root, the game is played to avoid looking at these deepest sources of their anger.

Goodness Game. In this game individuals or groups convince themselves that they have the opposite feelings towards others than they really have. Freud referred to this as a reaction formation. People, on an unconscious level, may have a negative feeling or attitude about certain other people or groups (such as blacks) but push that attitude into their unconscious and convince themselves that they have only the most positive feelings for that person or group. They are good and only have good motives. At the same time they become the most ardent defenders and protectors of that individual or group, and project that others (or another group) have the negative attitude they have repressed in themselves, and they become activists with a crusade to do whatever is necessary to destroy the people or groups they now designate as evil. This allows them to maintain the vision of themselves or the group to which they belong as completely good and others as bad. They perform the most vicious attacks on this other person or group and view themselves as heroes for doing so. At its most extreme, this game can lead to war.

Reverse Hero Game. As we all know, mass shooting have been occurring in America and all over the world at an ever-increasing pace. Mass killers use what Freud called rationalization to convince themselves they are heroes for performing their acts of violence. I call this the reverse hero syndrome. Usually a hero does something good to become a hero. These people think they are heroes for doing something bad. They are angry people who have been damaged in their childhoods and carry that anger into their adulthoods, until something happens to trigger the eruption of their anger. Unconsciously, they look for a reason to unleash their anger, and if you look for something you will find it. They find people who they think are a detriment to the world, who have the wrong political or sexual or religious attitude or people who in their minds are connected with some injustice. Young children may be targets of their anger because they have committed the crime of being happy children; these children arouse jealousy and the angry man may view these children as smug. They must be eliminated for having the happiness the killer never had.

These are but a few of the mind games of the third kind. They are much more extreme and much more destructive than formerly described games. People who play them are deeply disturbed. They won’t recognize that they play them, and anyone who suggests they do so will become targets of their wrath.

Mind Games of the Third Kind

Gerald Schoenewolf, Ph.D.

Gerald Schoenewolf, Ph.D. is a licensed psychoanalyst in New York and has been practicing for over 37 years. He works with adults, couples, families, adolescents, and children. He has graduated from three psychotherapy institutes and received a Certificate in Psychoanalysis from the Washington Square Institute in 1981. He has been an Adjunct Assistant Professor of psychology at the Borough of Manhattan Community College since 2002 and has authored thirteen books on psychotherapy and psychoanalysis as well as four novels and a book of poems and drawings. More recently he wrote 20 screenplays (winning four first-place awards at festivals) and produced and directed two feature films.

One comment: View Comments / Leave a Comment



APA Reference
Schoenewolf, G. (2018). Mind Games of the Third Kind. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 20, 2020, from


Last updated: 4 Sep 2018
Statement of review: Psych Central does not review the content that appears in our blog network ( prior to publication. All opinions expressed herein are exclusively those of the author alone, and do not reflect the views of the editorial staff or management of Psych Central. Published on All rights reserved.