Life Script Theory: A Critical Review From

A Developmental Perspective
William F. Cornell
Abstract It may even be that I am one of the few
fortunate people on earth who has cast
Script theory is examined and expanded off the shackles entirely and who calls his
from the perspective of contemporary own tune. In that case I am a brave im-
developmental research and theory. Each proviser facing the world alone. (pp.
major script theorist is reviewed and cri- 276-277)
tiqued. Script, as a comprehensive theory This frank and poignant personal observation
presented in most of the TA literature, is is filled with fascinating contradictions and im-
found to be overly reductionistic and insuf- plications. Berne's comments seem to reflect
ficiently attentive to the formative factors in his own conflicts about personal autonomy ver-
healthy psychological development. sus the authority of life script, true individual
creativity versus the expression of family tradi-
tion, and the satisfactions of personal freedom
Great literature has always provided a versus the aloneness of autonomy. The conflict
balance to the lopsided preoccupation of between individual expression and family and
psychological science with patholo- societal pressure are apparent throughout
gy .... In contrast to the reductionism of Berne's writings.
science, the model of great literature ,However, Berne never resolved these con-
often enlists an interactionist, longitudinal flicts, even though his theory of scripts evolved
perspective and seeks to illuminate the over time. I think these conflicts remain, under-
myriad forces at work within and without mining the clarity and coherence of script
an individual. A novelist would never theory andour practice as transactional analysts
diminish his protagonist with a finite today. Some eighteen years after Berne's death,
label. (Felsman & Vaillant, 1987, p. 303) the music roll remains the binding image and
Shortly before his death, Eric Berne (1972), dilemma in our efforts to conceptualize the
using the analogy of a piano player, wondered nature of life script and to translate those con-
if he was actually playing the piano or if he was ceptualizations into effective educational and
mostly sitting there while a piano roll deter- clinical techniques.
mined the tune. What is the nature and function of life script?
As for myself, I know not whether I am What are the clinical implications of the script
still run by a music roll or not. If I am, model TA therapists present to themselves and
I wait with interest and anticipation-and their clients? Although transactional analysts
without apprehension-for the next notes pay careful attention to the "scripty" beliefs
to unroll their melody, and for the har- and behaviors of clients, do they give equal at-
mony and discord after that. Where will tention to their own beliefs about script, about
I go next? In this case my life is mean- the coherence and validity of TA script theory?
ingful because I am following the long Does script theory hold up under the scrutiny
and glorious tradition of my ancestors, of developmental theories and research or other
passed on to me by my parents, music theoretical perspectives?
perhaps sweeter than I could compose In this paper some key developmental
myself. Certainly I know that there are perspectives are reviewed and summarized
large areas where I am free to improvise. after which the ideas of major TA script

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4. the blind child. of a review of the developmental literature that tive. Erikson's stages continuity-discontinuity over time. 2016 . 28) recognition of social. cultural. the environmentally handicapped from his clinical practice and theoretical child is not inevitably doomed to an in- assumptions. longitudinal of human development. ty of TA script theory and was the beginning Freud. ogy and psychotherapy. Erik Erikson (1963). His emphasis. This complex and highly organized forms of material raised major questions about the validi- psychological organization and function. Within the psychodynamic perspec. ty of the psyche: tualization of the oral. forces that influence the developing child's con- tal theory and research. significantly altered for positive and corrective change. and historical Chess and Thomas (1984. or Erikson.. thanks maturation. and a lasting em. ferior and abnormal psychological phasis in the psychodynamic literature. The deaf child. Oedipal.. This Freud's model by shifting from a psychosex. p. Their work presents com- portance for . the and genital stages of psychosexual development motoricaUy handicapped child-each can was the first formal effort to delineate the find a developmental pathway consonant evolution of psychological and emotional with his capacities and limitations. LIFE SCRIPT THEORY: A CRITICAL REVIEW FROM A DEVELOPMENTAL PERSPECTIVE theorists are examined in light of developmen. poverty. a "fixation" at anyone stage. The children and families. anal. physical handicaps. central human potential for plasticity and ual focus. psychological construction of reality was moral. Freud's (1917/1938) concep. The work of Stella Chess during early childhood (up to the age of six).. 293) conclude Vol. Freud's ideas were the product of to the plasticity of the brain. By the same his psychoanalytic reconstruction of childhood token. Finally. a concep. struction of reality. affective. Vaillant presented table sequence of "stages. with its emphasis on libidinal learning bears directly on a number of cathexis.sagepub. indicated that the evolution of an individual's Whether studying cognitive. or behavioral development. Although his work has had a pervasive view of developmental theories presented here and lasting impact on the clinical understanding stresses those based on direct. Erikson (1968).. p.. and Alexander Thomas involved long-term even though their symptoms may not make studies of normal children. recently his ideas have studies rather than on clinical theorizing about begun to yield to current developmental development derived from adult psychopathol- research. social. Whether the handicap comes the clinical and pathological implications of from social ideology. 1980. The brief over- theory. linguistic. "high-risk" their appearance until much later. the plastic best known and most widely accepted potential of the brain offers the promise developmental scheme. influences in human evolution. There is great vitality in tualization of the evolution and function of the his account of human development. and of development reach into adult life. The book was simultaneously human development as a definable and predic. pathological family environment. in probably the stressful life experiences. exciting and disturbing. No. For life script process is offered. anything but linear and certainly not cemented simpler levels of functioning develop into more to the dynamics of the nuclear family. (Thomas & Chess." with earlier stages vivid case studies and substantial data which providing a foundation for later evolution. Theories My first introduction to current developmen- tal research was Adaptation to Life by George Developmental theorists attempt to delineate Vaillant (1977). to a psychosocial orientation that at. 18. 83). by Sorin Duma on May 27. quivocally that "neuroses are only acquired Chess and Thomas. periods of developmental crisis are as likely opportunities for new growth as An Overview of Selected Developmental occasions of overadaptation and acquiescence. Freud (1938/1949) stated une. His work sequential patterning of developmental opened the developmental perspective to a stages. was on course. [a child's] whole subsequent pelling evidence of the resilience and plastici- life" (p. October 1988 271 Downloaded from tax. and children with events of the first years are of paramount im. issues in developmental theory-the tempts to incorporate societal and interpersonal significance of early life experiences. Freud presented the first developmental has culminated in this paper.

