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Changing Old Behavioral Scripts

Chapter 12: Changing Old Behavioral Scripts
Laying the Foundation:

Personality Traits of Low Self-Esteem

By: James J. Messina, Ph.D.


Responding to Old Behavior Scripts


What is an old behavior script?

An old behavior script is:

  • a pattern of behavior people have lived out in their family of origin or in the early history in their current relationships, families, work, and/or social environment.
  • a pattern of expected or anticipated behavior that others have ascribed to or designated a person as having. It is the way others knew and described this person in the past, and it is their expectation that the person will act the same in the present or in the future.
  • a pattern of reactions or responses experienced by people in past relationships. These patterns of responses are anticipated in present and future interactions with the same people.
  • a pattern of interaction and behavior into which people fall subconsciously and non-intentionally when they experience stressors and stimuli similar to those present when the old behavior patterns were first established as coping mechanisms.
  • a set pattern of coping behavior coming out of people's psychological response to the stress of the environment in which they once lived, worked, learned, or socialized. These psychological responses can be called up when similar stresses are experienced in the present or future.
  • an ingrained, habitual way of behaving, reacting, or interacting in which people currently engage, and which have no current stressors or stimuli to explain the person's actions.
  • an internal message or tape to which people respond in the present subconsciously. They are usually totally unaware of the existence of this script or message to themselves. They may even wonder why they continue to act and react in the same ways.
  • a habitual way of acting that feels normal, regular, natural, and comfortable to the person with the script. Because it is so satisfying to the person, it is hard to get rid of, even when the script becomes unproductive, ineffectual, irrational, and promotes illness.
  • an identity, a sense of being, a reason for living, a rationale for existence, and a cause or challenge to be faced. Because it gives meaning and focus to people's lives even if it is maladaptive, destructive and unhealthy, people cling to the old script out of fear that they will lose their personal identity, their reason for being.
  • the basis for peoples' current sense of confusion, alarm, or discomfort when they are being challenged to change, grow, or reform. This script is the underpinning of their irrational thinking, their fears, their unwillingness to accept change, and their resistance to the helping efforts of others.
  • the routine pattern of self-belief lying at the root of unsuccessful attempts in people's struggles to “make it” in their current stress-filled lives.

How do the behavior roles in dysfunctional families relate to old behavior scripts?

  • The nine behavior characteristics (described in chapters 3-11) of members of dysfunctional families are roles that can be written into old behavior scripts.
  • The nine behavior characteristics can be combined in a variety of configurations resulting in a behavior script for an individual.
  • The nine behavior characteristics can either be chosen by the individual or can be given to the individual by the “other” in the environment. The ascribing of these behavior characteristics is done at a subconscious level of thinking as a coping response to the stressors in the environment.
  • The nine behavior characteristics can become so ingrained early in life that they remain easily recognized in adulthood.
  • The old behavior scripts utilizing the nine behavior characteristics are in patterns and formations with a consistency and predictability that cross people, families, cultures and communities. These patterns and scripts are so consistent and applicable across the population that they are the symptoms and signs used to identify persons caught up in an unhealthy or delusional pattern of life.
  • The nine behavior characteristics can be combined--not only with themselves, but with external features of individuals, such as body shape, sex, and physical abilities/disabilities. These combinations of behavior patterns and personal characteristics make the behavior scripts individualized roles, giving people uniqueness in their old environments. This uniqueness is challenged when the patterns are pointed out as being unhealthy, as the individuals are encouraged to change and grow into healthy behavior patterns. With their sense of uniqueness challenged, individuals can become resistant and defensive.
  • Because the nine behavior patterns are developed in delusional, high-stress systems, they result in coping with problems on the surface of living. The resulting old behavior scripts are lived out by many individuals who believe that clinging to these patterns of acting and reacting is the only way to survive.
  • The nine behavior patterns combine to create low self-esteem.
  • The nine behavior patterns are maladaptive and unhealthy, standing alone or in combination. Therefore, the old behavior scripts need rewriting and reworking into health-oriented behavior patterns.
What varieties of old behavior scripts can result from the combinations of the nine behavioral characteristics in dysfunctional families?


Here are some characteristics/combinations behaviors followed by their Behavioral Scripts:

