Psychologists and counselors have long researched and studies human motivations and behaviors. While much of what we do as human beings (and why we do it) is still only explained in loose theory and general concepts, we do see and understand definitive patterns in many psychological processes and outcomes. The understanding of these theories combines with experience to afford mental health professionals insights that many in the general public might not easily grasp. An example of this is when we see women who seem mired in abusive and harmful relationships. Most people that know of women who stay with hurtful men simply shake their heads in disbelief while scoffing that the woman should know better and make better decisions. Those of us who are trained and experienced in the mental health realm understand the myriad of personal, social, and familial pressures that bind these women to such terrible circumstances.
We should never be so hasty as to pass judgment onto others. You see, many of us make similar foolish psychological errors at the poker table. My email inbox is filled everyday with readers of my articles who are in the midst of a serious funk. Their poker game has hit tough times. They've suffered tons of consecutive losses. They fall into a cycle of selfpity and mental justification, making the downward spiral only compound upon itself. They write me and post bad beat stories online, looking for someone to boost them and their faltering confidence. They look for a push to keep them going, and to get them onto the right path. When I see these confused, tired souls I see a psychological snapshot similar to many of the clients I've seen in the counseling realm.
Many battered women suffer from extremely low sense of self-worth. Often, they've spent their childhood feeling that they were failures. They may have had distant or unloving environments which had them grow accustomed to being unworthy of love and affection. In their damaged hearts and minds, a psychological misnomer takes hold which has them somehow believe that they "deserve" to be treated poorly. My experiences tell me that many poker players hold the same basic poor mental self-talk. I find that many players who lose often (or who are in the midst of a poker "rut") also have a disproportionately low sense of self. Since they do not feel good about themselves or their abilities, they find an odd comfort in losing. You see, losing is subconsciously expected. The individual is compelled to live up to (or down to) their deeply rooted self-perceptions. Poker players who are inexperienced at the game carry the burden of self-doubt. Players who are unsure of themselves and their ability carry it as well. The same players that bemoan their habitual losing are often actually seeking the loss. I know this is a tough concept for some to get a handle on due to the paradoxical nature, so allow me to provide further examples. I bet we all know a player who would be wildly successful at poker, but he seems to blow his bankroll often on idiotic plays. Or maybe you know players who grind out nice profits playing hours of tight-aggressive poker only to lose their winnings on long-shot bets at the horse track or at the roulette wheel. Many of these types of individuals are frozen by the prospect of success. They have an overriding longing to lose. Losing reaffirms their negative self image. Losing is comforting. Losing is them.
Clawing oneself from these self-defeating chains is no easy task. Like abused women, deflated poker players must work tirelessly to break the cycle. They must seek support internally and externally to change their assumptions of their game and themselves. This is why I remind players that poker is indeed a game of psychology, but that does not always mean that we should be looking for tells from our opposition. The first piece of poker psychology comes from serious introspection. Look within yourself first, before you ever worry about figuring out your tablemates.
Now go make it happen.