Overcoming Limitations and Roadblocks

Script and Introvision

In order to understand how individuals develop behavior patterns that span entire life lines and which often seem completely incomprehensible if perceived from the outside, the concept of “life script” based in the theory of Transactional Analysis proves to be a valuable and useful model. The term script actually refers to the script of a film; in the psychological context the concept is similar. In the same way that the film script imposes its roles and actions on the actors – who do not have the authority to transform villains to heroes for example, but must instead follow the prescribed patterns – an individual’s life script ensures that a person always follows certain patterns of behavior. As a result we are faced with various limitations and inner blockages.

The basis for our personal script is laid out in childhood. A child which is continuously confronted with certain unpleasant experiences is apt to develop very specific perceptions of its own self, of other people and of life in general. These views are so strong that they may determine the individual’s behavior even in adult life.

This can be demonstrated with a simple example: Each child experiences situations in which it feels anger and situations where anger is a quite adequate emotion. If the child in question has parents who are not able to cope with anger, they will suppress his irritation. If the child still expresses its anger, for example because it is denied something it wants, it will be punished for this show of emotions, for example with love withdrawal. When the child routinely experiences that its parents no longer share their love if it shows signs of anger, it will learn to suppress its anger. This person will develop the idea that “It’s not okay to be angry,” or, “I’m not lovable when I am angry.” On the path of gaining complete control over its emotions, the child will most likely have to face very unpleasant situations.

At this point the concept of script intersects with the practice of Introvision: A child who is angry, sad and disappointed, and is then sent alone to its room where it has to stay “until it can behave again” experiences moments of despair. It will cry, even scream, and feel helpless and alone, in other words it is really not feeling well. This experience is so unpleasant that the child’s brain will finally make an effort to avoid this terrible fate in the future. To attain this it will install an alarm to indicate, “Look out! You’re faced with a situation which must be avoided at all costs!”

Even as an adult, the person will experience this alarm going off on a regular basis as soon as there is even the smallest sign that a situation becomes threatening in the familiar way. In turn, the person who has learned as a child that “I am unlovable when I’m angry” will develop behavior patterns that help him to avoid these situations. He acts demonstratively peaceful, always intent on keeping an even score and swallowing his anger at all costs – even if this not an option by all accounts. Instead of putting his foot on the ground if his legitimate interests are violated, he retreats because “he just doesn’t have it in him.” This is beside the point, however – it’s his life script that dictates he must not show his anger.

Injunctions

Transactional Analysis defines twelve so-called injunctions, which, although they are acquired in early childhood, still sustainably influence the individual’s behavior in adult life, as any injunction has far-reaching implications. The twelve injunctions that Eric Berne, the founder of Transactional Analysis, has formulated, are:

  • Don’t be
  • Don’t be important
  • Don’t succeed
  • Don’t be angry
  • Don’t think
  • Don’t feel
  • Don’t be close
  • Don’t be a child
  • Don’t grow up
  • Don’t be yourself
  • Don’t belong
  • Don’t be well.

Since these injunctions can only take hold if they are ingrained with the corresponding intensity or under particularly dramatic and therefore memorable circumstances, they rank high in the psyche of the person in question. Injunctions are clearly defined as prohibitions – they hint at something that must be avoided at all costs. Persons, for example, which feature the injunction, “Do not get too close,” will desperately avoid situations that could result in closer contact to other people. Someone with the injunction, “Don’t show any feelings,” must avoid allowing feelings or even showing them. This is connected to those imperatives that fall along the pattern, “Something must not happen under any circumstances!”

In order for an injunction to be accepted and installed as an integrated part of the personality, the prohibition in question is linked to an alarm – and the more the respective injunction is emotionally charged, the more violent the alarm reaction that is triggered when the imperative is threatened. It can be observed that imperatives which are based on injunctions are often among the “key imperatives” – in other words to those that are particularly deeply rooted within the individual’s personality. These imperatives provoke strong effects and stretch from young age through the entire lifetime. These are the issues that we deal with over and over again throughout our life, that we may even take for granted at some point with the uneasy feeling that “This is just how I am; it can’t be changed.” Once an individual has come to terms with this, it becomes hard to realize that even these limitations may be changed with relatively little effort.

