Thursday, August 6, 2009

Transactional Analysis: Scripts or Life-narratives

(From wikipedia [edited])

TA (see Eric Berne, Games People Play [New York: Grove Press, 1964]) introduces the idea of a "Life (or Childhood) Script," that is, a story one perceives about one's own life (a life story), to answer questions such as "What matters?," "How do I get along in life?" and "What kind of person am I?." This narrative is often stuck to no matter the consequences, to "prove" one is right, even at the cost of pain, compulsion, self-defeating behaviour and other dysfunction. (Scripts are addressed most fully in Berne's What Do You Say After You Say Hello? The Psychology of Human Destiny [Grove P, 1972]).


  • A script is a life plan, directed to a reward.
  • A script is decisional and responsive, i.e., decided upon in childhood in response to perceptions of the world and as a means of living with and making sense of the world. It is not just thrust upon a person by external forces.
  • A script is reinforced by parents (or other influential people and/or experiences).
  • A script is for the most part outside awareness.
  • A script is how we navigate and what we look for, the rest of reality is redefined (distorted) to match our filters.

Each culture, country and people has a mythos, that is, a legend explaining its origins, core beliefs and purpose. According to TA, so do individual people. A person begins writing their own script at a young age, as they try to make sense of the world and his place within it. Although it is revised throughout life, the core story is selected and decided upon typically by age 7. As adults it passes out of awareness. A life script might be "to be hurt many times, and suffer and make others feel bad when I die," and could result in a person indeed setting himself up for this, by adopting behaviours in childhood that produce exactly this effect. Though Berne identified several dozen common scripts, there are a practically infinite number of them. Though often destructive, scripts can just as easily be positive or beneficial.

[The term comes from "behaviourist" linguistics: a behavioural script is a sequence of expected behaviours for a given situation, routine, habitual or practised, cf. Shrank's linguistic scripts in AI (R.C. Schank & R. Abelson, Scripts, Plans, Goals, and Understanding [Hillsdale, NJ: Earlbaum Assoc., 1977]). Memory is episodic, i.e., organized around personal experiences rather than semantic categories; thus, scripts are generalized episodes or schemas. In behaviour, individuals make inferences to scripts by filling in missing information in the schema; scripts enable case-based reasoning [CBR] on the four R's: retrieve, reuse, revise, retain.]

Redefining and Discounting

  • Redefining means deliberately (but unconsciously) distorting things to match our preferred way of seeing the world. Thus a person whose script involves "struggling alone against a cold hard world" may redefine others' kindness, concluding that others are trying to get something by manipulation.
  • Discounting means taking something as worth less than it is. The person might give a substitute reaction that does not originate as a here-and-now adult attempt to solve the actual problem or choose not to see evidence that would contradict their script. Types of discount can include passivity (doing nothing), over-adaptation, agitation, incapacitation, anger and violence.

Injunctions and Drivers

TA identifies twelve key injunctions that people commonly build into their scripts. These arepowerful "I can't/mustn't . . ." messages that are embedded in a child's belief and life-script:

  • Don't be (don't exist)!
  • Don't be who you are!
  • Don't be a child!
  • Don't grow up!
  • Don't make it in your life!
  • Don't do anything!
  • Don't be important!
  • Don't belong!
  • Don't be close!
  • Don't be well (don't be sane)!
  • Don't think!
  • Don't feel!
In addition, there is the so-called episcript:
"You should (or deserve to) have this happen in your life, so it doesn't have to happen to me" (magical thinking on the part of the parent[s]).

Against these, a child is often told other things he or she must do. These are the drivers:

  • Please (me/others)!
  • Be perfect!
  • Be strong!
  • Try hard!
  • Hurry up!
  • Be careful!

Thus, in creating their script, a child will often attempt to juggle these drivers, example: "It's okay for me to go on living (ignore don't exist) so long as I try hard."

This explains why some change is inordinately difficult. To continue the above example: When a person stops trying hard and relaxes to be with their family, the injunction You don't have the right to exist that was being suppressed by their script now becomes exposed and threatening. They may feel a massive psychological pressure which they themselves doesn't understand, to return to trying hard, in order to feel safe and justified (in a childlike way) in existing.

Driver behaviour is also detectable at a very small scale, for instance in instinctive responses to certain situations where driver behaviour is played out over five to twenty seconds.

Broadly speaking, scripts can be tragic, heroic or banal (or non-winner).

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