So, today I wanted to talk about life scripts. Life scripts are not something that were introduced to me during my clinical training, but actually something that I’ve discovered since I embarked on my own journey of self-healing. The theory of ‘Life Scripts’ is something that I’ve always been massively interested in, when I’ve looked at my own personal life and the patterns that I’ve been invested in. To me, life scripts are an undeniable truth, but they are also something we can change.
A life script is a subconscious life plan that we have created in childhood through the interactions between us as children, and our primary caregivers. We often have no idea that we’ve constructed this script or where it comes from, but never-the-less it’s powerful and can impose destructive and unnecessary restrictions on our choices as adults. Once this plan or life script is made, it influences the whole course of our life. Life scripts come from part of a clinical theory called Transactional Analysis and these ‘scripts’ are thought to come from 4 different sources during childhood…
- Modelling – Watching how other people around us act and behave. We absorb messages from this modelling about how we ‘should’ be in the world. For example; if we see a parent being more submissive to another parent we receive a message that this is a ‘normal’ way of being in a relationship with another person.
- Attributions – These are more direct messages that we receive from those around us about who we are, for example, “you’re clever/naughty/pretty/clumsy/awkward,” etc. As children we hear these attributions and they become imbedded in how we think about ourselves.
- Suggestions – These are messages that we’ve been offered, often in the form of encouraging statements, for example, ‘Always do your Best’ or ‘Practice makes Perfect’. These become missions that we live by and invest in and dictate how we undertake new challenges.
- Injunctions – These are more directive demands that stem from our caregivers to stop us from doing something, but they are often directly related to their own fears and desires. For example; ‘You need to work hard to do well’ or ‘All men cheat’. These become the ‘rules’ that we come to live by as adults.
All of these 4 components, that were created during our childhoods, get taken with us into adulthood. There are positive aspects to some of the messages that we’ve absorbed in childhood but, when they are negative, they can seriously limit our life experiences and can shape our futures in the most detrimental way. We can allow limiting beliefs and behaviours to define us and it can be as if we are repeating the same patterns and mistakes repeatedly throughout our lives, which can leave us feeling powerless to change them. It was only when I took a step back and observed the patterns in my own life, and learnt about life scripts, that I realised history was repeating itself because my own life script was playing over and over again.
When I’m first exploring this with a client, I urge them to consider the patterns that they can identify in their own lives and the messages that they perhaps absorbed as children. We often have a sense of what we’re afraid of, but we don’t always know the origins of that fear.
‘People always abandon me’
This is the fear that we will always be left by those we love and that we are powerless to stop it. We often have this fear before we are even engaged in a relationship but, because of this established belief, we will often seek out people and scenarios who are more likely to fulfil this fear so that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. For example, we might embark on relationships with people who aren’t really available to commit to us or we might work to drive people away. Either scenario involves us being left and reinforces that life script belief that we will always be abandoned.
“But, Emmy, what do we do?!” I hear you shouting! Well, identifying your patterns is really the first part of the battle. It’s impossible to change things when we don’t know what it is that we’re trying to change. Awareness gives us the opportunity to examine all aspects of our life scripts and to decide what is useful to us, and what isn’t. One tool that I found really helpful was to imagine myself in 5 or 10 years’ time, and then write a blurb about what I would be up to then, where I was in my career, where I lived and the kinds of relationships that I had in my life. I included lots of pictures in this exercise because I find visual prompts super helpful. I considered what I was holding onto that was unhelpful and tried to imagine more positive replacements for some of those core beliefs. Essentially, I re-wrote my life script based on what I knew as an adult, rather than what I’d unconsciously learnt as a small child.
It took me time to re-train my brain to think differently but with persistence it worked. Even now if I find that some of my old belief systems are triggered, I’m able to spot them and consciously choose not to react to them. We can change things, we just need to know how.