An excerpt from “I Only Said” leave me out of it.

(Maizy is in group)

“You have the opportunity to change how your family interacts. You can break the cycle. Isn’t that exciting?” Miss Tina says animatedly.

“I think it’s exciting,” I say. “And I’m definitely going to make sure I don’t have anything else in my fuzzy bag other than Warm Fuzzies. I’d hate my children to feel the way I do.”

Miss Tina beams at me. “Maizy, I was so proud of you this morning. Guys, everything Maizy has told you about her sister is true. I really do believe that you have asked that special question of yourself.” Ken looks blank. “The ‘What did I do?’ question,” she explains. He nods.

“Can I tell the others what happened?” she asks me. I nod. “Maizy’s sister Mary threw several Cold Pricklies at Maizy, which she carefully and deliberately dodged. I was so proud.”

“It was hard,” I say. “I felt really angry, and it would have been easy to retaliate and lob a Cold Pricklie back at her. And I’m not saying I didn’t want to either, but I remembered that I had a choice.” I grin at the kids looking at me. “I had a picture of us all lobbing blue beanbags at each other and dodging them, so I focussed on that image and mentally dodged her insults. It worked. She got mad and left.”

Everyone starts clapping and I feel like a million dollars. A thought dawns on me. “Hey, isn’t that how you can deal with bullies at school? If you can dodge their insults and ignore them, they’ll get fed up and pick on someone else who will react.”

“Good point,” Miss Tina says.

“But I don’t get why people would want to swap anything other than Warm Fuzzies,” Marion says. “Why hurt other people?”

“That’s a good question,” Miss Tina says. “Why d’you think they do?” She looks around the room.

Rocky says, “Because some people are aggressive.”

Alfie speaks out. “Because some people think they’re better than others.”

I’m thinking of Mary and Mrs Smith’s will. “I think it’s because people want what others have.”

“Yeah, because they’re greedy,” Velvet chips in.

“But they wouldn’t do these things if they had a conscience, surely?” Marion asks.

“Ah,” Miss Tina cries. “Now we’ve found the truth. Oh, how smart you all are. A conscience is what separates us from the animals. Animals are driven by the need to feed and mate, and they don’t have the same thought processes as humans do that would allow them to consider their actions right or wrong. Humans beings do. So that gives us a dilemma. We can behave as animals and allow ourselves to be driven by the urges inside us; lust, greed, gluttony - and the other seven deadly sins - or we can think and make choices based on our consciences.”

Ken speaks out. “And the way we develop a conscience depends on how we’re brought up in our families. If you do something wrong, and we all do, and you’re expected to make amends for it, you’ll develop a conscience. “

I’m thinking quickly as they teach us. Something’s bothering me, so I speak out. “I think that I’ve got a conscience because, even though I’ve given out Cold Pricklies in the past, I’ve always felt bad about it. But I don’t think that Mary has one, because it doesn’t seem to bother her at all when she hurts people, not just me, she hurts Mom and Dad and the kids at school, too.”

I sit up in my chair and I can feel myself charged with the thoughts that spring into my mind. “But how can that be, when she and I are identical twins? We’re the same and yet we’re not.”

Miss Tina beams at me. “Oh, Maizy, you precious child. Do you know what you’ve just done? You’ve just spelled it out for all of us. You and Mary are identical twins, that means that you share the same genes, you are the same flesh, but you show us that each person has a choice as to how to be - whether to be good or evil. That’s how it is for all mankind; we have a choice as to how to behave.”

Ken pipes up. “That’s why it’s a good thing to have some kind of spiritual belief, because without some sort of ‘guidance’ it would be easy to be tempted by the drives that are in all of us.” A couple of the kids balk, but he tries to explain himself. “I’ve got a little baby. She’s a cutey, but you can see the drives, that we are all born with, in her. She wants what she wants when she wants it. It’s my job, as her father, to help her learn to control those drives, and teach her to wait and consider other people. That’s how she’ll develop a conscience. If I don’t help her do that, she’ll grow up wanting what she wants when she wants it, and she won’t care about who’s in her way.”

I get it, and I vow to myself that I’m going to try harder to control myself more. I’m going to be on constant guard duty, because I refuse to give out Cold Pricklies and hurt people, even if they try to hurt me. I’m better than that.

Marion speaks out and she sounds frustrated. “But I still don’t get why people would choose to seek Cold Pricklies instead of Warm Fuzzies.”

Miss Tina speaks directly to her. “Remember that any Stroke is better than no Stroke. If parents don’t know how to give Warm Fuzzies because they’ve never been shown, they’ll give Cold Pricklies. There’s never nothing in your fuzzy bag; your heart always has something in it. Human beings seek contact with others, it’s part of the human condition. From the very moment of conception - you know what that means, egg and sperm joining - the developing human is in contact with another. Firstly, its mother and after its birth, others. Human beings fear aloneness.”

