What if Human Behavior had a Voice?

Ever encountered people that seem to suffer the same fate again and again? I used to work with a woman who suffered a string of relationships with abusive boyfriends. I also knew a martyr who was always in an incurable situation. Without realizing, some people play life games. After conducting some research into these psychological ruts, I decided to incorporate my findings into one of my thrillers.

Psychological Games

This idea germinated from the times of the Big Brother phenomenon, the antidote to the soap opera, where human nature is laid bare. What most intrigued me was the psychologists’ interpretation of each housemate’s body language. It seemed that the housemates’ conscious actions and what they said was always at odds with these deeper, unconscious forces. These forces would leak out through their behavior.

Switch down the TV and watch the body language of people without the interference of discourse. The messages their body language conveys will often be at odds with what is actually being said. Action really does speak louder than words.

But imagine if we could give a voice to such unconscious behavior, what would it say?

Workings of the Personality Complex

A comic version of what body language could say if it had a voice can be seen in Mock the Week, where the comedian Hugh Dennis conducts a dub-over a film clip of the royals or celebrities during a public event. A similar thing can be seen in Woody Allen’s’ Annie Hall during a disastrous date.
Book on the Study of Human Relationships

During my research, I came across a fascinating book about human behavior in relationships, called Games People Play by Eric Berne. Berne describes life games that are defined by a repeating pattern of behavior with the same payoff and with a hidden motive. Take a look at the following discourse, which describes one such game, called Wooden Leg. Here, the teacher is questioning a student about his missing homework:

Wooden Leg Life Game

Teacher: You’ve not brought your homework!
Student: I’m sorry, sir, the dog ate it.
Teacher: Why didn’t you do it again, then?
Student: I couldn’t because I ran out of paper.
Teacher: Well, why didn’t you pop down the shops and get some?
Student: I couldn’t because I had no money.
Teacher: Why didn’t you ask your parents for some?
Student: How could I? They were outside chasing the dog!

The teacher is an innocent party to a game devised by the student. The student wants to appear helpless; circumstances have conspired against him regarding his homework, and he wants to appear helpless. But really, he wants to get out of doing his homework (the hidden motive).

Other life games are explored in Berne's book, such as Rapo, a sex game and Look What You Made me Do, a game about blame.

Sigmund Freud’s Ego States Model

A complimentary model to Berne’s Life Games, Freud’s theory on the three egos helps to clarify what is really going on with the student and teacher scenario. Freud describes three egos, the child, the parent and the adult (id, ego and superego). This psychological theory is explained in more depth on the above link, but Berne’s games can only be fuelled by either the child or the parent ego, not the adult. We can see, that the student has taken on the child role, and the teacher, the parent role. Berne’s games cannot take place if either or both parties are in the adult (superego) state.

Clinical Psychology in Baddies

This game is fuelled by emotional dependency. If the teacher had put the onus on the student and said, ‘what are you going to do about it?’ the student would have been forced into responsibility and the game would fall apart. Putting the onus on the student forces him into the role of the adult (the superego).

Habitual use of Wooden Leg could taint the student’s entire future, regarding relationships, buying a house and having a family. His life could be defined by appearing helpless and his rotten luck! In reality, he wants to shirk out of certain things, to appear helpless and blameless, like a child. Not a good fate!
In my thriller, the Shuttered Room. Daughter of a magnate, Jessica is kidnapped and held in an upstairs room by three thugs. In a bid to escape, she cuts a hole in the bedroom floor and watches what they are up to. Unknown to them, she uses what she sees to play mind games with them. Jessica cannot always hear what is being said, so she creates little pantos for her own amusement. She imagines what her hosts might be thinking by their bodily behavior and vocalizes them. The only trouble is, a disturbing logic begins to emerge.
Thriller on the Psychology of Human Behavior
One of her captors, Kia, indeed appears to undergo the same repeating fate in that she suffers a string of abusive relationships. We learn that her inner force has a needy nature. Kia fears being alone and needs to be in a codependent relationship (a child ego state). This means finding a partner with an emotional deficiency that she can serve and use. She will always be needed and her relationship assured. However, she also has a manipulative streak and likes to be in control.
As Jessica gets to know her captors, she begins to see how their destructive forces led them into their lives of crime.

Real Criminal Psychology in Fiction

In The Shuttered Room, we can see that Jessica’s private pantos are centered upon her captors’ inner voices. However, one of her captors, Jake, doesn’t appear to have an inner voice. This is more disturbing for Jess; it’s like seeing a face without a nose. To her, he appears incomplete and wonders why.

Here is an excerpt from my book describing how the inner force of the aforementioned Kia might sound like if we could grant it a voice.

“Meet me for a fag-break and a drag of flirtation. My void must be filled but sex is my revenge. I have nothing else to compel you but I will show you what I can get. Whether I desire it or not, I do it because I can.”

A very needy and childish, if sexually precocious inner voice. As Jessica’s cabin fever takes its grip, she starts to hallucinate what these forces might look like. Covered in another article here, I got my idea from a government information advert tackling adult illiteracy, about ‘ridding your gremlins.’

The Shuttered Room by Charles J Harwood
Copyright is asserted © 2012
Other themes relating to this novel
Extra articles

Games People Play, Eric Berne: New York: Grove Press (1964)
What is Transactional Analysis and how it is used in CENT: ABC of Counseling (viewed Feb 15 2013)
The Ego and the Id, On Metapsychology, Sigmund Freud: Penguin Freud Library (1991)