Changing your life script
Gilliland, et al. (1989) tell about treating a woman who was depressed, insecure, attractive, and flirtatious but dependent on and submissive to her husband. As a child she was given certain injunctions: don't grow up, just be cute and obedient, don't think for yourself, don't feel confident or angry. These became "tapes" playing over and over within her Parent ego state. Furthermore, she gave herself certain driver messages: be perfect, please others, and act happy. The therapist helped her see how her revered but controlling father had given her these messages as he tried to shape her into a "daddy's little girl" who would quietly take care of the family and her alcoholic mother. TA therapy involves game and script analysis, much like the steps we have just gone through. This patient was encouraged by her therapist to ask herself how such a spoiling, loving, and worshiped father could have made her feel weak and dependent, when she was really the woman of the house. She began to see that her father was far from perfect and wonderful; he had used her, just as her wealthy husband does. In fantasy she told her father how angry she felt about being kept a "nice little southern belle" who couldn't think or be open about her feelings and become an adult.
Treatment or self-help with such a person is an emotional experience, not just an intellectual exercise. Neither is it a matter of will power. You can't just say, "I'm not going to be scared...sad...dependent." All of us have to deal with deeply ingrained messages recorded in our Parent ego state. We also have to deal with our Child ego state, which involves the emotions, games, and scripts of a five-year-old. In this case, the Child is saying, "I want to go out, play around, and have a good time," "I must be pleasant and submissive in order to be loved and taken care of," "I could do all sorts of things if it wasn't for my husband...my children...," "It is crucial that men find me attractive and that I have some control over them that way," and "One way to get your way is to lie to men: 'Gee, you're a wonderful ________!" All these needs and games had left this patient sad and empty. But since many of the messages or injunctions from our parents are subtle but ever present so we are unaware of them, how can we change? We must start with the feelings we know--our sadness, our need to please others, our insecurity and dependency, our anger, and so on. Then we must work backward to the early Parent messages. Harris and Harris (1985, pp.69-89) call this a "Trackdown." It involves several steps:
- Being aware of our feelings, our current hurt: sad, mad, bad, dumb, clumsy, guilty, afraid, a failure, unlovable, selfish, hopeless, etc.
- Remember, it is the little 5-year-old girl or boy inside that hurts. She/he still lives within our billions of memory cells.
- Figure out, if you don't already know, what recently set off the hurt feelings.
- Ask yourself what childhood experiences this feeling or hurt makes you think of. What old pains are mixed up with our current reactions. The old lessons from our parents may not apply now. Become aware of what your Parent ego state is saying (repeating a parental message) and of how your Child is responding. Examples:
Child's reaction Parent message Feeling like a failure. "You messed up again." "Just stop trying!" "Don't you ever finish anything?" "Sloppy!" "3.8 is good, but why did you make this B?" Sad, disappointment. "You can't depend on people." "They don't want you around." "You always want too much." Feeling pressured. "You'll be punished if you defy me." "Don't overlook any opportunity."
Confused, stressed. Parents never gave a straight answer--"Pick the right friends but don't be too picky." "Sex is wonderful but not before you're 20." Alone, distrusting If a friend rejects you or if a parent leaves or dies, the child may learn, "Don't let anyone get close again."
Note that all injunctions were not actually spoken directly by the real parent. Children misunderstand or make up their own destructive messages. What might a child remember from being told "don't hit your brother?" Quite possibly something like "I do things I shouldn't; I'm bad" or "Acting on your feelings gets you in trouble; so, don't feel." These conclusions were probably not intended by the parent. Certainly these self-created messages would be hard to "track down" as an adult.
Figure out what you can do differently. Just knowing these Parent tapes are messages from your distant --no longer relevant--past, works wonders in preventing irrational emotions. Refuse to let your own old Parent tapes control and upset your life. Talk to a friend; see a therapist. Also, refuse to act in ways that hook others' Critical Parent (e.g. by being irresponsible or weak). And, if you are being bossed around by someone's Parent, refuse to let your Child "collect stamps" (build up anger or self-pity) which could then be cashed in for a temper tantrum, a drunken party, an affair, a nervous breakdown, a suicide attempt, or some other guilt-free, pity-seeking crisis. Perhaps you could rationally negotiate and reconcile with the person who set you off (see chapter 13). This whole process enables you to know your Parent ego state better, so you can instantly recognize its tapes.
