Scripting 102: Script Messages

Scripting 102: Competencies and Learning Objectives:

  1. Learn how children develop their scripts
  2. Learn the different types of scripting messages
  3. Negative, Positive, and Mixed Script Messages

How do children develop their scripts?

Your life script was created through messages about 

  • Yourself
  • Others
  • The world

that you internalized, out of your awareness simply from the experience of being alive in your particular family and country. These script messages are the life experiences and interpersonal interactions that created your script decisions and beliefs, out of your awareness. These messages can be either positive or negative.

Where do script messages come from? 

  • Modeling: Visible ways adults and peers behave.
  • Attributions: Being told ‘you’re just like…’
  • Suggestions: Hints and encouragement such as ‘Always do your best’.
  • Injunctions and counter-injunctions: Demands to not do or do things.

Most messages are unconsciously passed on to and received by the child from parents or other caregivers. Often, the parents have also taken the messages from their parents unconsciously. This generates family culture: “This is how we think/feel/behave in our home.” Until we make a conscious or unconscious decision and changes something they remain unchanged.

Do we make script decisions or are they assumptions and expectations from our experience?

Transactional Analysis views the responses of scripting messages in children as “decisions.” This is too strong a word, as “decision” implies conscious awareness and choice. But children have to develop a sense of self as well as the cognitive ability to make decisions before they can be said to be making decisions.  What actually happens with young children is similar to what we see in the animal world: animals do not so much make decisions as much as act based on conclusions and assumptions about the world and behavior of others, based on moment-to-moment interaction with their environment. Children arrive at conclusions and assumptions about who they are and how they are to interact with others based on how others act around them – what they do and don’t do. They then learn to make assumptions based on the feeling content, or lack thereof, of how others act. It is only thereafter, as they develop language, that they learn to make decisions, based on the meaning of the words they hear and the identity they are forming. 

How do we form our scripts?

Think of the internalization of scripts as forming conclusions or assumptions about who you are and how you need to act to adapt to your environment from the time you were born, and the ability to make decisions regarding your scripting – who to be, how to behave, as a largely unconscious process beginning when you are about four. Most people never outgrow their subjective immersion in their scripting, meaning they never become aware that they are scripted, the nature of their script messages, or that they have the ability to make conscious choices to change their scripting. Therefore, their scripting predestines their identity, behavior, and life choices for their entire lives. 

What are the different types of scripting messages?

Scripting messages can be conveyed verbally, non-verbally or in combination. Familial scripting involves messages that are permissions or injunctions. 

Injunctions:  These are destructive basic beliefs that are passed on pre-verbally very early in our lives through certain limitations: “Don’t be yourself!”, “Don’t reach your goal!” or “Don’t be!”

Role Models:  If the parents of a child are constantly fighting, the child will perceive this fighting as normality: “This is how it works.” The child will copy this behavior in future relationships. Or they unconsciously decide to not have a relationship at all.

Attributions/labels:  Those are verbal messages about how we are (apparently). A human being is attributed a certain character trait or label. The dad says to the child when it tries to put a battery in a toy: “you are not the most skillful.”

Counter Injunctions:  Also referred to in Transactional Analysis as “signposts,” some examples include, “Be polite.”, “Be hard-working!”, “The truth will out.” Children follow counter injunctions in order to attempt to cope with destructive injunctions.

What are negative, positive, and mixed script messages?

Script messages can vary greatly from one individual to another based on their unique experiences and family dynamics. There are three varieties of script messages that generate our life scripts, negative, positive, and mixed script messages.

Negative Script Messages: An injunction is “A prohibition or negative command from a parent.”  Injunctions establish the “don’ts” by which children learn to live.  These messages are predominantly given nonverbally and largely implanted before a child turns eight.  

Injunctions include: “Don’t”   

Don’t be” This lethal message is often given nonverbally by the way parents hold (or don’t hold) the child. The basic message is “I wish you hadn’t been born.” A possible assumption a child can derive from this message is that they need to keep trying until they get those withholding their nurturance to love them. Since we have no control over the scripts of others, this amounts to “Waiting for Santa Claus.”

Don’t make mistakes”   Children who internalize this message often fear taking risks that may make them look stupid. They tend to equate making mistakes with being a failure. A possible assumption a child can derive from this message is, “I’m scared of making the wrong decision, so I simply won’t decide.” “Because I made a dumb choice, I won’t decide on anything important again!”   

“Don’t belong” Children who internalize this message associate relationships and affiliations with vulnerability, manipulation, or abuse. A possible assumption a child can derive from this message is, “I need to avoid other people; they’re dangerous or untrustworthy.”

Don’t be a child” This message says: “Always act adult!” “Don’t be childish!” “Keep control of yourself!” The expectation and demand is that children be mini-adults instead of children. A possible assumption a child can derive from this message is, “I won’t let myself have fun.” “I won’t be myself; instead I’ll be who you demand me to be.” 

