Posted & filed under Blog, Communication Skills Coaching.

Have you had time to digest The Life Script Part 1? To conclude in The Life Script Part 2, John our industry expert takes us to the next chapter…………

Script Messages

The Life script consists of a set of decisions made by the child in response to script messages about self, others, and the world. The script messages come mainly from the child’s parents and may be conveyed verbally, non-verbally, or as combinations of the two.

Non-verbal messages: Before the infant has words, he interprets other people’s messages in terms of their non-verbal signals. (The young baby has acute perception of expressions, body tensions, movement, tones, etc). If his parents hold him close and warm, he is likely to perceive their message to him as ‘I accept and love you!’ But if they tense up and hold him stiffly away from them, he may read this as coveying, ‘I reject you and don’t want you close!’.

 Verbal Messages: Commands & Attributions

Verbal messages can be in the form of direct commands: ‘Don’t bother me! Do what you’re told! Get lost! Hurry up! Don’t be naughty! If at first, you don’t succeed, try, try again! etc. most parents bombard their children with hundreds of commands like these. Their potency as script messages will depend on how often they are repeated, and on the non-verbals that go with them.

At other times, the child may be told, not just what he should do, but what he should be. This kind of message is called attribution – eg. ‘You’re stupid! You’re nothing but trouble! You’re my little princess! You’re a rascal’! Again, their potency as script messages will depend on the non-verbals that accompany them – ‘You’re a rascal’! spoken harshly with a blow conveys a very different message than the same words spoken with a soft voice-tone, a cuddle, and a smile.

Indirect Attributions

Frequently, attributions are delivered indirectly – i.e. the parents speak about the child to someone else, either when the child is present, or in a what that will be communicated back to the child – e.g. ‘This one is the quiet one; he’s a real daredevil! she’s such a nuisance! He’s the clever one! He’s going to be a real ladies’ man when he grows up! etc.

Indirect attributes like these are especially likely to be read by the child as potent script messages. She views her parents as determining reality. Hearing them talking to other people about how she is, she takes it for granted that what they say has to be fact.

Traumatic events and Repeated Messages

A child may make a core script decision in response to a single event which is experienced as particularly threatening – e.g. If a young girl is sexually abused by a male relative, she may read that single episode as conveying an overpowering script message and decide ‘never again to trust men’.

Or a period of separation from the parents (perhaps due to hospitalization) may form the basis for a decision ‘not to trust anyone’.

More often, decisions are arrived at over a period of time, in response to script messages which the child experiences repetitively – e.g. the child who hears the attribution ‘This is the shy one’ or ‘This is the difficult one’ may need to hear it repeated several times before concluding that he is, indeed, difficult or shy.

Injunctions and permissions

As grown-ups, we each carry around a set of injunctions and permissions, which we received from our parents. The decisions we made in response to these messages form the foundations of our ‘Life script’. Each injunction has its corresponding permission. Typically, injunctions begin with the word ‘Don’t…’ and permissions begin with ‘It’s ok to…’ Bob & Mary Houlding identified 12 themes which occur again and again as the basis for people’s early negative decisions:

1) Don’t Be (or Don’t Exist): If you have ever felt worthless or unlovable, it is likely that your script messages include a Don’t exist injunction. For example, where parents already have several children and don’t want more, they may in all sorts of subtle ways, convey rejection to a new arrival; maybe by rarely smiling or talking to him. Where parents physically or mentally abuse a child, the message is conveyed overtly.

2) Don’t Be You – This injunction can be conveyed to a child by parents who have a boy when they wanted a girl or vice versa. (This may be reflected in their choice of name for the child). Or Don’t be you may be more general – e.g. parents may favour a younger to an elder child or may continually compare their child with other children – e.g. ‘the boy down the road can ride a bike without stabilisers and he’s a year younger than you’.

3) Don’t Be a Child – This injunction is conveyed in messages like ‘You’re too old to…’ or ‘Big boys don’t cry’. It is given out by parents who were never allowed to be child-like themselves (perhaps because they were raised in hardship or in a stern house). Sometimes children give themselves this injunction  – e.g. where they act as carers for their parents or younger siblings.