psychotherapist) had major in- years. both of whom. Like Chess and Thomas. affects. isolated traumas the potential for achievement and satisfaction in childhood rarely have significant impact in as well as for loss or frustration. 2016 .WILLIAM F. CORNELL without equivocation that simple. friends. they However. those study. and un- psychopathology. typical Freudian (and script) tables" (p. 197). competence. independent of unhappy childhoods" (p. 103-104). Vaillant Instead. Adaptation to Life by George both in childhood and adulthood. Unlike Freud.sagepub. environment interactional process was affected (Vaillant. and dynamic interaction son or event. by Sorin Duma on May 27. He in family structure or attitudes. noting are fraught with distortions. linear predic. new talents. 7). Vaillant argued changes in basic function. and the Grant Study provides no prediction ing as examples. predictability of the human psyche. close adult relationships lege and then followed systematically for 30 (spouse. while not the functional. adaptive (defensive) patterns change Vaillant. 373). Vaillant's account of defense challenge the reliability of a causal explanation mechanisms and their development is far richer based on clinical reconstruction of childhood and more complex than that evident in the from adult problems. and significant. adolescence. ed that dysfunctional thinking and relating in ment as occurring in a "biosocial matrix. The 272 Transactional Analysis Journal Downloaded from tax. 1986b). tested and interviewed intensively during col. No single childhood factor ac- development: "The evolving child. 1986) describe psychological develop. social. The men's lives were full of surprises. Chess and Thomas emphasize the disputed the Freudian emphasis on fixation and importance of the individual child's tempera. Their research the sustained emotional trauma. by many emerging unanticipated influences. Vaillant emphasized the evolution and fluences on improved quality of life. continuous. It summarized the Harvard Grant Study judged initially to have the "worst" childhoods in which 95 Harvard University students were did not always have the "worst" adult lives. careers and satisfying marriages were relatively 1980. and childhood. meaning of defense mechanisms. supported by research data. pp. There is striking congruence between It is also important to note the work of Robert Vaillant's view of defense mechanisms as Jay Lifton (1983a. Chess and Thomas clusions for the reconsideration of script theory view these developmental transitions as steps are: reconstructed. Thus the function of ego defense mechanisms in relation Harvard Grant Study offers further evidence of to psychological and interpersonal health and the remarkable resilience. They throughout childhood and adult life. writing specifically from a developmental sions as described in TA theory. 300). maintained that there are many corrective ex- ment and capabilities and the "goodness of fit" periences in the course of an individual's or the "poorness of fit" with that child's fami. vigorously against linear. but "discuss- tion from early childhood through later ing defenses as actual behaviors. development and many pathways to health ly. p. new en. adaptive intent of script deci. causal linkages be- vironmental opportunities or stresses. changes tween childhood experience and adult life. theory tends to emphasize the experience of loss The most relevant of Vaillant's (1977) con- and frustration. psychologi- Vaillant (1977) was also based on longitudinal cal evolution is often discontinuous. plasticity. it is of the biological and the social. and adulthood is not ideas which serve defensive purposes" (p. writing of most script theorists." Using weaning and toilet train. not the sudden demonstrates convincingly that significant insult. perspective. counted for happiness or unhappiness at fifty' . " an adulthood is "rarely the fault of anyone per- ongoing. 1977. Chess and Thomas emphasize the importance and that "the life cycle is more than an invariant for future psychological health of the child's sequence of stages with simple predictable out- development of "task mastery" and "social comes. He observ- (1984. and possible late concluded in his 1977 book that "successful emerging genetic factors" (Thomas & Chess. and school environment. adulthood. for in human development. that does the most lasting damage to the change can occur at any time in the course of human spirit. 1983b) and Robert Coles "adaptive styles" or "coping strategies" and (1986a. retrospective explanations in social competence and task mastery. In contrast. based their work on the direct Vaillant (1977) emphasized not the intrapsychic observation of nonclinical populations.

