There are three major roles in stories--hero or heroine, villain, and a victim (or according to Greek Drama--rescuer, prosecutor, and victim). We tend to see ("feel" is more accurate) ourselves in one of those roles. If you can uncover which role has the greatest emotional appeal for you, you are closer to finding your life script.
"The Parable of the Eagle" by James Aggrey (1959) is helpful in sorting out those roles. As you read this story, notice your feelings. Which character do you most identify with? The eagle who is being held down and controlled but is confused about escaping (the victim)? The person who seems to care but holds someone back, perhaps by being dominant and/or over-protective (the villain)? The naturalist who helps others grow and become their true selves (the hero/heroine)? Read the parable:"Once upon a time, while walking through the forest, a man found a young eagle. He took it home and put it in his barnyard where it soon learned to eat chicken feed and to behave as chickens behave.
One day, a naturalist, who was passing by, inquired of the owner why it was that an eagle, the king of all birds, should be confined to live in a barnyard with the chickens.
"Since I have given it chicken feed and trained it to be a chicken, it has never learned to fly," replied the owner. "It behaves as chickens behave, so it is no longer an eagle."
"Still," insisted the naturalist, "it has the heart of an eagle and can surely be taught to fly."
After talking it over, the two men agreed to find out whether this was possible. Gently the naturalist took the eagle in his arms and said, "You belong to the sky and not to the earth. Stretch forth your wings and fly." The eagle, however, was confused; he did not know who he was, and seeing the chickens eating their food, he jumped down to be with them again.
Undismayed, the naturalist took the eagle, on the following day, up on the roof of the house, and urged him again, saying, "You are an eagle. Stretch forth your wings and fly." But the eagle was afraid of his unknown self and the world and jumped down once more for the chicken feed.
On the third day the naturalist rose early and took the eagle out of the barnyard to a high mountain. There, he held the king of birds high above him and encouraged him again, saying, "You are an eagle. You belong to the sky as well as to the earth. Stretch forth your wings now, and fly."
The eagle looked around, back towards the barnyard and up to the sky. Still he did not fly. Then the naturalist lifted him straight towards the sun and it happened that the eagle began to tremble, slowly he stretched his wings. At last, with a triumphant cry, he soared away into the heavens.
It may be that the eagle still remembers the chickens with nostalgia; it may even be that he occasionally revisits the barnyard. But as far as anyone knows, he has never returned to lead a life of a chicken. He was an eagle though he had been kept and tamed as a chicken.
It is a nice story about self-actualization--reaching your potential. Winning is gratifying but... the question here is: Which role do you most identify with emotionally? The captured, restricted, dependent, afraid, victimized, self-doubting eagle? The limited care-giving but not deeply concerned, controlling, pessimistic, suppressing man who penned up the eagle thinking he knew what was best for the eagle? The empathic, supportive, optimistic, encouraging but not dominating naturalist? And, what roles do other people, in your opinion, most often play?
Which role has the most appeal to you (not cognitively but feeling-wise)? The victim?_____ The villain?_____ The rescuer?_____ The victim role reflects a "I'm not OK" position; the villain role reflects a "You're not OK" position; the rescuer may reflect a "You're OK" position.
Karpman (1968) suggested that roles in games were like the changing roles in Greek Drama: The hero/heroine may become a prosecutor who wants to change the villain or help the victim so badly that he/she becomes aggressive (instead of assertive) and ends up being the victim of a counterattack. Likewise, sometimes the rescuer promises to "help" so much (and can't deliver), ending up feeling used and an unappreciated victim. A person pretending to be a helper often ends up blaming the victim for the problems or taking advantage of him or her. The moral is: Watch out for game hooks, such as "I'm going to tell you straight..." (then you are blown out of the water), "You poor thing, let me help..." (then he/she takes over), or "You are so good at this..." (then you are asked to do more things for him/her). Just say "no" to the game player... and don't be a game player yourself.
In an impossible situation, what would you do? This question provides another way of detecting how your Child unconsciously feels towards yourself and others. Suppose your life became such a terrible mess that there were only three ways out: kill yourself, kill someone else, or go crazy. Which would you impulsively (not rationally) choose? Choose now. Suicide implies that you feel less OK about yourself than others, while killing others implies they are seen by you as less OK than you. It isn't clear what going crazy means in this situation (usually it is interpreted as being a hopeless position, i.e. I'm not OK and you're of no help either, but in this case it may be the choice of a person who feels OK and that others are OK too.)