“Don’t be close”  Related to this injunction are the messages “Don’t trust” and “Don’t love.” Possible assumptions a child can derive from this message are, “I let myself love once, and it backfired. Never again!” “Because it’s scary to get close, I’ll keep myself distant.” “I won’t be sexual, and that way my father won’t push me away.”

“Don’t be important” If you are constantly interrupted or told you are wrong when you speak as a child, you are likely to believe that you are unimportant. An assumption that a child might make as a result is, “If, by chance, I ever do become important, I’ll play down my accomplishments.”

“Don’t grow.” This message is given by the frightened parent who discourages the child from growing up in many ways. A child may conclude, “I’ll stay a child, and that way I’ll get my parents to approve of me.”

Examples of other negative script messages include:

“Don’t succeed.” “You’ll never amount to anything.”: Repeated criticism and belittlement can reinforce script conclusions related to unworthiness and a need to prove ourselves.

“You’re too needy.” Being told that we are too demanding or reliant on others can contribute to a compensatory script decision of self-sufficiency.

“You have to be strong.” Repeatedly being told to be strong and not show vulnerability can solidify a script decision related to emotional suppression: “I will ignore my feelings in order to appear strong.”

“You’re always wrong.” Consistently being criticized or corrected can generate a defeatist conclusion for a child. “Why try? I’ll always fail.” “Others will always assess what I do and who I am as inadequate.”

“People can’t be trusted.” Betrayals or breaches of trust can further cement script conclusions about the untrustworthiness of others. “People will not reciprocate so I will assume they will not treat me fairly.”

“Don’t think” “Don’t want” “Don’t be well” “Don’t be you” “Don’t be sane” “Don’t feel” “Don’t grow up” “Don’t need” “Don’t be separate from me” “Don’t be the sex you are” “Don’t succeed”

Positive Script Messages:

“You are loved and valued.” Positive affirmations of love and value from caregivers and significant others can counteract negative script assumptions related to unworthiness. “You are capable of success.” Encouragement and support for a child’s efforts can reinforce a positive script assumption related to success and competence. “It’s okay to express your feelings.” Encouraging emotional expression can counteract script conclusions that suppress vulnerability or feelings. “Your opinions and ideas matter.” Acknowledging the importance of a child’s thoughts and ideas can counteract negative script assumptions that they are always wrong. “You can trust people.” Positive experiences of trust and reliability in relationships can challenge script assumptions related to distrust.

Mixed Script Messages:

“You’re amazing, but don’t let it get to your head.” A mixed message that combines praise with an admonition can contribute to confusion and ambivalence in a child’s scripting.  “I love you, but you always disappoint me.” This message combines love with a consistent feeling of falling short, reinforcing a negative script conclusion about inadequacy.

How do our script messages keep us from accessing the transpersonal and sacred?

The script messages that we hear and internalize lock us in to identities, worldviews, and assumptions about ourselves, others, and life, that are prepersonal and at best personal. Our investment in these, as components of our sense of who we are, means that we resist questioning, altering, or objectifying them. To do so causes cognitive dissonance, which is a sense of threat when we contact information or experiences that contradict who we think that we are and how lif eis supposed to be.

What can we do about it?

Both an understanding of the nature of script messages and interviewing help break us out of outgrown framings of our life issues, others, and our life experience. Interviewing does so by providing us with alternative framings that are authentic and make sense. Understanding the nature of script messages can put us on the lookout for them so we can evaluate their continued relevance – or lack of it – in our lives today.

Assignments and Homework


Carrying Cow Pies Parable of the Chicken


How Scripted “Acceptable” Feelings Create an Inauthentic Script In this video on your life scripting I want to share how superficial “good” feelings and repressed “bad” feelings created drama and rob life of intimacy.


Do script messages show up in your interviews? Do they show up in the interviews of those you interview? What alternatives to script messages are suggested in the interviewing you experience?


Trade interviews of both dreams and life issues with one or more partner once a week. Focus on thinking about what script messages are implied by your dreams and life issues. Consider how the feedback and recommendations made by your interviewed characters impacts the messages you tell yourself.


  1. Write down your answers to the following questions.
  2. Share your answers with your other study team members.
  3. Discuss.
  4. Submit your written answers.

What positive script messages did you receive?   How have they affected your life? What negative script messages did you receive?   How have they affected your life? What sorts of secondary gains might you receive from keeping your negative script messages? How would you rate the usefulness of this unit 0-10? Why? How can it be improved?

Setting Intent

What do you want to take away from this unit to improve your life?

How would you like it to influence your dreams tonight?

How can you format that as a statement of intention to read over to remind yourself, before you go to sleep, to incubate in your dreams tonight?

Course Information

Course Instructor

Joseph Dillard Joseph Dillard Author

This course does not have any sections.

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