4) Don’t Grow Up – It is often the youngest child who gets a Don’t Grow Up injunction. The parents may not want to let go of having a young child around the family and may define their whole worth in terms of being a good father or mother. A variant of Don’t Grow Up is Don’t Leave Me. Children who stay at home to care for demanding parents often carry this message. Another variant is Don’t be Sexy which is often given by the father to his daughter when she reaches puberty.

5) Don’t Make It – This injunction is given by parents who feel threatened by their children’s accomplishments or jealous that they are getting the chances that they themselves never had. Overtly, such parents will often urge their children to work hard and do well. The Don’t Make It injunction is conveyed covertly. A student who decided to obey this injunction may study hard but then find a way of sabotaging herself – e.g. by ‘forgetting’ to hand in a crucial piece of work.

6) Don’t (Don’t Do Anything) – The injunction Don’t implies ‘Don’t do anything, because anything you do is so dangerous that you’re safer doing nothing at all’. People who, in adult life, continually dither between courses of action may be carrying this script message. It is given by parents who are terrified that their children will come to harm if allowed to run free of the parental apron strings.

7) Don’t Be Important – People carrying this message may become panicky when asked to take on any kind of leadership role or may ‘dry-up’ when asked to speak in public. In her career, a person complying with Don’t Be Important may work excellently in a subordinate post, but either not seek promotion or sabotage herself when there is a chance of getting it. The message conveyed (covertly) from parents is ‘I’ll put up with having your around, as long as you realise that you and your wants are important around here’.

8) Don’t Belong – The person complying with Don’t Belong feels ‘out of it’ in groups and is likely to be seen by others as a ‘loner’ or ‘unsociable’. The message may be conveyed by parents who continually tell their child they are ‘different’ from other children, that they are ‘shy’, ‘difficult’ or ‘special’. Or the parents may model this injunction through their own social ineptitude; or convey it by continually scape-goating the child.

9) Don’t Be Close – This injunction may imply a ban on physical closeness. In this form it is modelled by parents who seldom touch each other. Alternatively, it may signify ‘don’t be emotionally close’ and be conveyed in families that never talk about their feelings. A child may give themselves Don’t be close (or a variant, Don’t Trust) to stave off the pain of rejection, if they are rebuffed whenever they reach out to their parents; or if a parent goes away abruptly or dies.

10) Don’t Be Well (Don’t Be Sane) – This injunction may be given to busy parents, both out at work all day and short of energy when they get home. If, when their child is ill, one of the parents takes time off work and the other, perhaps takes time to read bedtime stories, the child might conclude, ‘To get attention around here, I have to be ill’ and develop the strategy of getting sick whenever things go wrong.

11) Don’t Think – This injunction may be given by a parent who consistently belittles his child’s thinking. An adult complying with a Don’t Think injunction is likely to respond to problems by being confused or by feeling bad, instead of thinking how to solve it. Two variations are Don’t Think About X (Where X stands for money, sex, etc) or Don’t Think what You Think, Think What I Think.

12) Don’t Feel – This injunction may be modelled by parents who themselves bottle up their feelings, sometimes there is an embargo on all feelings. More often, particular feelings are prohibited – e.g. Don’t Feel Anger, Don’t Feel Fear, etc (often conveyed as ‘boys don’t cry’, ‘be a brave soldier’, etc). Some parents convey a version that goes Don’t Feel What you Feel, Feel What I Feel, conveyed as ‘I’m hungry, what do you want to eat?’ or ‘I’m cold, go and put on your jumper’.


How Decisions Relate to Injunctions – Parental injunctions cannot make the child write her script in a particular way. It is the child who decides what to do with the injunctions she receives. One child may accept an injunction as it stands. Another may modify it ingeniously to ease its impact (e.g. a boy who gets Don’t Be the Sex You Are may develop positive qualities, conventionally considered feminine). Still another may refuse to accept the injunction at all; recognising that the injunction represents his parent’s pathology, not his own.