I frown and so do several of the other kids.

“I don’t mean being alone, at times that’s great, we all need our own space. I mean the sense that outside ourselves there’s nothing out there. It taps into our subconscious and makes us very afraid. This feeling of fear is the root of why people seek Cold Pricklies when they can’t find any Warm Fuzzies. Any Stroke is better than no Stroke, remember?”

She looks around to see if we understand. I think I do.

“If you think about how life is for an unborn baby, it must be heaven. They’re held firmly, feel secure, are warm and never hungry. They are continually ‘stroked’ by the sensation of their mother’s uterus. They never feel alone, ever. Yet from the moment of birth until the moment of death, they will never experience the same degree of intimacy as they felt inside their mother’s uterus. This need is what drives us to stay connected to other people - it softens the blow. It helps take the edge off the aloneness that we feel subconsciously.”

She takes a sip of water from a glass on the table behind her. She sounds excited as if she’s made a great discovery.

“Are you all with me?” she asks, and most of us says we are. I am. I’m fascinated. “If you can’t share Warm Fuzzies to help stay connected to other humans, then you’ll take the only other option left to you - you’ll seek Cold Pricklies, even though they’ll make you feel bad in the end.”

She shakes her head and says, “Man, that’s so awful. It hurts my heart to know that some people think they can’t find any Warm Fuzzies, and being too ‘closed’ to try a new way of behaving.”

“Closed?” Lexi asks.

“Scared to try new ways of behaving,” Miss Tina clarifies.

“Scared?” Lexi challenges.

“Oh, I know what she means,” I pipe up. “I was scared to try to give Warm Fuzzies to Mary this morning.”

“Yes, but you tried. You’re learning a new way of interacting with other people,” Miss Tina says. “You are not scared of trying new ways of behaving.”

A smile spreads across my face and I feel great.

Ken takes over. “So those people who are too scared to get close to other people - because that’s what happens when you share Warm Fuzzies, you get close, you become intimate and I’m not talking about sex - opt to share Cold Pricklies, and that means drama, and lots of it.”

Oh, I know drama. Our house is a stage and we’re the main players. Several of the kids groan, saying that they know what he means.

Ken stands up and walks to the flipchart. He starts to draw a triangle and at the top corner he writes, “Persecutor,” and at the lower right-hand corner he writes “Rescuer,” and finally at the left-hand corner he writes, “Victim.”

“When people don’t know how to be truly intimate, and what am I not talking about?” he asks, making sure we’re still awake.

“Sex,” everyone answers.

He grins at us. “Good job. You’re all paying attention. When people don’t know how to be truly intimate, they play mind games. These games allow people to swap loads of Cold Pricklies, which allow them to fight their fear of aloneness, but basically stops them from ever achieving true intimacy, and what am I not talking about?” he quips.

“Sex,” we all chant.

“Good job,” he praises, smiling at us, giving us a Warm Fuzzy. “You’re listening. I’m impressed.”

We laugh.

“Remember, we’re driven to stay connected to other people and how we do that depends on whether our families swaps Warm Fuzzies or Cold Pricklies.”

Most of the kids call out that their families only swap Cold Pricklies. A couple of the kids say that the warmest thing they’ve ever experienced was a Tepid Ticklie, and I see Miss Tina and Ken glance at each other and share a look of sadness between them.

“What we’re going to look at now,” Ken says, “is the drama that’s involved in two people who share Cold Pricklies. You’ve all heard of mind games?”

Everyone says yes. It’s a term that’s branded about a lot at school when kids don’t understand their boyfriend’s behaviour, and they feel manipulated or conned in some way. For me, it’s not a boyfriend that plays mind games, Ronan never did, it’s Mary. But as I think it, I check myself, it’s not only Mary, it’s Marie and Millie, too. I feel conned by them all, but not by Mom. I feel used and ignored, but not conned. I listen intently.

“Well, this diagram,” Ken says, pointing to his triangle, “will show you the ‘moves’ people make when they play mind games. And why do people play mind games?” he quizzes us.

Silence hangs among us for a moment and then Velvet blurts out, “Of course,” she tells herself, “people play mind games because they don’t know how to be intimate.” There’s a grin on her face as she stares Ken out. “And I don’t mean...”

She looks pointedly around the room and the kids crack up, saying, “Sex.”

“Smart mouth,” Ken plays with her.

“I’m listening to you, okay?”

Ken grins at her. I love this. I love being here, where everyone is valued.

You can say what you like, there’s no hiding place, but anything you say is okay. I’ve never known anything like it and right now I don’t ever want to leave. I glance at Velvet and she’s grinning. I laugh softly to myself.