The depressed-dependent patient described above came to recognize the Parent messages from her father... and how her husband took the same demanding, "I'll take care of you," chauvinistic approach. She decided to see her father for the dominant manipulator he was and to acknowledge her own abilities and goals, i.e. to shift control from her Child to her Adult. She confronted her husband about doing his share with the children and spelled out what she wanted to do with her life, like going to college, having a challenging career, and renewing old friendships. In short, she tracked down her enslaving Parent, saw her Child's feelings for what they were, and wrote herself a new winner's script. You can too.
Finding new ways of interacting, new ways of living a new script
Uncovering your Parent's tapes and the Child's games is an emotional process all right but knowing how to do the uncovering is an intellectual-cognitive process and so is figuring out what to do with your life. Chapter 3 will help you think about your values and goals in life, which in turn determine with whom and how you interact.
Chapter 9 discusses avoiding games. It is important to withdraw from people who hook us into harmful, unhappy relationships. Have your Adult honestly evaluate "Is this relationship good for me?" If not, avoid put downs (yours and his/hers); in fact, sooth the other person's Child and give an honest compliment, if you can. Don't be a prosecutor, rescuer, or victim; stay in your Adult and control your seductive or whiny Child and your critical Parent; remember "I'm OK, You're OK." As the Gestaltists would say, "Stay in the here and now," don't bring up the past. Most importantly, develop other friendships and remember the bad times, so you won't keep coming back to a bad relationship (Harris and Harris, 1985, pp. 217-219).
Other parts of this book could help: chapter 7 may reduce the anger, chapter 8 the dependency, and chapter 10 the infatuation. Also, chapter 13 may help with confrontation and negotiation, while chapter 14 deals with the overly harsh self-criticism of the Parent ego state.
Besides our Parent, we also have to handle other people's Parent which may direct criticism at us (You're not OK) or be overly controlling. Harris and Harris (1985, pp. 220-233) suggest several ways of coping with a person who is dominated by his/her own Parent ego state: realize he/she was usually raised by stern parents who demanded conformity, no Child's play. Such a parent "makes" us feel oppressed or belittled. But, underneath the other person's facade of bravado and domination is a scared Child and an insecure Adult. Realize how we hook such a person's Parent--by being rebellious, sloppy, late, weak, lazy, whiny, passive-aggressive, or, in short, by letting our Child take over (so put your Adult in charge and stop doing those things). Realize the Parent doesn't think, it only plays authoritarian tapes over and over, so if you are going to reason with such a person, your Adult will have to talk with his/her Adult. Thus, telling this person he/she is a "obnoxious, closed-minded, arrogant tyrant" or "coming out of his/her Critical Parent ego state" isn't going to help. But saying to a parent, "You feel strongly about what I should be doing. How did you come to this conclusion?" or "Why don't you write down these ideas?" or "How are we going to decide what to do next Thanksgiving?" or "You have a point there but I see it a little differently" may work by engaging his/her Adult and pacifying his/her Parent. Compliments, moving closer, empathy responses, awareness of his/her Child's needs and hopes may provide a way to lessen the tension and hostility. Clearly, these first aid measures do not provide the Parent-dominated person, who is giving you a hard time, with great insight and a new personality but these steps may help the immediate situation. See handling difficult people in chapters 7 and 13.
The most important task, however, is to act out--to live--the new script. Like any other change, this requires setting specific behavioral, emotional, skill, and cognitive goals. The "reframing process" discussed in the next section may by helpful in overcoming your resistances to change. Remember, your original life script was perpetuated by constant needs, urges, and messages coming, supposedly, from the depths of your psyche. You do not have these automatic, constant reminders helping you do what you have rationally decided you want to do with your life, not unless you have learned to use your brain to constantly remind you to attend to the values and goals you want to achieve. It isn't easy to remake a life. But there is always help: Young and Klosko (1993) recommend a variety of cognitive techniques to deal with many problems, such as low self-esteem, phobias, anger, poor relationships, stemming from childhood patterns.