Take a look, for example, at the injunction, “Do not be important!” This injunction suggests that the person in question must not find himself at the center of attention under any circumstance or that somehow the impression may arise in other ways that he is acting selfish. So whenever such situations occur – if he should be honored or celebrated, for example, or if he really should demand something for himself – the internal alarm is inevitably triggered. Because the impending situation stands in direct contradiction to the imperative which states that “Myself and my interests must not be at the center of attention.” That way the individual inhibits himself on a regular basis.

Working with this imperative, which is linked to an injunction, can produce multifaceted effects. Because if the injunction in question is eliminated through working on the corresponding imperative the effects will resonate on many levels. If the initial motivation for change was based in the work life, the person will from now on act differently in private life as well. And vice versa – if the problem originated in private life and the injunction has been done away with, the individual can make quite another impression in professional life.

Eliminating an injunction can change a person’s behavior quite dramatically, which can also lead to irritation in the relationship with his environment. It may seem as if there is an entirely different person all of a sudden, someone not quite familiar. For his peers, who have known and even loved him in a certain way up until now, it is odd and sometimes even downright scary when their friend or partner suddenly reacts differently than they are used to. Depending on how partners, family and friends react to the occurring change in behavior, this may lead to tensions in the respective relationship as the familiar patterns no longer work.

In the case of relationships which are build around psychological games that are linked to these issues because a partner has, for example, used such old pattern to manipulate his mate, who had to deal with the injunction, to make him act in a very specific way, such tensions may escalate quite dramatically. This has worked out smoothly in the past – why should it now all of a sudden no longer work? In turn, the pressure on the significant other is turned up a notch. But once the alarm, and thus the imperative and the corresponding injunction, has been thoroughly and permanently deleted, escalations become pointless as the recently changed party will no longer respond to this specific psychological game. The alarm system’s plug was permanently pulled – so no matter how hard you try to push the “Engage” button now, it just won’t go off.

Drivers as “Counter Script”

Up until now we have been concerned with prohibitions, but parents also provide their children with “operational instructions” in the form of commandments. Transactional analysts quite adequately designate these commandments as “drivers” since this is exactly how they work: they put you under pressure. More often than not, parents pass on their own drivers to their children. Or they recur on their drivers to react to the problems they have with their children. In other cases they employ drivers as an answer to the negative effects that have developed based on the injunctions bestowed upon their offspring.

In raising a child, drivers most likely come into play at a later date compared to injunctions, usually when the child enters school, and just like injunctions they can express themselves with varying degrees of intensity, some milder, others quite severe. Although a mild driver will trigger negative thoughts, the plagued individual will not be as affected by it as he would be by a stronger variety. Drivers are triggered by appropriate key situations and are able to produce varying degrees of internal stress. This psychological mechanism can be observed in all areas of life and once one understands how drivers work within oneself and others, the pattern behind many problems and conflicts soon becomes clear.

Transactional analysis has defined five drivers:

  • Be perfect
  • Please others/Be complacent
  • Try hard
  • Be strong
  • Hurry up

The same way that injunctions are attached to imperatives, drivers, which are formulated as commandments, feature their own imperatives in the form that something needs to happen in any case. Thus, when situations occur or develop in a way that the thing which must happen by design does in fact not seem to happen, the alarm will be triggered. Let’s take a look at the very popular driver, “Be perfect,” for example: whenever someone who harbors this driver feels the “threat” because he is forced to perform at less than hundred percent, perhaps for lack of time or any other reason, his internal alarm will sound off and he will experience severe stress.

Experiencing such alarms is always unpleasant. For this reason, we all prepare in advance to escape this unwanted sensation – in the same way that we all jump out of the way of advancing fire department sirens, not just because it’s the rational thing to do to let them get to the emergency, but also because the siren’s noise is so distinctly unpleasant that you will gladly clear the way.

As a result, the mere fear of an alarm is enough in order to draw up a roadblock in certain situations or projects. In a way, we limit ourselves voluntarily, avoiding what we actually want to do or achieve because of the mere threat of unpleasant alarms.

This seems to be an integral part of our “blueprint:” we are built to feel comfortable and avoid unpleasant situations. This mechanism was probably vital in prehistoric times – if we got sick after eating a specific food the first time, we would not touch that item again. On a psychological level, however, this mechanism is a setback for modern humans. It prevents us from even trying just for once to simply endure an internal alarm and sit with it with a perceptive and open-minded attitude. This is exactly what happens in Introvision Coaching, a suitable tool to approach and finally dissolve injunctions and drivers.

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