Script - our unspoken life pattern

The ways in which we think, feel, relate and behave all have their roots in early childhood. The saying “give me a boy till he is seven – and I will give you the man”, has a lot of truth in it, as it is in those first seven years of our life that our ‘script’ is formed.

Script – as defined by Eric Berne – is an unconscious life pattern formed in early childhood from all the messages and modelling we received from parents, guardians, teachers, and other significant people in our life. These messages shape the way we see and think about ourselves, the world, and others with whom we come into contact.

As children we expect our parents or caregivers to fulfil certain criteria in meeting our needs and desires, sometimes these needs are verbalised – the cry of a baby for food or comfort, the demand of a toddler - sometimes the need is unspoken but still expected to be seen and complied with. Children expect to be the centre of their parents’ attention, they are dependent on them, and when needs are not met they naturally feel scared, angry, resentful and will escalate the demand until they receive attention.

The majority of parents will do the best they can to meet the needs of their child/children; however, the way we parent is often a reflection on the way we were parented as a child, so if the original ‘recipe’ had ingredients missing this may be repeated down the line, until it is changed by a family member with greater awareness.

Parents need to be “good enough” (Donald Winnicott, 1964) at attuning to and meeting the needs of their child, in order that the child feels secure, loved and wanted. When needs are repeatedly missed, ignored or discounted, the child finds other ways in which to gain the attention of the parent. Some will escalate the demand with anger, tears or whining, others may find the best way to get what they want is to be quiet, compliant and obedient, or put on a happy, cheery face and ‘take care’ of the parent’s needs, in the hopes they will have more time for them.

The ways in which we learned to get our needs met as a child continues through life, unconsciously transferred or projected onto others, because although we ‘know’ the other is not our parent, the unconscious wiring in our brain tells us this is the way things are, and this is what we need to do to get what we want.

Maybe when we meet a crisis in life or our self-esteem has been shaken repeatedly we will seek help, for some this may be in the form of antidepressants, alcohol or drugs, which may dull the pain and the whirring cycle of thoughts and feelings, but they will not help in resolving the root cause of the problem, that will remain.

Through counselling and psychotherapy, we can unravel the tangled threads of our lives, allowing us to see a broader picture and clearer perspective. The undivided respectful attention of an empathic counsellor can provide a new way of relating; we feel heard and understood as he/she empathises with our pain, reflects on and celebrates the efforts we make to change and offers us fresh ways of thinking, feeling, behaving. The ‘Script’ decisions we made in childhood remain in the background, and may reappear in times of illness or stress, but with the support we received we will have new ways of managing old patterns and feel more resilient at coping with life’s ups and downs.

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