“Okay, so this is how mind games work, and it’s easy to recognise a mind game once you learn the moves. And the point is, that you can step away from mind games once you recognise that you’ve become hooked into one. However, people who depend on these types of negative Strokes become expert at playing the moves, so you need to be on guard.”

He points to diagram. “You can see that there are three main positions on this drama triangle. It’s called that because the moves cause drama, and there are three positions that people typically find themselves in, persecutor, rescuer and victim.”

Everyone’s very quiet.

“You can tell if you’ve been hooked into a mind game if you are in one of these positions on this triangle, and suddenly without warning you find yourself in another position, and feel confused or conned.” Ken holds up his hand and says, “Hang in there with me, guys, it’ll be clear in a minute.”

I do as he asks. I’m curious to see how this works.

“People who play mind games do so for a reason. Remember, it’s so much better to swap Warm Fuzzies and be intimate with another human being.” He grins and holds up his hand to silence us as we all get ready to chant the word “sex” again when we hear the word “intimate.”

“People who play mind games are scared of getting too close to other people. Perhaps they’ve been hurt before and don’t know how to keep themselves safe. There are many reasons why people put up barriers and fail to share Warm Fuzzies that lead to closeness. You need to truly know yourself to become close to another person, and that means taking responsibility for the negative things about yourself. It takes insight. If people don’t truly know themselves, in order to feel connected in some way to others to get rid of their fear of aloneness, they play mind games. Mind games prevent people from being truly intimate but they provide masses of Strokes, Cold Pricklies and Tepid Ticklies, yet they make people feel connected to other human beings.”

He glances around the room and sees we’re all frowning at him in concentration.

“The three main positions in the game are persecutor, rescuer and victim, and the purpose of the mind game is to generate drama, and to swap Strokes without letting down your defences so that you become uncomfortably close to others.”

“It all sounds like too much hard work,” Alfie says. “Why would anyone bother?”

“Because mind games produce masses and masses of Strokes,” Ken says patiently, “even though deep down they’ll make you feel bad. People get used to feeling bad.”

“It sounds dumb to me,” Scott says. “I hate drama. There’s so much of it in my house.”

“I’m sorry,” Ken says. “There was in my home, too. I know how it feels.”

Miss Tina stands up and Ken says, “We’re going to role play, okay? You work out which position we’re in at any given time. All the time we stay in one position, it’s not a mind game. It only becomes a mind game when we switch positions. Watch and listen!”

Ken seems to turn into someone else before our eyes. He seems to shrink.

“I’ve tried really hard to please you, to get you everything you want,” he whines at Miss Tina.

He turns towards us and asks what position he’s in.

I look at the options, persecutor, rescuer or victim.

“Victim,” I say, and others agree with me. Ken tells me I’m right.

“Well, it’s just not good enough,” Miss Tina snaps. “I work two jobs to put food on the table. You need to get it together.”

Miss Tina asks us what position she’s in.

Her tone of voice is harsh and I’m reminded of my mom. Their behaviour is exactly like my mom and dad. I call out again, “Persecutor.” Miss Tina nods.

Ken turns to us and says, “I try harder than ever to please her. I wear myself out.”

Miss Tina says, “And I pick on him more and more for not being good enough.”

“Until one day I meet someone else, and I go off with them,” Ken says. “And this is what I say.”

“I”m sick of your nagging. It’s over.” He looks at us and asks what position he’s in.

Persecutor, I think. Lexi calls out first. She’s right.

Miss Tina pretends to sob. “He’s left me,” she cries. A giggle seeps out of me as she sobs dramatically.

“And what position is she in?” Ken asks, while Miss Tina goes overboard and gets louder.

“Victim,” several kids call out.

“Can you see that they ended up in a different position than the ones they started out in. That means that both of them were hooked into a mind game.

They swapped lots of Cold Pricklies, experienced loads of drama, and avoided being close to each other, but stayed connected even though it hurt,” Ken explains.

“That’s how it was for my mom and dad,” I cry. “Dad did everything for Mom but it was never enough, so he had an affair. Does that mean they were playing mind games?”

Miss Tina looks at me and challenges me. “Did they swap Warm Fuzzies that would allow them to be close, or did they swap Cold Pricklies?”

The answer is obvious to me, and I feel heavyhearted as I say, “They swapped Cold Pricklies all the time.”

“I think that if they swapped Cold Pricklies and they ended up in a different position on the drama triangle, you can safely say they were hooked into mind games,” Ken says kindly, like he wants to soften the revelation.

I feel sad. If Mom and Dad had known this stuff, maybe they’d have made an effort to change, so that they wouldn’t have allowed themselves to get hooked into mind games.

