Let’s play Psychological Bingo – the new game in town – The Evolution of Love
This is longer than my other posts – I hope you will stay with me – it’s interesting!!
Sometimes I find it quite hard to track how the ideas in the book came about because it was an evolving and iterative process. One thought led to another until a way of thinking was developed which had meaning to myself and the people I shared the ideas with.
Developing the Psychological Bingo Board was one of those times.
Whilst researching love, two clear messages seemed to be coming through:
- If you want to have a healthy relationship with another you have to first have a healthy relationship with yourself. Once you have achieved this you then have to learn (if you haven’t learned this already) how to love someone else.
- We all have a drive to completion and that we have to complete ourselves first through our own efforts rather than hoping and expecting to complete ourselves through another person
With this in mind I have often been confused by the general consensus that you have to learn to love yourself whilst being aware that so few of us, including me, seemed capable of doing this.
In Alain de Botton’s brilliant book Essays in Love he describes his emotional journey through the life cycle of a relationship with a girl called Chloe which I will write about in more detail later in the book.
However buried in his text he said something that caught my attention. He said:-
‘Everyone returns us to a different sense of ourselves, for we become a little of who they think we are. Our selves can be compared to an amoeba whose outer walls are elastic and therefore adapt to our environment. It is not that the amoeba has no dimensions, simply that it has no self-defined shape. It is my absurdist side that an absurdist person will draw out of me, and my seriousness that a serious person will evoke. If someone thinks I am shy, I will probably end up shy, if someone thinks me funny, I am likely to keep cracking jokes.
He goes onto say that
‘it is a reminder that the labelling of others is usually a silent process. Most people do not openly force us into roles, they merely suggest that we adopt them through their reactions to us, and hence surreptitiously prevent us from moving beyond whatever mould they have assigned to us’.
Then he writes:
‘children are always described in from a third person perspective (isn’t Chloe a cute/ugly, intelligent/stupid kid?’) before they begin to influence their own definitions. Overcoming childhood could be understood as an attempt to correct the false stories of others. But the struggle against distortion continues beyond childhood. Most people get it wrong either out of neglect or prejudice.
After reading Alain De Botton’s book Love Essays, I became fascinated by the idea that we choose our personality based on the behaviour that enables us to get attention.
So if there is a child, who is sitting quietly reading and the parent wants a quiet, thoughtful child they will say something like ‘isn’t it nice that you can sit there on your own entertaining yourself’. The child then decides that to ‘fit in around here’ that it is best if they read and keep quiet.
Equally if the child puts on a show for the parent and the parent wants an outgoing child they may say something like ‘look at you on the stage, you are clearly going to be a star’. In this way the child learns that it is ok to be theatrical and extrovert ‘around here’.
And if the parent wants the child to be something different from extrovert and theatrical they might say ‘Stop mucking about and concentrate on your studies, look at your brother he knows how to sit down and apply himself’
I myself remember as a child when my parents came back from a school open evening and said ‘the teachers say you are alright but you cry a lot’. From that moment, I remember making the decision not to cry and be emotional. I had in fact programmed myself to be emotionally stoic. This was a decision that later in life became a problem as people tended to see me as unemotional and aloof.
If you follow this line of thinking a child effectively programmes themselves, by making a whole range of binary decisions based on the reactions of others. By making decisions for example to be ‘happy’, ‘extrovert’, and ‘active’ in order to fit in – you are in the process also making the decision not to be ‘sad’, ‘introverted’ and ‘sedentary’.
Of course, within a family where a child’s behaviour is not so controlled, they can choose to be both of the binary decisions. In this case the child is allowed to be happy sometimes and sad sometimes, athletic sometimes and sometimes sedentary etc. The more that both sides of the binary choice are integrated, the more the child as a whole will feel accepted and that they can be loved un-conditionally. In effect their personality will be allowed to develop and evolve naturally.
Whereas a child who has adopted a lot of one side of the binary decisions has learnt to adapt themselves to fit in with the people who care for them.
In this way I believe that we programme ourselves to be the people we are. This helps to also explain why some of our behaviours (or decisions) are apparently contradictory. For example we can be the ‘life and soul of the party’ in some instances and confused by the fact that we see ourselves as an introvert in other situations.
Out of this idea I developed the Psychological Bingo Board, which includes 39 binary choices, like happy or sad, introvert or extrovert, entertaining or boring etc. Obviously there would be a lot more choices than this but these are the ones, which enabled me to develop and use this as a working model.
Although we continue to complete our Bingo Board through out our life time., the main stages of decision making are as a child, as an adolescent and as an adult. I can give you an example of this from my own experience.
As a child, I decided that I was…..
boring, sedentary, disorganised, logical, independent, solitary, stoic, compliant, responsible, ugly, sad, introverted, shy, quiet, masculine, victim, rescuer, critical, giver, achiever, scapegoat, honest, brave, passive, serious, strong, upset, principled and controlled.
As you can imagine having made these choices about myself, my life was not that much fun.
I remember in my late 20’s I became friends again with someone I went to school with. She had a great sense of humour and she managed to bring this out in me. So I decided that I could be amusing and with her help I discovered that life could be much more enjoyable.
Equally when I was married I realised that when I wanted to (or decided to) I could have much more of an ‘action tendency’. I also started to develop my more spiritual side.
It was not until I got divorced in my 40’s that I had the opportunity to be creative. I started to go dancing, paint and write books. This was a talent that had lain dormant in me for many years until I decided to accept and enjoy that it was part of me.
I believe that all the behaviours and beliefs that we ‘undecide’ are also part of us but they become the disowned part of ourselves. Now it is becoming easier to see why we find it so hard to love ourselves. This is because unless we are very lucky to have been raised in a very inclusive, accepting family our bingo board choices mean that we are in effect ‘firing on only a few of our cylinders’.
If you have decided something – you have the ability to ‘undecide’ it too. Having spent much of my life in therapy of various kinds I often felt that there was no clear beginning, middle or end and that I had very little control of the process. If I am honest I often felt that I was there for them rather than the other way around. What I like particularly about the concept of the Psychological Bingo Board is that it can be used as an intuitive tool to develop your own personal development plan.
If you engage with the idea that we have all of these 78 behaviours and beliefs inside of us (yes, even the unpleasant ones) the Psychological Bingo Board, can be used to develop, acknowledge, accept or learn how to reintegrate the disowned aspects of ourselves that in our journey through life we ‘undecided’ were part of our personality.
Before leaving this blog I want to tell you a story about using the Psychological Bingo Board in practice. When I was developing the idea, I took some copies of the Board with me when I went to dinner with an ex-client and his family. I just wanted to show them the concept and see what they thought of it. So I think you can imagine my surprise when they started playing ‘bingo’ in front of me. They were very honest with each other and at one point I thought it might end up in a family argument. But what I realised was that their perceptions of each of other were very different and the bingo board had given them the structure to talk about things that had been bothering them about themselves and each other. The next time I visited I noticed an improvement in some of the areas they were concerned about and had been discussing.
You might want to have a go at completing the bingo board yourself. If you do this, I am sure it will reveal some things about you that you had not previously been aware of.
However this book is about relationships and you might be wondering what your Psychological Bingo Board has to do with past, present or future partners.
Well the simple answer is everything, and I will tell you about the implications for your relationships in the next blog.
Thank you to Jo Grant for permission to use the photo
Please note that this article is Copyright and cannot be reproduced, stored, or transmitted in any way without prior permission of the author.