Most agree that parents are not the ex- and delineated his developmental hierarchy of clusive. tion as the striving to master. and Children. to integrate. challenged the pervasive influence of the more complex sets of transactions called masculine perspective in developmental scripts. ing to life. LIFE SCRIPT THEORY: A CRITICAL REVIEW FROM A DEVELOPMENTAL PERSPECTIVE work of both Lifton and Coles is rich with im. (pA) works. Kohlberg (1984) researched now have a much more optimistic vision moral development in children and delineated of human development. that is. In his most recent book. 1962) is an interactive. a capaci. source for a child's needs and a major theory of human motivation. and cept of script. not only their origins. construction of reality or coping mechanisms.. development. (p. in contrast to most developmen- at home and at school he has been given tal researchers.. ty for ethical reflection. October 1988 273 Downloaded from tax. they are and argued persuasively for the recognition of derivatives. He attempted to integrate a psychody- namic perspective with the work of Piaget and Berne. but and they do likewise as they try to figure a substantial degree of their final form out how (and for whom) the world established in this period. 2016 . fered this description of the nature and func- making" in the child's endeavor to comprehend tion of script: the world and give form to it. Beginning with Transactional Kohlberg. say. Summary and Critique ticular significance in relation to TA script of Major Script Theorists theory. that of Freudian psychology. even though both Pine (1985).. Piaget (1977) ad. very important. Mahler. significant growth and change can occur at any dressed the most basic question of "how do time of life. As Chess and Thomas (1984) people know" through his direct studies of conclude: children's evolving patterns of cognition and As the field of developmental studies has other studies of forms of knowledge. personality and functioning are ipso fac- ly Kagan (1984) extended the study of cognitive to predictable. No. Loevinger (1976) addressed ego periences. adapta- the role of caring and relatedness in human tions. In The Political Life of highly interactive process. of infantile reactions and ex- development. His was matured. Gilligan (1982) Games appear to be segments of larger. age three as a primary determi- scrap of emotional life available to them nant of psychological functioning. especially those who have of Maslow's work in the context of a critique engaged in long-term longitudinal studies.sagepub. Wilson (1972) provided an excellent summary Most would agree. tion or tragedy. All in their "psychosexual development. Kegan (1982) suggested a developmental theory that is of par. to make sense of experience. (p." have. Pine. characterized infant development as a creative. Stem (1985). Central to Kegan's perspective is the Analysis in Psychotherapy. scant encouragement to regard either I find it impossible not to think in terms migrants or Indians with compas. Maslow (1954. often in the face of severe depriva. They have described the yearn. I believe. years of direct observation of infants. subsequent ment in his or her own learning. More recent. Coles (1986b) observed: Bergman (1975) described pre-Oedipal And. of the events of the months and years un- sion . tionship to the mother. 18. But a script does not deal with Vol. On the other hand. or more precisely. Children ingeniously use every til. most would agree that it developmental theorists. creative.. 41) While the developmentalists have addressed Additional Developmental Theorists. child's psychological history. or even primary. 293) six sequential stages of morality. Berne (1961) of- ongoing and increasingly complex "meaning. defining the essence of ego func- plications that can expand and enliven the con. writes..4. achieving individuals cess. It is not the nature and problems of human growth from possible in this paper to adequately review all various perspectives.. we now have to give up the il- an interactionist perspective-viewing the child lusion that once we know the young as an active agent engaged with the environ. a boy demonstrates development in the infant and toddler's rela- evidence of moral by Sorin Duma on May 27. Scripts belong in the realm of theories stressing individuation and autonomy transference phenomena. ever-changing pro- studied primarily healthy. after ing of the human mind to find and give mean. we development.

the process always tragic. and Maslow did exist.sagepub. but one of the first things he learns is to do as he is told. often split up into acts. and the great hope and value of the human the older they get. a language dramas of childhood. forevermore. it is an attempt to repeat ly can a person cast off the frog skin and in derivative form a whole transference recreate a healthy life? Not easily. cases the right to choose his own methods periences are the chief determinants of and consoling himself with the illusion of every engagement and of every choice of autonomy . However.. tions ago. the work of wrote in Principles of Group Treatment. Erikson. since a complete performance wrote in Sex in Human Loving: may require a whole lifetime. tercourse is the by Sorin Duma on May 27. (pp. For Berne (1966). witches. But he cannot think about his theory which it brings to mind because programming unless he first gives up the it applies to any engagement whatsoever illusion of autonomy. and since that is Thus his first enslavement is to his derived and adapted from a protocol parents. he even capitalized destiny and of- a highly deterministic mode. transactional health. of individuation seemed a courageous excep- tion and reenactment of an elaborate tion rather than the natural. but does "Every human being is born a prince or a not seem to have influenced Berne's thinking princess: early experiences convince some that about human development. he must stop ment than the familiar transference and think. (p. 1966. it was he who introduced the images of like the theatrical scripts which are in. 290). He follows their instructions based on early experiences of the in." with neurotic. Like many clini- they are frogs. the subtitle of his 1972 book. 116) Man is born free. from such script programs. In order to break away associates. He evolving script theory. by than a producer of script. 168) with such strivings when they are unwor. He lost track of pp. Operationally. Berne became possessed by the effort to development follows from this" (Berne. and the rest of the pathological cians. to any transaction or series of agent he likes to imagine he is. that he has not been up to now the free that is. (p. or 'cure. a that suggests the individual is more a product script is a complex set of transactions. What Do You Say and psychopathic scripts viewed as "almost After You Say Hello? For Berne. nature recurrent. and implanted script electrodes tuitive artistic derivatives of these primal into the language of script theory. Script is a fered "The Psychology of Human Destiny" as "household drama. 289-290). down the monkeys on their backs. intelligence and dignity of the individual in Much of the literature on development refer- psychotherapy. ogres. psychotic. He must realize in any social aggregation whatsoever. 125-126) lapse under the weight of a deterministic sense Thus. those ex. and Since the dominant influence in social in.. it is presented to be in the developmental Berne was certainly a strong advocate for the literature. understand psychopathology.. Berne's personal optimism seemed to col- thy. the stiffer their backs race is that the Adult can be dissatisfied become." Script is viewed as the projec. Berne (1970) recurring. the prince or princess" (p. He seemed at times to be very red to earlier did not exist when Berne was confident of a person's capacity to change. but not necessarily Five years after Principles. from the beginning script was cast in of destiny. Berne im- drama. exactly plied.' clinically oriented theorists. 2016 . but rather transactions which is not completely the puppet of some Destiny from genera- structured by external reality. CORNELL a mere transference reaction or transfer. This is a more general state. "Clinical language up once more the interrupted development of rarely includes the process of healthy 274 Transactional Analysis Journal Downloaded from tax. Piaget. This is a criticism to be made of many treatment "aims at getting well. Felsman and which means to cast off the frog skin and take Vaillant (1987) emphasize.WILLIAM F. common process transference phenomenon. But how readi- ence situation. Few people have the courage While every human being faces the or elasticity to tum around and stare world initially as the captive of his script. retaining only in some dividual with his parents. he spends the rest of his life doing that.