“But why?” I ask. “Why would they behave that way when they know it would ruin things?” It doesn’t make any sense to me.

“Because they didn’t believe that they could give and receive Warm Fuzzies,” Miss Tina says.

“Let’s look at another example,” Ken says, brightly.

I shake my head, trying to get rid of my sadness.

Miss Tina’s face is downcast and she looks anxious. “Oh Ken, I’m so worried. I’ve spent all weekend working on my assignment and it has to be handed in tomorrow. My kid’s sick and I’ve been up all night. I can’t think straight.”

Ken faces Miss Tina and says, “Oh, I’m so sorry. What can I do to help? I know you’re having a hard time at the moment.”

He faces us and asks what position he’s in.

He’s rescuing her. Velvet beats me and answers first. Ken says, “Good job.”

“I’m used to people helping me,” Miss Tina says to us. “When I play dumb, people come to my rescue and I get what I want.”

“I’m used to being needed,” Ken continues. “It’s how I get my Strokes.”

Miss Tina slips into role again and whines, “Oh, I’d be so grateful if you’d check my assignment for me and change what needs changing.” Ken looks at us and asks, “What position is Miss Tina in right now?”

I look at the options again, persecutor, rescuer and victim.

“Still in victim,” I say and others agree with me. Ken tells me I’m right.

Ken says, “And I’d gladly do her assignment because I want her to need me. I work on her assignment all night and only have a little time to finish my own. When she gets a higher mark than me, I get angry, and say, ‘Well, that’s the last time I help you.’”

He looks at us and asks, “What position am I in?”

“Persecutor,” we all say together.

He beams at us, nods his head, and says, “You guys are great.”

Miss Tina says, “I can remember a time at work years ago when I felt really irritated with my coworker and I couldn’t put my finger on the reason why. It was only after an occasion when I felt really stupid and conned that I recognised I’d been hooked into a mind game. He thought he was better than anyone else and looked down his nose at everyone. He asked me, in a whiny voice, a question about some paperwork. He was in the victim position and me, being eager to please, I leapt into the rescuer position and told him the answer. But no sooner had I explained how the paperwork was done, he began to argue with me, and went on and on wanting me to admit that I might have gotten it wrong. He had switched positions to persecutor and I was then the victim. He called the supervisor for the answer, obviously disregarding what I’d told him, and when he was told the same answer as I’d given him, he said that my explanation hadn’t been clear. I was so mad that I left the office to cool off, and that’s when it hit me that I felt conned, and realised that I’d been hooked into a mind game. I already know that the reason for playing mind games is to generate drama so that people can ‘stay connected’ without dropping their guard and feeling vulnerable, but I wondered what his motivation could be, and then it dawned on me that he needed to see himself as superior to others, and would deliberately go out of his way to make others look stupid, so that he could maintain the perception he had of himself. Once I understood it, I was able to stay out of the game by avoiding the hooks.”

“How?” Rocky asks.

“I became very sensitive to what he was saying, and I was on my guard. When I got back to my desk, he started again. He always wanted the last word. He kept asking me questions. I knew that he was going to argue with any answers I gave him, so I didn’t take the bait. I kept saying, ‘I don’t know’ over and over, and eventually he got tired and stopped.”

“Man, that sounds like hard work,” Marcus says.

“It was,” Miss Tina replies, “but I was determined not to allow him to hook me into his games, just so he could end up feeling good and I’d end up feeling stupid.”

Miss Tina glances at her watch and says, “Let’s do one more example. Who can think of a time when you’ve been in one of these three positions but unexpectedly found yourself in another? Who’s felt conned?”

Velvet puts her hand up. “I hated my mom because I felt used.”

“How so?” Miss Tina asks.

“Because all the time she was falling apart, I was there for her. It was like I was her parent, not the other way around.” She studies the diagram on the flipchart. “I guess I was in the rescuer position and she was the victim. Everything was going wrong for her. Then suddenly, when she found another man, she didn’t want me around. She switched positions and ended up persecuting me - she put me in foster care - and I was the victim.”

Miss Tina beams at her. “Oh Velvet, you’re wonderful. You understand.”

“Yeah, but I don’t understand,” she cries. “Why would she throw me away?”

“Oh, honey,” Miss Tina says gently, “it’s because she didn’t know how to be truly intimate. She was desperate for Strokes, so she played mind games and chose a man who would play them with her. They operated on the drama triangle. If only she’d believed that she had Warm Fuzzies in her fuzzy bag. If only she could have opened her heart and realise that she was a valuable human being who didn’t need to settle for Cold Pricklies. All she had to do was to accept Warm Fuzzies into her life and then she’d never have chosen a man who played mind games, and there’s no way that she could ever have given you away.”

A tear rolls down Velvet’s face.