Romantic Games 3: Life Scripts

The games that people play stack up to a predictable future. These storylines tend to follow predictable themes like myths of fairy tales. They are a person’s personal mythology with an expected ending. Nowhere is this more evident than a person’s romantic life. What’s to be done? Well… it starts with distinguishing what predictable romantic future you are headed toward and from their deciding if the payoffs in the games you play are worth ending up with that predictable future romantic life.

If you look at 4 things you will find that people have a pretty clear script of how things are going to turn out for themselves:

  1. A person’s parents (especially their parent’s childhoods or the “inner child” of each parent)
  2. A person’s own childhood
  3. A person’s life course up to today
  4. Their expectations of their future at a deep psychological level (not a polite cocktail party social conversational level)

And that they are even doing everything in their power to make sure it turns out that way, even though that future script is not particularly positive for most people if they really look!

But most people don’t really look. The same way the games (fixed ways of acting and being for hidden payoffs) that people play tend to exist in blind spots for people, future scripts tend to be largely unconscious. The same way an animal is probably not aware that a set of instincts is driving them in a predictable direction, human beings are not aware that they are driven toward a predictable future. There are more variables (social, psychological, instinctual and so on) for a human being, but the predictability is the same. The difference is that a human being can become conscious of that predictable future and even has the possibility of doing something about it. But first one has to confront it.

Previously in this series we have established that human interactions are largely patterned, largely inauthentic involving hidden motives, and that that pattern exists primarily in that person’s ego or relationship blueprint. The hidden pattern is played out internally between characters in the person’s mind (for example, the people we are often talking to in our heads or characters we dream about). Those characters are based in past experience, mostly childhood. That patterning plays out not only in games or short interactions but also on a larger life scale. A game has a predictable pattern and conclusion to it. It reinforces a position associated with survival (like “I’m not O.K.) for a payoff (like getting attention or avoiding a more painful emotion). If you stack those games together a person’s life course becomes predictable.

At about four or five years old children form survival conclusions about who they need to be and not be, how they need to act and not act, how they need to feel and not feel, and so on, all in order to survive and make it in their family and culture. Of course, earlier infancy and toddlerhood, as well as their parents and culture influence these conclusions.

As transactional analysts tend to say, “I’m not O.K.” is one of the biggest conclusions. It is also the basis of most life scripts. This is why life scripts tend to have a tragic quality and be relegated to the unconscious. Who wants to know that they are slowly smoking or drinking themselves to death because sacrificing themselves was how they made it in their family or that they are playing out a Lone Ranger script because intimacy is considered dangerous and would threaten an inflated sense of self importance that covers up a sense of self-deficiency.

Freud became aware of this tendency in human beings and called it the “repetition compulsion”.

Repetition compulsion is a psychological phenomenon in which a person repeats a traumatic event or its circumstances over and over again. This includes reenacting the event or putting oneself in situations where the event is likely to happen again.

– Wikipedia

Freud was baffled by this tendency and eventually began to develop the theory of masochism, or self-damaging behavior, in human beings. This is why life scripts are really important to uncover… because they don’t end well. And even those scripts that do end relatively well (think “Leave It to Beaver” or “Little House on the Prairie” still have a scripted and predictable quality that disconnects a person from the true adventure and spontaneity of life or the deeper open and spiritual qualities in themselves and life.

Scripts have different qualities. Most are banal. Some are dramatic. Many include when and how we expect to die. In some scripts we end up alone in others we end up in partnership, although that partnership is usually somehow deficient. Remember that scripts are not hopes, dreams and fantasies, and that hopes, dreams and fantasies often are used to push life scripts out of awareness.

To discover your life script ask what conclusions you came to about yourself and life as a child? What were your favorite fairy tales and myths? What film and music characters did or do you identify with? For example, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin all became immensely more popular when they each died at the age of 27 because they fulfilled the tragic script of living intensely and dying young. What were your parent’s childhoods like and how would you describe each of your parents “inner child”? How did it turn out for your parents at a deep psychological as well as circumstantial level? If you were to put your life, especially your relationship life, on a graph, what is the predictable future?

Here are the most common scripts and their central themes that Alicia and I have seen play out in people’s lives and romantic lives:

  1. Van Gogh – never recognized
  2. Mother Hubbard – woman behind the man or behind the family
  3. Sisyphus – eternally punished
  4. Edith Bunker – sacrificing oneself
  5. Don Juan – sexually successful but can’t connect
  6. Good Girl or Good Boy – keeping up appearances
  7. Cinderella – helpless and hopeful to be rescued
  8. Bodhisattva – people are victims and need to be rescued
  9. Darth Vader or Dracula – turning to the dark side/psychopath scripts
  10. Frankenstein – misunderstood and hunted down
  11. Barbie – trophy wife
  12. Jimi Hendrix – big high & then big crash
  13. The Lone Ranger – don’t get close
  14. Little House on the Prairie – looks good but superficial

Each person’s script is unique and includes personal variations. You are looking for your own personal mythology. Your romantic life is the best place to look to discover your script because it is where it is likely to be playing out in the most obvious fashion. The script was formed in relationship with our original caretakers and tends to play out on the primary relationship stage of our life, usually a romantic stage.

As I mentioned at the start of tonight’s topic, Freedom from a scripted life comes primarily from distinguishing the script and the payoff and really taking the time to see if you are willing to give up the payoffs in light of the consequences of the script. It is similar to giving up a game or hustle in this way. We will elaborate more on this in a future session but, for now, simply allow yourself to become aware of the script and begin to consider whether you are willing to give up the payoffs (familiarity, righteousness, avoidance of difficult memories and so on) and from their structure your life to be the expression of something deeper and more real than your past.

Alicia Davon