Q: Unfortunately I find myself exhibiting behaviors that often result in negative outcomes. Sometimes I think it’s because that’s the way I was raised. Is this what you meant when you said, “Take time to figure out the script you were handed at birth?”

A. Becoming aware of behaviors that are resulting in negative outcomes is the first step on the continuum of positive change. Unless you chose those behaviors in adulthood, often they relate to the script you were handed at birth. Think of your script as containing common characteristics that have been exhibited by your parents and ancestors (whether or not that script really worked well for them). I have found that behaviors that result in negative outcomes often reflect the script you were handed—which is not working well for your brain.

Whenever you become aware of a behavior that is not resulting in desired outcomes or that result in clearly negative outcomes, ask yourself if that behavior is one you chose to develop or does it reflect expectations and/or role modeling from childhood? Step two involves choosing to create and implement different behaviors that not only work well for your brain but that result in positive outcomes.

Here are a few examples.

  • Asking others “why” questions (e.g., Why did you do that? Why didn’t you do such and such?) The brain cannot really answer the question “why,” although it can give its opinion about possible contributors. “Why” questions tend to trigger downshifting and emotional reactivity. In all likelihood, you were asked why questions. Did your brain like them and were you able to answer in a way that the other brain accepted without argument?
  • Demanding your partner or children do an activity in the specific way you want it done, regardless of the fact that there are many different way to skin the proverbial cat. Perhaps you were taught you were only okay when you did that same activity the way you now want it done.
  • Getting upset or allowing your feelings to be “hurt” when something doesn’t go your way. Your script may say that you feel safer when you tell others what to do and they do it—although the illusion of being in control of another’s behaviors is pretty much of a dead-end street.
  • Failing to take good care of yourself physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, sexually, socially, financially, or you name it. You may have been scripted to feel better about yourself when you were doing things for others and to feel guilty whenever you made healthy choices for yourself. Caretaking from the well of your own unmet needs, as a way to feel better about yourself temporarily, is unhelpful in the long term.
  • Criticizing others for exhibiting behaviors of which you disapprove. Telling yourself “I would never do that” might give you a self-esteem boost but it is an artificial boost and lasts for only a few seconds at best. In order to get another little boost you need to find something else to criticize.
  • Blaming others for the way you feel as if you are not responsible for your own feelings. Feelings follow thoughts and you can change your feelings by changing your thoughts.
  • Taking personally the comments made by others instead of realizing that every brain is different and only has its own opinion. What people say usually has everything to do with them and sometimes little or nothing to do with you. You can briefly analyze another’s comments and decide if you’re going to get upset, overreact, defend yourself, retaliate, etc., or learn something from the comment or just let it go.

Be aware that sometimes a person may be so entrenched in following the script that was handed to them, that they find it difficult to sort it all out. Meaning, they fail to realize (at least initially) that they are following expectations and role modeling from childhood. And if the mismatch has been so profound as to result in some level of depression, it can seem too difficult, to exhausting, or to frightening to even look at.

Sure, it’s an ongoing process. But every correction to your script, every tweak that makes it a better match with who you are innately, every deletion that drops off unhelpful expectations, makes it all worthwhile.