Managing Stress from Mind Games

by Jerry Kennard, Ph.D. Medical Reviewer

Do you live or perhaps work with someone who regularly leaves you feeling guilty but you're not sure why? If so, you may be the victim of one of the most stressful relationship issues - mind games. Gameplay, in this sense, is the term we give to emotional manipulation.

Mind games are packaged in all sorts of ways and we're all guilty of them to some extent or another. Some are fairly overt and we may even find them endearing or amusing. "You make the coffee, you always make such nice coffee" runs along these lines. It's possible it could backfire but there's a good chance this clunky form of flattery and obvious manipulation will work, especially if accompanied by a big smile, or some pitiful expression. It's a kind of mind game, but both people are in on it, and the outcome isn't likely to cause harm or upset, unless it escalates.

More harmful, and more stressful, are the passive-aggressive approaches some people use in order to maintain one-upmanship. Some of the more common examples include the silent treatment. Sometimes the silent treatment follows a specific comment or action, but not always. Sometimes it's simply because the person is moody and rather than explain this they looks for faults in others or simply take it out on them by inferring they may have done something wrong. Another common feature is being the victim, something I doubt requires explanation.

Anger, pity, blame, spitefulness, jealousy and guilt. These are all tools the manipulator uses. Finding yourself in such no-win situations only has an outcome of leaving you feel stressed and diminished. Regrettably the manipulator is often highly skilled and although they take and take, they also sometimes give. It's a bit like playing a slot machine in that loss after loss is followed by the occasional gain. Unless you are on your guard the few wins becomes addictive and you continue to play.

What it comes down to is the fact that some people are the biggest stressors of all. They may be partners, parents, co-workers or so-called friends but they have the common thread of being stress inducing. It's important however that you also avoid the trap of becoming your own worst enemy. Don't expect too much of yourself or you'll end up bullying yourself as badly if not worse than others.

Jerry Kennard, Ph.D.
Meet Our Writer
Jerry Kennard, Ph.D.

Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s work background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of