it in. No. developmental research strongly suggests that By the time he wrote the material later com. the dramatic nature of the script Berne (1972) wrote that "the first script pro. demands of script" (Berne. parents. brings the mortgage. 83). grandparents. for Berne. What is healthy and going well is ly "reconstructed clinical infant" and research often overlooked and obscured in the shadow on the actual "observed infant. did they have in essence. an idea cen- but it was still a tale dominated by family tral to developmental theory but seriously lack- drama. . writing from behavior and the active social exchange a treatment perspective. a culture? There is lit. pp. Rather. For logical and compelling choices. and language that elaborated on the concept of tive goals of the neonate and young in. he One wonders about the children Berne offered his most thorough account of described-did they ever change their minds. Although he did not challenge the fant. he with an ever-widening world. In fact. literally and tle sense of excitement and no sense of seren. Perhaps even Hello?. and culminating Although Berne did not work specifically in a chosen alternative" (Berne. 18.. and in sustained love and literal or symbolic umbilicus. forever attached to and pro. reinforced by the parents. of maturity. needy." Current of illness" (p. infants influence and shape their parents as piled for What Do You Say After You Say much as their parents shape them.. In Hello. October 1988 275 Downloaded from tax.. a winner. social outside the family sphere that can be crucial competence and task mastery. Along these lines. the AlIens delineated a verified and extended by the research of Daniel developmental sequence of eight permissions Stern (1985). Based on The observations of Chess and Thomas are clinical experience.4. 302). in the form of short protocols which can [Drama] triangle in accordance with the later be worked into complicated dramas" (p. justified by subsequent events.. ing in Berne's description of script formation. but wrote little about them. tional transmissions. The forces of submission and compromise fined as "a life plan based on a decision made override the experience of mastery in Berne's in childhood. and he thought Two striking characteristics of the child's even winners were the product of more affirm- behavior in the first weeks of life are his ing and more productive parental programming interest in manipulatory-exploratory and permission. psychological evolution in Hello. 16) variables in a child's evolving script. all strug- gramming takes place during the nursing gles in life are struggles to move around the period. a neighborhood.sagepub. writing. p. the "winner's script" and offered a diagram we have suggested that the primary adap. mastery and evolving competence. does not hold up individual differentiation? If Berne's vision of in light of current research. development of social relations and the Allen and Allen (1972) emphasized factors mastery of skills and tasks-i. Stem's conclusions are based on that enhance a person's "readiness" to interact direct observation of infant behavior. of the struggles that result in the resolution of dent infant. Most current developmental Vol. (p. equipped. He portrays. took a closer look at with his caretakers. Their article delineated numerous contradictions between represented a significant widening of the world psychoanalytic literature on the therapeutical. maturity is accurate for most by Sorin Duma on May 27. LIFE SCRIPT THEORY: A CRITICAL REVIEW FROM A DEVELOPMENTAL PERSPECTIVE adaptation. can be conceptualized as the Sprietsma offered a useful clinical approach. He wrote. symbolically. example. is brought into full flower. it seems troduces a severe and inaccurate bias to the Peter Pan and all perpetual children made foundation for a theory of script formation.. What of the struggles between adults nasty list of "breast-fed titles.. 1972. ty. progressive acquiescence. according to Chess and Thomas Berne acknowledged the existence of win- (1984): ners. Berne had given the developing child more important is awareness of the child's more choice and authorship in his or her script. script was de. within a developmental frame of reference. rather 186-187)." that result in individuationand autonomy? What Berne's image of the helpless. and intergenera. 446). for which he is biologically concept of a "winner's script" theoretically. of script theory.e. 1972. 2016 . depen. Sprietsma (1978). for which Berne provided a lengthy. did their parents ever change. in deeper understanding and attach- grammed by mother and family through a ment between people. problems. "During the periods dipity in the world as Berne described it. Maturi- friends.

