The Origin of Self Scripts
Everyone has self-scripts; messages we repeat to ourselves frequently. It’s our internal running commentary, often below the radar of attention but sometimes loud enough to form as actual almost spoken sentences. It’s an aspect of mind chatter. We have many of these script ideas running and they are so familiar that we do not usually notice them or we do not realise that the individual ones are variations on general themes. But, they are the root of our sense of self, of the ego. The constant repetition gives them a familiarity and authority that continues to feed our sense of self, unwittingly.
These inner scripts are both positive and negative. They are automatic.
We often know them as the inner-critic but they also include the inner-enhancer.
Examples of these script statements might include: I’m too fat (body image), I’m a good father (role in society), I talk too much ( personality characteristics), I’m good at my job ( skills), I’m funny ( social) etc.
These self-scripts originate from some standard we have picked up in our family or society. We take on measuring ourselves against a standard for some characteristic, when we are being formed as a member of society. We measure ourselves against the norm or expected around us. We become attached to the ones that benefit us as a member of society and learn to repeat them. We berate ourselves when not measuring up to the standard, often times because someone else told us that we are not measuring up. This is how our personality is formed. It’s all about conformity, fitting in, finding a way to survive. It’s what Buddhists refer to as conditioning.
This is very powerful in the family situation. We measure ourselves for each trait against the other members of our family, or classmates, or community. We adopt what we see as beneficial behaviours. We try to repeat our successes and avoid our failures. In this way we develop our personality and think we have control over it or should have. We feel we should be able to adapt ourselves perfectly to our circumstances and anything less than perfect adaptation is regarded as failure by us to ourselves. All this is an automatic process. It just happens to us or by us and it starts when we are very young.
There is a sense of power with this process. We feel we are or should be in control of ourselves. Ego feels it is in control. This is a powerful feeling, which it is so difficult to let go of.
The standards that we measure against tend to fall into the general categories of body image, skills, personality traits, education or intelligence, member of society, beliefs or values. The specific traits that we take on depend on our specific situation. In one family the skill of being a musician is valued, in another family it is academic prowess. In one school being athletic is valued in another not. In one culture being wealthy is valued, in another not. And so on. Our self-scripts are specific to each one of us but we all have self- scripts. They are a false self.
The standards against which we learn to measure ourselves come from our daily lives. They are the grist for survival in our immediate circumstances. The measuring of ourselves against these standards is our way of developing a way to survive in whatever circumstances we find ourselves, so they are particular to each individual. They are learned or taken on in the early part of our lives and used throughout our lives unless we go back and examine them. They are our basic survival toolset.
But, later in life we find ourselves miserable and functioning under par. We notice that we are not in control of our lives or our state of being. Nobody chooses unhappiness. It happens because something is not working for or in us. We have lost touch with our true nature.
One way to get into seeing what is causing your misery is to start noticing these scripts in yourself.
First off you are likely to notice that they all come from outside of yourself. You’ll begin to identify the specific standard against which you measure yourself, constantly, and where you have placed yourself on the scale of that standard. You’ll also likely be able to see where and when exactly you took it on. You’ll come to see that you are operating from the automatic belief that worked when you were younger. It may be out of date. It worked in the circumstances in which it was adapted but your circumstances have changed.
In a recent workshop the participants all identified scripts they regularly operate from around personality traits. The berated themselves for not being disciplined enough, saying the wrong thing, talking too much or too little, being angry at themselves for not doing something or doing something. They identified how often they admonished themselves for not looking good, or looking as they would like to be seen. This is known as maintaining our self image, the image we want or try to project out.
They all were equally able to identify their positive projections. “I’m funny and so people like me”, “I always help out”, “I’m seen as generous” and so on.
We are not normally troubled by our positive projections because they are working for us. They also come from us measuring ourselves or a trait in ourselves against an external standard.
As we become able to notice these projections in ourselves, catch our inner scripts driving our actions and feelings we come to see how we identify or have become identified with the various traits. We are taking ourselves to be this group of adopted values or traits.
This is how we lose our true selves to the world. We have taken on a conglomeration of traits as a survival mechanism in the world, and this is necessary but it is not what we truly are. In this process we lose sight of who we truly are.
Personality is but a functional mechanism. We didn’t design our own personalities. They arise out of the conditions in which we are raised or find ourselves in, and our genetics. You’ll see that you didn’t really create your own personality. It happened to you. It’s a response mechanism. It’s a piece of functionality. And, you are not in control of it. We feel good when it responds well and visa versa. But, the fact is that if you have survived in the world it is doing its job.
When you see that you did not create your own personality, you’ll realise that others did not create theirs either. In my experience, this leads to deep compassion for ourselves and others.
Our real problem is when we come to believe that who we are is this piece of functionality.
By seeing these inner scripts in action, we dis-identify from them. They lose their hold on our sense of self. We learn to not buy into them as our sense of identity.
The very act of becoming able to see them shows you that you are not them in total, any one of them.
Catching sight of one of these scripts arising in you, a familiar thought just passing through, is the beginnings of real self-inquiry. It’s a thread you can pull on by examining it. This start to unravel the ego structure and that means dis-identification from it.
People often ask me how to do self-inquiry. This is one way to start. Begin by noticing your habitual thoughts, one at a time, and follow it back to its origin. Test it to see if it is really valid in your current life circumstances.
Maybe you’ll find that there are many things you do not do for fear of failure based on some little incident or remark from your childhood and you had given it the authority to control you. You had taken it on as evidence of who you are.
Anything you do to contradict or challenge these scripts is a version of self-inquiry because it is a way of testing them out. You often see how limiting or unreal they are. This loosens the hold that that idea has on you and on your attention. This is the beginning of freedom, of reclaiming your freedom. It’s a loosening of the grip these scripts has on sense of self. Your attention becomes freer as you gain some distance from automatic scripts and the observer in you gains strength. It’s a process of reversing from the tight grip of ego, which is the total of these scripts, to a broader view of yourself and life around you. It’s not about changing the scripts or replacing them with better ones. It’s about seeing how this process robs you of your true identity.
This article is intended as a guide for how to get yourself started on the road of self-inquiry. The inquiry itself will lead you into further observations and questions which is when spiritual teachings really become meaningful in a practical way as opposed to an intellectual understanding of them. They offer an alternative view of who you really are at core.