Subconscious Life Scripts

What Is a 'Life Script'?

A script is a SUBCONSCIOUS LIFE PLAN made by a small child. Once this plan is made, it influences the whole course of that person's life. I am going to be telling you about the usual way scripts work. But, since scripts are so extremely personal and unique, YOUR script may work quite differently (FYI what you read here as an typical example of how these things work, not as a thorough discussion of the topic." Also, we will focus on a rather simplistic "bad" script which hurts the person throughout their life. There are also "good" scripts and even rather "neutral" scripts.

All life scripts, even good ones, impose severe and unnecessary restrictions on our freedom. The best way to learn about life scripts is probably to read Claude Steiner's book: "Scripts People Live."

Let's Talk About Gary's Life Script

Gary had a rather good childhood. His parents were OK. He had enough friends. here was no physical abuse, no alcoholism, nothing seriously wrong at his house. But one day, when he was seven years old, he played in an old abandoned refrigerator and nearly died of suffocation.

The Details

Years later he recalled the sequence of events this way:

  1. I was mad that my parents and my older sister were ignoring me.

  2. I was bored and needed something exciting to do.

  3. I decided to play with the refrigerator because I was mad. I had been warned to stay away from it.

  4. I propped the door open so I'd be safe, but then I accidentally bumped it and it closed on me.

  5. I didn't get scared until I started running out of air.

  6. I passed out.

  7. I don't know how I was rescued but I woke up in a hospital room and a pretty nurse was the first person I saw.

Gary's Typical Problem Day

Years later, in therapy, Gary describes his typical "problem days" this way:

"If I get angry early in the day I just sort of sulk and do as little as possible. Then, after work, I look for some way to party even though I know it will cause problems. I always try to drink just a little, to stay safe, but eventually I just say 'the hell with it' and I drink some more. I don't really get scared until I get woozy and start running out of air. Then I'm afraid I'll actually die. The next day, the only thing that really bothers me is if my wife gets angry and ignores me."

His Relationship History

Gary says that his last three relationships went like this:

"It's always exciting in the beginning but after a while I feel like she's ignoring me and I get mad. Then I usually do something stupid - like quit my job or something. It's no big deal though, I can always find another one. I don't really realize that the relationship is in trouble until my asthma starts to bother me while we are making love. That's when I start thinking about who the next woman in my life will be."

His Life Story

If he doesn't change, his life story might go like this:

"In his teens and 20's, Gary was always grasping for attention and he would get extremely angry when he was ignored. In his 20's and 30's he partied a lot, used tobacco and alcohol and other drugs, but continually claimed it was no problem because he was doing it 'safely.' When he got sick from all this, his lungs gave out and he was often hospitalized. He just didn't snap out of it the last time."

If you read closely, you noticed that all seven elements in Gary's "Refrigerator Story" are also present, in sequence, in his problem days, his relationships and his life story. That is how life scripts work.

How Life Scripts Work: Repetition Compulsions

  1. Something traumatic, usually life-threatening, happens in childhood.

  2. When it is over, the child is shocked and extremely relieved that he survived.

  3. Since he's only a child, he can't understand WHY he survived.

  4. So, subconsciously, he assumes that he only survived because of the sequence of events that day!

  5. Then, as an adult, he repeats this sequence of events over and over and over - in order to continually prove to himself that he CAN survive. This "repeating" is called his "repetition compulsion."

What to Do About It

Even if you've followed all this so far, it is unlikely that you will suddenly be able to see the "repetition compulsion" in your own life. This usually requires quite lengthy therapy. However, since I've gone this far I do want to tell you what we need to do once we do become aware of our own life script.

We Need to SHUFFLE

In Gary's example: He will always have days when he's angry, he will always want excitement in his life, there will be days when his wife ignores him, and he will probably always feel some urges to do things that aren't good for him.

But the first thing he needs to do is to stop these things from happening in sequence.

In therapy, I put the seven elements of Gary's script on index cards. Then I shuffled them and worked with him until he realized that in real life he could actually do these same things in ANY order, not just this one. Once he realized this intellectually, he started to feel great freedom to make choices in all areas of his life.

Why Bother to Learn All This?

We learn about our scripts so we can become free to make adult decisions about what to do with our own lives. Even if you never learn your own subconscious script, you CAN identify some of the repetitious compulsions in your own life. Remember: They are entirely optional and ready for you to start changing today.

APA Reference
Staff, H. (2008, October 30). Subconscious Life Scripts, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 24 from

Last Updated: May 21, 2024

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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