What Steiner's (1974) definition of script is as Berne comes to characterize as the very nature follows: of script is often reflected in the psychological The script is based on a decision made systems of severely dysfunctional families.. tain position. it is restrictive and not always motivated by some fearful or de. a child's range of choice and istential predicament in which she finds expression may be drastically restricted. 1977. Child. CORNELL presentation of a literal hierarchy of develop. an elegant clinical tool and a major con- sense of self-enhancing adaptation. As a therapeutic note the tenacity with which people cling to pat. Her predicament comes from the example. decides that a cer- that in severely dysfunctional families (especial. but often by the pride and within the nuclear family. expectations. however. too. 55) In Berne's thinking there was an overwhelm. his vectors in psychological development is from theory of script does little to challenge the the parents (sometimes grandparents and other deterministic and reductionistic underpinnings authority figures) toward the child. environments. There was tribution to TA. The matrix. and it remains child's developing sense of self. Steiner (1974. 20) preponderance of conflictual compromise in the repeated Berne's observation that there seems formation of script. placing much too much power fiant resistance. from her primary family group. For example.WILLIAM F. Both the with all of the information at their literature and clinical experience demonstrate disposal at the time. script 276 Transactional Analysis Journal Downloaded from tax. 1974) developed the script ing sense of self-limiting adaptation and little matrix. having solved a difficult life dilemma with some ment. For herself. The most important influence or or abusive by Sorin Duma on May 27. Steiner. Steiner. nearly all the force of the vocate of individual rights and dignity. this tenacity is ment in theory." and noted that ing child as victim to negative family and social Berne was not very articulate on the subject. As a central ele- terns of "scripty" adaptation. neglectful. Steiner (1971. a recent collection of articles on conflict between her own autonomous "resilient children" (Anthony & Cobler. There is virtually no ac- that of "finding life meaningful. these articles also pressure impinging upon the young- examine and describe the factors outside of the ster originates from the parental family and within the child's own style of cop. the Child ego states of ing that support resilience and health. (p. However. restricted and formed by these forces. tool. it is not the essential nature of script. These the parents of the person are the main factors are not adequately addressed in Berne's determining factors in the formation of theories of script. 1968). and life ly those that isolate themselves from normal course are a reasonable solution to the ex- social interaction). Steiner does give far While suggesting that there can be healthy more importance than Berne did to the social. However. and economic forces that influence a explored the question. a more recent article. scripts or script-free health. deterministic. of self-expression. p. Berne never fully cultural.. of of the parents drawn above the child. it is clear and impactful. Although a strong and eloquent ad- In Berne's view.. 2016 . Triangle (Karpman. provides a central Although it is often striking in clinical work to image in transactional analysis. but the child is by and large broken heart. impoverished.sagepub. but by the Adult in the young person who. That is. ing with psychotic." although it counting in Berne's writing for this experience seems clear that children are busy virtually of mastery and individuation in script forma- from the start making life meaningful. It is the tion or in the maintenance of styles of adapta- making which the AlIens (1987) emphasize in tion in adulthood. 19) even the child may have some limited range of attributed Berne's death to the influence of a choice in the face of the forces that impinge life script that called for an early death of a upon him or her. of Berne's approach. p. seems to suggest a Groder (cited in Barnes. he presents the develop- to be a self that is "script free. possibility. autonomy. 1987) tendencies and the injunction received vividly describes the debilitating impact of liv. with the ego states satisfaction of mastery. their "last" permission is degree of success. and unanswered by subsequent script theorists. scripts. along with the even less sense of the child's ability to influence three stacked ego state circles and the Drama his or her parents and childhood environment. For Berne.

Even limiting the image of the script originally. them. needs. October 1988 277 Downloaded from tax. Vol. No. through dramatic scenes enacted in the Since its introduction. and child development. Within the TA literature. (Levin. We continue For example. as if we were haunted by demons or hunted by witches." and characterizes it as follows: The events of the first six months of our lives are crucial to all the rest of our development. which he saw as a phenomenon of deterministic. All the ex- tualizations of script are embedded in Oedipal periences from which we derive our first theory and Freudian assumption. Both Berne's and Steiner's concep. life. numerous variations on here-and-now. Our Figure 1 first basic "set" or program is the Mutual Vectors in Script Development building block upon which we support all our later developmental experiences and The concept of script and the images used decisions. of all the Berne's own conceptualization of the basic life script theorists. 2016 . (pp. by Sorin Duma on May 27. 29-30) Levin (1985) describes infancy (birth to six months) as "Stage One: Being the Natural Child. Levin's accounting is the most position. a personal children nor adults create psychological documentary of how we each arrive at organization primarily around negative our basic life position. Levin has only in contradiction to the research on infant made a strong effort to present a developmen. as sug.sagepub. even without being aware of vice to our understanding of the range of fac. basic existential position. however. our right to be taking fluence of the developing child upon the en. spontanei. It remains a dynamic part of us. script Mother Youngster Father behavior is predetermined. it would be more as grown-ups. It is our vironment. When we play out our script matrix to the nuclear family. get needs met which were not met ment. and expressiveness of childhood.4. now long forgotten. up space in the physical plane. pp. The way we experience our existence for the rest of our lives is largely determined by the foundation we create while we are still helpless. excitement. The scenes are taken from the script matrix have been presented in the TA our' 'script." our personal story or col- literature. LIFE SCRIPT THEORY: A CRITICAL REVIEW FROM A DEVELOPMENTAL PERSPECTIVE messages literally descending on the child. understanding of both pathological and healthy motivating our current experiences. although there has been little lections of early decisions and unmet challenge to its theoretical limitations. our OKness. Ironically. The way we were as needs "met" and on needs as the primary focus children doesn't go away when we get of therapy distorts and severely limits our older. we act in ways which are accurately drawn as shown in Figure 1. of the evolution of self and script must attend we continue to seek it symbolically to the influence of wants. If we human development. Neither film and on file in each of us. This is our basic position in to represent it need to include the active in. with little program are recorded in ego states which acknowledgement of the curiosity. in the script matrix the central to use them to program our current ex- emphasis on the nuclear family does a disser. They are on ty. it is inconsistent with tal perspective. Thus. periences. we call the Natural Child. 60-61) messages and experiences in childhood. According to her: later psychological development. We are con- troled by yesterday. Levin's em- We record our entire personal history in phasis on script as an effort to get "un-met" our ego states. 18. symbolic of the original unsatisfactory childhood experience. A comprehensive theory didn't get what we needed as children. ment of a basic existential life position is not Levin. This description of infancy and the establish- gested by Berne and Steiner. desire. Scripts represent our attempts to tors that significantlyinfluence human develop.