Another clue to your roles and script is your favorite childhood story. It probably became your favorite because it meets your basic needs or touches on some fundamental truth or injunction for you. It may be a fairy story, children's story, movie, TV show, novel or whatever. What was or is your favorite? Do you have several favorites? If so, is there a the general theme? What psychological need or motive does this theme satisfy?
In the same way, try to remember your favorite daydreams as a child. Who did you rescue or try to please in these fantasies? How did you try to please or impress others? Who did you dislike and want to hurt? What does this tell you about basic unconscious (not nice) needs?
- What is your earliest memory? Does it strike an emotional chord in you, suggesting special significance?
- What was your parents' main advice to you? Does it still have meaning to you?
- What kind of scenes in movies or on TV are most emotionally moving for you? As a child how did you respond to the violence depicted in movies, TV, and cartoons? Did you enjoy the aggression or were you repulsed by it?
- If your life were made into a play, what kind of play would it be? A comedy of errors? A fantastic adventure? A soap opera filled with romance, deception, and rejection? A drama of achievements? A series of sad disappointments and tragedy? A satire in which you cleverly put down others? A boring, meaningless, pointless play?
- How will the play of your life end? How long do you expect to live? Will you die quietly or in a blaze of glory, loved or alone, heaped with honors or condemned? How would you like to die? What would you like your tombstone to say?
In summary, considering your favorite childhood stories, daydreams, and current shows, does there seem to be a general theme? What arouses your emotions and makes you cry, mad, proud, or happy? What sets off your stronger needs and motivations? Are you touched by misfortune? If so, what kind? Do you identify more with the winner or the loser? Are you excited by overcoming obstacles to accomplish great achievements? Are you moved by love and devotion? Does it feel good to defeat or humiliate the bad guys and/or the establishment? Do you enjoy putting down others? Are you more interested in fun, music, comedy, or sex, i.e. natural child or self-oriented, than nurturing parent or others-oriented? Do you prefer exciting adventure, danger, and violent shows? Does controlling and manipulating others have a special appeal?
Write out your Life Script. We have just considered your views of others (OK or not OK) and yourself (OK or not OK), the psychological needs driving your game playing, and the roles and pay offs that satisfy your unconscious needs. All of these experiences and exercises should help you get in touch with the emotions and motives that underlie your life script. Read about scripts in chapter 9, many examples are given.
According to Eric Berne (1973), there are three kinds of scripts: losers, non-winners, and winners. A "loser" script has an unhappy ending; it may have been started by parental injunctions, such as "Don't be too cute and take attention away from me," "Don't stay around me, you irritate me," or "Don't be smarter than I am." This is your parents' Child ego state talking, not their conscious Adult ego state. The person with a loser script may rationalize the failures in his/her life by frequently saying, "If only such and such hadn't happened," "Someday it will be better" (but someday never comes), "I can't do that," and so on. To turn ourselves from "frogs" into "princes/princesses," we have to recognize the injunctions, ego states, life position, games, and scripts. Your Adult has to be in control and develop your best selves. You have to kiss all your warts and frogs yourself.
A non-winner was referred to as a "happy frog" who never quite becomes a prince or princess. Berne said the toughest part of his job as a therapist was telling people there is no Santa Claus, no magical solutions, no free lunch. Non-winners are also rationalizers and deniers, saying, "things will be better after...," "things aren't as bad as they could be," "things didn't turn out well, but at least I tried," etc. Some people have to become more unhappy and do more self-helping before they become a prince/princess.
Winners learn to reject the destructive "witch messages" from his/her parents' Child ego state. They use their Adult ego state to re-write their life script, if needed, making wise decisions about life goals, relationships, time management, values, tolerance of others, self-acceptance and so on.
Eric Berne, like Freud, was a "winner" in his work. He worked hard to "make something of himself" and when others opposed his theories he became an outstanding authority by establishing his own method of treatment, Transactional Analysis. He let his "Natural Child" devise clever names for games, his "Little Professor" analyze the pay offs, his "Adaptive Child" keep everything organized and so on. Berne, the person who helped turn the psychoanalytic world towards interpersonal relationships, was not so fortunate in actual relationships; he may have had a loser's script in that area. He avoided intimacy, distrusting women and suffering through three divorces. With love escaping him, he died of a "broken heart" (Steiner, 1975). So, even a relations expert may succumb to a loser's script. Don't underestimate the power of your childhood messages.
Write out a brief description--two or three sentences--of your life script or perhaps two or three of them. See chapter 9 for examples. At this point, these descriptions are probably just guesses, we can't know our unconscious motives for certain. But, if your hunches about your parental injunctions and scripts can help you avoid depression,