Finding patterns that run through our lives can help us better understand how certain behaviours or repeating thoughts occur in our life story. If we want to consciously move into a new behaviour and a more enriched story for our lives, we need to spend some time looking at our patterns. The father of transnational analysis, Eric Berne, discovered that there are what he called life scripts that recur across the human family. The ways these scripts come into being are of course diverse, but there are similarities in the patterns of behaviours we take on according to the script we follow.
Throughout our lives we receive messages about what is acceptable and what is unacceptable about how we are in the world. It’s a necessary part of our socialisation and it can create patterns for how we then choose to live in the world. We mimic the good and bad behaviours of our parents and others around us as we learn how to be in the world. We get ascribed attributes for others – we are told: “you are just like your mother”; “you are just like Auntie Beth”; “your father was exactly like this.”
We also acquire lessons about life – for example – try harder, never give up; life is hard and they will always be out to get you; God is the only true judge. We internalise these lesson and make them our rules as well. Sometimes we reject them in a rebellious act of defiance; other times we let them go when we discover a new ‘rule’ that better fits our worldview. All these messages from the people and institutions around us cause us to take on a story about who we are and how we have to be in the world. According to Eric Berne, there are really five main stories we take on. I have described them (in extreme versions) below:
Be perfect – when we live out the ‘be perfect’ story, we learn to think that attaining and maintaining a position of perfection (our interpretation of perfection) will protect us in life. We don’t like to make mistakes and order, neatness and control are really important to us. We seldom live up to our own standard of perfection and we can make others around us feel like they are less than perfect. We can come off as very judgmental with exacting standards. We also seldom feel that we have lived up to our own self-imposed standards of perfection.
Be strong – the ‘be strong’ story is about showing no weakness and never buckling to the vicissitudes of life in order to survive. We will never show weakness because showing weakness is failure, it is wrong and we might be annihilated if we show that we are weak. We can be great in a crisis taking control and not becoming emotional, but we can come off as aloof for fear of showing ourselves as stupid or silly.
Try Hard – those of us living the ‘try hard’ script just keep trying believing we will eventually succeed. We are great at starting new projects (less great at finishing projects) and we love the pressure of many things on the go and we are constantly trying to get all the things we’ve got going done. We never really give up but we may just start something new which diverts our attention. Those around us often are in awe about how much we take on but they can also become frustrated with how little actual gets accomplished.
Please Others – if my story is the ‘please others’ story then regardless of what I may want or need this is secondary to want others may want and need. ‘Please others’ people compromise themselves constantly so that others are made to feel good and be okay. We are great arbitrators and mediators and rescuers but we struggle with decision-making and owning our opinion is difficult. Pleasing others pleases us and even when we become frustrated with how unappreciative others might be the martyrdom of our benevolence to others makes us feel validated.
Hurry Up – those of us laboring under the ‘hurry up’ story just keep busy doing. Busy, busy, busy because if you slow down or stop it (life, laziness, failure, and fear) might catch you and take over your life. Keep busy and it can’t find you. Taking on too much and becoming impatient with others is our challenge. We can make very quick decisions and keep things moving but tend to skim about the surface of things. Deliberation is not a trait we value and indecision in others is a huge irritant for us. We take on many things because we are very capable of getting lots done
You can use the attached worksheet to help you identify your default life script pattern. In future activities you will get to understand how you can become more conscious of your life script and even chose to recognise which presuppositions about life may no longer be serving you. You’ll also learn how you can establish different and new assumption about life that can better serve you in becoming the next best version of yourself.
The worksheet can be accessed here: Activity 3 Identify Your Life Script