and individuation are well perience from psychotherapy with adults. sent life script as an ongoing formative process gaged from anyone specific point or usually not set until adolescence.sagepub. seen all too ing is more apt to facilitate self-enhancement often in TA literature. advance and mature even though we use the The developmental literature indicates that same pattern as before. ficulties and by extra-familial experiences. effectiveness of a client's present day function- ment. the developmental literature sug- ly from TA literature. developmental period. the TA literature. issues for managing. ment. describing it phase of origin in developmental time. 256) Babcock and Keepers's presentation. They emphasize the psychosocial undergo a sensitive period. central for many clinical-developmental issue will receive developmental theories. offer useful therapeutic constructs or a major shift in script theory by demonstrating metaphors. direct observation of infants rather than from The process and importance of mastery. attach- interpretive reconstruction of infantile ex. not phases of life. dependence. Babcock and Keepers pre- autonomy. the clinician. Chess and Thomas concluded from their Babcock and Keepers. At the chronicity of the family dynamics. a presumed perspective on human development and a stage- phase of ascendency and predominance specific hierarchy. dreams. This parochial approach. psychosocial evolution. They also emphasize con- when relatively irreversible "fixations" tinued learning. cock and Terry Keepers (1976/1986) is con- Likewise. Such pact of the family can be significantly altered clinical literalism is simply not supported by by the child's own attitudes toward the dif- developmental research. They do not fluences. and similar symptoms can evolve perspective. even if these are not empirically that script is the result ofactive decisions made valid. Robert and Mary Goulding made fact.WILLIAM F. (p. It therefore cannot be known presuming a drive toward health and satisfac- in advance. However. Raising Kids OK by Dorothy Bab- or "be chosen" in response to different causes. Levin (1980) accurate for later phases of childhood. not a stage- same time. Stern's (1985) central conclusion was that: Written primarily as a child-rearing manual for The traditional clinical-developmental parents. sistent with current developmental theory and sonal World ofthe Infant. and culture. elude much of TA script theory) may be more In Cycles of Power." Stem concluded. the "clinical-developmental" literature may. she presents "normal symptoms" specific by Sorin Duma on May 27. and trust. it makes an important contribution to issues such as orality. The child's experience of mastery in social what point in life a particular traditional relations and task competence. the im- issues at various developmental stages. 278 Transactional Analysis Journal Downloaded from tax. could occur. continued attention to the vast clinical and research literature on develop. 7). Within the TA research that similar causes can lead to different literature that incorporates a developmental symptoms. virtually disregarding the gests that the careful. on theoretical grounds. evolutionary model of script formation. It also seems clear that even which she suggests are indicative of unresolved when the family difficulties are chronic. CORNELL hopes. have been disen. is evident throughout its pathogenic origin. in Gouldings. presented in Babcock and Keepers's book. the These issues are seen here as child's "favorite" and "preferred" modes of developmental lines-that is. and cultural and historical in- life. Daniel Stern (1985). posed on (or implanted in) a developing child. he did point out that ing child on the parents. acknowledge the impact of the baby and grow- does not exist. also addressed some research and effective in its presentation of an of the clinical implications of data drawn from active. relearning. change. as the consolidation of family patterns. and change. For Levin's references are drawn almost exclusive. in childhood rather than from injunctions im- developmental" perspective (which would in. 2016 . in The Interper. at tion. He also suggested that the "clinical. chance. building on the early the binding nature of psychological and emo- skills in the same way that we build walking tional difficulty is the pervasiveness and the skills on the ability to crawl" (p. when acknowledges that "Repeating the stages of symbolic functions playa more crucial role in development implies that we naturally change. does transactional than the therapeutic "re-doing" of a specific analysis and TA clients a grave disservice. and they The "theoretical infant. In Cycles of Power.

