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Life Scripts


Explanations > Models > Life Scripts

Description | Example | Discussion | So what?



We create stories about our lives, what they have been and what they will be. This starts in childhood where we weave our perceptions of our selves and of the world around us into a narrative about what we can and will do.

These life scripts then continue to have a deep and unconscious effect on how we live our lives. They affect the decision we make. They control what we think we could easily do and could never do. They shape our self-image. And yet we seldom realize where they come from or even do not know that they exist at all.

Our life scripts are often encouraged and shaped by parents and other family members, whose life scripts were shaped by their parents and so on. In this way, we become a product of our family's history. Likewise, our scripts are also woven by cultural and national forces.

Life scripts are not all the same as they may also be significantly affected by individual events, such as being criticized by a teacher or bullied by other children. They also are constrained by inherited characteristics. For example it would be unusual (but not impossible) for a shorter person to include being a basketball player in their life script.

There are often overall shapes to life scripts that can be expressed very simply, for example 'I am a loser' or 'I must help save the world'. Life scripts can be very detailed and they can be very vague. They can be very empowering, yet they can also severely limit our lives.


A child brought up in poverty sees celebrities on television and hears her grandmother telling her that she can be like that, and how there are people on the TV screen who started with nothing, just like her. She consequently creates fantasies and plays games of being a celebrity. Other children join in, but with her it runs much deeper. She works hard and always volunteers, even after forgetting much of her conversations with her grandmother. She ends up working in television, not as a celebrity but behind the scenes. Whilst she feels good being close to the stars, there is a strange sadness about her when she returns to her small apartment at night. She still works hard and the deep belief that celebrity success will find her drives her on.


As humans, we create stories to help make sense of the world. Stories run through time like our lives. We put ourselves in the place of the protagonist or other players, feeling what it may be like. And the greatest story for each of us is the story of our lives. We constantly re-tell ourselves about what has happened to us, replaying the internal video and attributing good and bad roles to the various players in our lives. We also project into the future, wondering what might be.

And underneath all this, often unrealized, is the great story arc that we made up long ago. These life scripts shape our thoughts and actions and the stories we tell ourselves. If my life script does not contain being a doctor then I will never wonder about such a career or wish I could be one. If I have though of myself as inferior then my life script will position me as such.

Life scripts are defined within the field of Transactional Analysis and as such are often viewed within the frame of the parent-adult-child model. Script messages are seen as coming from:

  • Modelling: Visible ways adults and peers behave.
  • Attributions: Being told 'you're just like...'
  • Suggestions: Hints and encouragement such as 'Always do your best'.
  • Injunctions: Demands to do or not do things.

Typical injunctions include:

  • Don't
  • Don't be
  • Don't be close
  • Don't be separate from me
  • Don't be you
  • Don't be the sex you are
  • Don't be a child
  • Don't grow up
  • Don't succeed
  • Don't be important
  • Don't want
  • Don't need
  • Don't think
  • Don't feel
  • Don't trust
  • Don't be sane
  • Don't be well
  • Don't belong

These constrain and create limits on the child's life. The parents can also give counter-injunction permissions that allow and may replace the 'don'ts' with 'dos'. Either way, these lead to the child making script decisions.

Life scripts are sometimes called childhood scripts.

So what?

The greatest power of understanding life scripts is in the ability this gives you to change them.

Take action to discover your life script (or help others to do so). Listen to yourself. What are the stories you are telling yourself about your life. When do you say 'that's not me' or 'I couldn't do that'? What are the patterns you seek and avoid? What excuses do you make for not doing things?

And then consider how these could change. Rewriting your life script will change your life for the better. Yes it is scary. Yes it is exciting. So what is stopping you? Your current life script.

See also

Transactional Analysis, Storytelling


Claude Steiner. (1990). Scripts People Live: Transactional Analysis of Life Scripts. New York: Grove Press

Goulding, M. (1987). Changing Lives Through Redecision Therapy, Grove Press

Goulding, R. and Goulding, M. (1976). Injunctions, decisions and redecisions. Transactional Analysis Journal, 6, 1, 41-48.


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