that defense mechanisms are necessarily proach to script in theory and technique unconscious" (pp. and to childhood and the family. Richard Erskine (1980) offers a significantly tients remembered remarkably similar early different definition of script as: "a life plan scenes and injunctions. and in clinical prac- For the Gouldings. therapy" -stressing that' 'theories are needed making. This definition does not assume. to articulate their own "meaning. television. This author has quent phases of life (in response to new and dif- heard countless TA clients and TA therapists ferent life experience as well as therapeutic in- speak of "having" a "Don't Be" injunction terventions). is critical of the psychotherapeutic/psycho- It seems both more theoretically accurate and pathological attitude toward life. Erskine The Gouldings' approach does. each individual reacted based on decisions made at any developmental uniquely. For example. can be made during any phase of life. logical defense. The presented clearly as a mechanism of psycho- Gouldings' conceptualization of script em. developmental literature. fluence of school. vitality. It interactive process between the growing child directly mirrors the concerns of task mastery and his or her parents in which the meaning the and social competence so central in much of child attaches to parental injunctions and at. It is clear in the tributions is the binding force of the script. The Gouldings' ap. script is flexible and tice. restrictive of normal processes of development as they are decisions. of coping. did. Their observa. therapists to remember the "natural sions. quately managed by current skills. Kegan (1982) dividual's childhood experience and meaning. He calls therapeutically useful to encourage clients to psychotherapy "unnatural therapy" and urges find their own words to express script conclu. defense mechanisms can tions about the importance of the child's efforts be defined as behavioral strategies with which to comprehend. Er- the keyboard. but the Gouldings acknowledge the in. Erksine does not reduce script response to real or imagined injunctions. These difficulties challenges the determinism inherent in so much are not exclusive to childhood. however. trauma or life problems that cannot be ade- mation. thereby miss. They train therapists to work within nature of script. rather than as a phasizes the "injunction-decision complex. Each child makes decisions in ple" (p. 2016 . front of the piano. the developmental literature. 18. 102). however limiting. and action to script compelling or permanent than those of later analysis and change." It is also crucial not to restrict the which are as powerful in their understanding analysis of script to negative. Erskine. 169-170). Our clients were not 'scripted. as Freud developmental researchers.4. In his article on "Script Cure. mechanisms. LIFE SCRIPT THEORY: A CRITICAL REVIEW FROM A DEVELOPMENTAL PERSPECTIVE The Gouldings (1978) observed. place his or her fingers on Consistent with most script theorists. in their understandingof disturbance" (p.sagepub. and influence his or individuals attempt to cope with stress or con- her family and social environments are much flict which they cannot or will not master direct- more in keeping with the findings of ly. and encourage the audience to skine's definition stresses the pathological applaud.' In. knowledge. and environmental supports. Here script is thereby 'scripts' her/himself' (p. nor are of script theory. October 1988 279 Downloaded from tax. 213). Although he makes an impor- the client's construction of reality (past and pre. 262). No. not or a "Don't Grow Up" script. neighborhood. indicating that restrictive life script decisions fluences within and outside of the family. that a person relies on defense changeable during its formation in childhood. adjust to. stage which inhibit spontaneity and limit flex- junctions are not placed in people's heads like ibility in problem-solvingand in relating to peo- electrodes." Groder. and the world environments on the life deci. unconscious strategy for life. human development and by Sorin Duma on May 27." an debilitating. This is a theory of pathology. to cope with The home environment is central in script for. Their treatment approach also childhood coping mechanisms necessarily more brings humor. one that adequately addresses the nature of ing both the subtleties and variations of an in. tant addition to the concept of script by clearly sent) and to allow for important script in. Perhaps the most pointed and Vol. ing: "Operationally. "Although pa. Thomas and Chess (1980) offered the follow- sions made during childhood. They seat the client in life. does not address the individual's capacity to take on a reductionistic cast in their efforts to reopen and change those decisions in subse- identify ten basic injunctions.

290) ty. This is what scripts are all about. and even. 191). This enlivening in the clinical context and more becomes a basic structure out of which theoretically valid than most script theory. be rootless. Unfortunately. the essence of script is the daily. Fanita English is virtually alone himself through his script rather than in among the major TA theorists in considering opposition to it and in fear. would be no content from which to con- gested by Kegan and Vaillant. in many cases. developmental literature. "Our within itself the Child's own genetic in- scripts enable us to blossom. dangers. ( by Sorin Duma on May 27.sagepub. terrible endings perience. restrictive. therefore. beautiful fantasy. and relating from "the criticism of ex. CORNELL existential definition of script in the TA he can develop a perspective about his literature is provided by Martin Groder (cited life. even though they ner goals creatively. even pathological aspects of script." they remove aspects of thinking. Her ideas are fantasies. love. 1977. p. devouring monsters. space and relation. in his discussion of "the tional. fer clues as to how a person can fulfill English. we tend to be More than any other TA theorist. rather than tuitions as to how he might fulfill his in- preventing us from doing so. pitfalls. like a leaf in the wind. consistent unavoidable psychological construction and with many script theorists. However. 288). Groder appears to too much emphasis on childhood as the primary agree with those authors already quoted: The time for script formation and uses too literal script is habit-ridden. It is these latter aspects that of- actually living. p. an adaptation of developmental stages. The child's need for represent lack of script formation. so he would "What Shall I Do Tomorrow? Reconceptualiz. "being in script" becomes ture.. if certain malevolent may contain certain 'conclusions' out of early fairies and cobwebs can be neutralized. I ing Transactional Analysis": suspect that certain cases of psychosis We all need a script. Interestingly.. feeling. and all kinds dysfunctional when it involves hanging of magical tricks and prescriptions as to tenaciously on to certain beliefs about self how calamity can be circumvented and and the world rather than allowing for the how misfortune can be turned into good surprises and opportunities presented in fortune. his English's conceptualizations. English's con. English habit-ridden and do the same lousy job every captures the essence of "meaning-making" morning. to test his ongoing experience of reali.WILLIAM F. 2016 . and hence pathological. During the script-structuring age in Barnes. he operates conceptualize boundaries against which out of a condition of total disorganization. adven- pathological. English environmental circumstances contains (1977) states without equivocation. (English. " The process of script formation and for the unwary hero or heroine-there are "meaning-making" in life is not inherently also fairy elements of excitement. By constructing the outline of a There is tremendous power and vitality in script. she style of life. the Child ego state downright dangerous" (p. . he can hold together his hopes. 19): "Each of us has the period. the child experiences the intense task each morning to recreate the universe from excitement of being a living human be- our central focus and this responsibility is ing with ideas." He observed However many irrational elements there that once individuals settle into a "style of may be in script-including horrible life. p. self-limiting. another advantage Even a script generated under the worst humans have over other animals.. 290) unavoidable. For 280 Transactional Analysis Journal Downloaded from tax. background from which to experience the ships that are ahead of him. . so that he can foreground and. . would be operating only out of a vacuum ceptualization is strongly influenced by Piaget of time and space within which there and particularly conguent with the ideas sug. Alfred English (1977) does not ignore the dysfunc- Adler (1956." which is fundamental in much of the current For Groder. English still places reconstruction of reality." elegantly described the daily contextualizes them: "pathology" of "being in script. as a a script reflects an inborn human need for result of which the individual has no structuring the time. scripts to be valuable assets. childhood that can be dysfunctional or Without a script. 1977. and his experiences. As she says in nect the past to the future.

'psychological life plan" to describe the ongo- the enormous flexibility and resilience of the ing evolution of healthy psychological develop- human psyche. Extension. some of the basic assumptions and attitudes Allen. (1972). with "life script" used to describe theory as it has evolved is inconsistent with this dysfunctional. the incorporation of devel. to establish psychodynamic perspective brings a richness meaning in life. Transactional Analysis Journal. be more inclusive to use a term such as tal research which has repeatedly demonstrated . pathological constructions. to a place within a context of the interpersonal during which a person experiences severe "self and cognitive/behavioral fields. although it has a great deal to teach TA practitioners REFERENCES Adler. U.L. J. evolved over the years is overly psychoanalytic elements in an individual's script. In addition. dividuals and longitudinal studies of human Allen. & Cohier. Unfortunately.J. Script analysis as it has rigid. Scripts: The role of per- growth and psychological formation challenge mission. Pennsylvania..4. opmental theory into script theory has too often of the ITAA. Eds. life script could be more it seems increasingly to have collapsed into a comprehensively defined as follows: Life script psychodynamic framework.. 18. B. LIFE SCRIPT THEORY: A CRITICAL REVIEW FROM A DEVELOPMENTAL PERSPECTIVE her. reprint requests to William Cornell. By integrating the evidence from current Although TA began as a social psychiatry. Box 515 The richness. "Survival con. developmental theory. New York: Guilford Press. Major script decisions can emphasis that permeates much of script theory be made at any point in life. in attitude and overly reductionistic in what it communicates to people about human develop.A.sagepub. 2016 . A. Vol. Times of crisis. U. B.A. To make/find meaning: Notes on the last permission. Basic Books. Called par. is a Certified ment.A. Although life script is not inherently tionistic. Script formation is the process It is not the intent here to remove the intra. Please send psychological formation. well-represented in the TA literature. Perhaps it would This perspective is supported by developmen. tice. The individual psychology ofAlfred Adler about the contexts in which people learn and (H. The of family and social environments. formative rather than acquiescent. M. The invulnerable the pervasive role of childhood and family. and therefore more dysfunctional. script formation is determining rather than centered experiences in determining adult determined. and complexity of cur. pathological meaning in TA theory and prac- clusions" for English are an aspect of script. Ansbacher & R. Cornell. placing primary in TA treatment and training in Pittsburgh and emphasis on psychopathology rather than on Gibsonia. Developmental studies of healthy in.S. 72-81. B. Teaching Member. by which the individual attempts to make sense psychic focus from script theory. 2(2). unpredictable and creative rather than reduc. Gibsonia. perspective on human nature. ticularly into question is the TA emphasis on Anthony. depth. Middle Rd. No. ical construction of reality. Rd. by Sorin Duma on May 27. & Allen. functional aspects of TA as an approach to therapy stresses the "meaning-making" in the ongoing psycholog- dignity of people and their ability to change. behavior. October 1988 281 Downloaded from tax. New York: change. E.R. He maintains a private practice been simplistic and inaccurate. PA rent developmental research and theory is not 15044. Transactional analysts need to either not its primary purpose. tion of reality. parallel term-such as psychological life plan-to describe healthy. 17. (1987). much of script ment. J. (1987). The interpersonal is the ongoing process of a self-defining and is too often lost to an over-emphasis on the sometimes self-limitingpsychological construc- intrapsychic. & Allen. failure" or "environmental failure" or chronic Script theory has become more restrictive "environmental failure" will likely foster more than enlivening. William F. and to predict and manage and depth to clinical understanding. it may be hopelessly imbued with embedded (mired) in the past. (1956). focused on the future rather than pathological. Instructor and Supervisor. Transactional Analysis underlying transactional analysis.).. 72-74. It is one life's problems in the hope of realizing one's intent of this paper to return the intrapsychic dreams and desires.S. Ansbacher. significantly challenge and broaden the current conceptualization of script or to introduce a se- Summary cond. #5. child.

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