  • Looking good - Hero; high achiever; over-responsible
  • Acting-out - Scapegoat; irresponsible; low achiever
  • Pulling in - Lost child; withdrawn; depressed
  • Entertaining - Mascot; distractor; irresponsible
  • Troubled person - Lost person; irresponsible; chronic problems; blamer
  • Enabling - Over-responsible; worsening of problems for others; blamer
  • People pleasing - Placator; over-responsible; self-critical
  • Rescuing - Over-responsible; victimized; self-denial
  • Non-feeling - Stoic; lack of emotion; unfeeling
  • Looking good & non-feeling - High achiever; unfeeling; lots of denial
  • Look good & people pleasing - High achiever; peacemaker; workaholic
  • Looking good & rescuing - High achiever; victimized; Placator
  • Looking good & troubled person - High achiever; blamer; chronic problems; workaholic; business failures
  • Looking good & enabling - High achiever; blamer; worsening of problems for others
  • Acting-out & troubled person - Irresponsible; chronic problems; distractor; blamer
  • Acting-out & non-feeling - Irresponsible; stoic; unfeeling; low achiever
  • Acting-out & entertaining - Distractor; con artist; irresponsible; low achiever
  • Pulling in & troubled person - Withdrawn; irresponsible; chronic problems
  • Pulling in & enabling - Withdrawn; over-responsible; worsening of problems for others
  • Pulling in & rescuing - Over-responsible; withdrawn; victimized; depressed
  • Pulling in & non-feeling - Stoic; withdrawn; unfeeling; depressed
  • Entertaining & troubled person - Distractor; irresponsible; low achiever; chronic problems
  • Entertaining & enabling - Distractor; irresponsible; worsening of problems for others
  • Entertaining & people pleasing - Placator; distractor; self-critical; irresponsible
  • Entertaining & rescuing - Distractor; victimized; self-denial; irresponsible
  • Entertaining & non-feeling - Distractor; stoic; non-feeling; irresponsible
  • Troubled person & enabler - Blamer; worsening of problems for others; irresponsible; chronic problems
  • Troubled person & people pleaser - Placator; irresponsible; con artist; chronic problems
  • Troubled person & rescuer - Victimized; blamer; irresponsible; chronic problems
  • Troubled person & non-feeling - Irresponsible; non-feeling; chronic problems
  • Enabling & people pleasing – Placator
  • Enabling & rescuing - Over-responsible; victimized; blamer; worsening of problems for others; martyr
  • Enabling & non-feeling - Stoic; over-responsible; worsening of problems for others
  • People pleasing & rescuing - Over-responsible; self-critical; victimized
  • People pleasing & non-feeling - Stoic; Placator; over-responsible
  • Rescuing & non- feeling - Stoic; victimized; over-responsible

What are some beliefs of persons who desperately hold on to their old behavior scripts?

  • I could never survive changing my behavior now.
  • I really am trying to change, but I can't do it!
  • I hate it when I act this way, but it is so impossible to change!
  • I don't understand what I need to do to change!
  • What you think I should do to change is all well and good, but it is so hard to do!
  • I am so embarrassed by always reverting back to my old ways, but I guess I'll never change!
  • I am who I am and there is no way to change me!
  • What you see is what you get!
  • There is nothing left I can do to change the way I am!
  • I believe that my behavior is unhealthy for me, but I can't get used to the new ways of acting!
  • I feel like everyone is blaming me for being the “new me.” I think they liked me better when I was the “old me.”
  • I had less problems as the “old me.”
  • I am such a loser. Now that I have changed no one cares about me or loves me, so it is better to revert back to the old form.
  • It is so depressing to see what slow progress I am making in changing from my old ways!
  • I am not able to grasp what I need to do to change. I must be stupid or dumb.
  • I hate everyone's reactions to me when I try a new behavior with them!
  • No one will ever love me if I change!
  • I sincerely want to change, but I don't believe I have what it takes.
  • It takes too much mental and physical energy to change my old behavior.
  • No one will recognize me if I change!

Steps to take to alter old behavior scripts:


Step 1: Before you can alter an old behavior script, you first must decide if you are trapped in the patterns of an old script. Answer the following questions in your journal:

  • What personal problems are you currently dealing with?
  • What people are you currently having problems with?
  • What problems in your interpersonal relationships are you currently working on?
  • What specific behavior are you currently using to address your personal problems, the problem people in your life, and your relationship problems?
  • How successful is this behavior in rectifying the problems with which you are dealing?
  • What blocks exist to resolving your problems (personal problem, people problem, and interpersonal relationship problem)?
  • What new behavior do you need to overcome these blocks to resolving your current problems?
  • What are your feelings about your current problems, and how do your feelings affect the resolving of these problems?
  • Are the current solutions to your problems the same solutions you used with problems in your past life? If not, how are they different?
  • Is your approach to your current problems the same as it was in the past? If not, how is it different; if yes, how is it the same?
  • If your answers to questions 9 and 10 were yes, can you identify which of the nine behavior characteristics you use to cope with your problems?
  • Which combinations of the nine behavior characteristics are you currently using?
  • Which of these combinations are similar to those you used in your earlier life? Which are different?
  • The combinations similar to those in the past, are they patterns you consistently use in the face of stress, problems, or trouble? If your answer is yes, then you have old behavioral scripts that are affecting your current healthy problem-solving abilities. These old scripts probably need altering if you are to experience personal growth and improved mental health.

Step 2: Now that you have identified your old behavior scripts impacting your current ability to function, identify those old behavior scripts in your journal. Answer the following questions for each script:

  • When did you first begin to use this script?
  • Who gave you this script? Did you give it to yourself? Did others give it to you? Did you just fall into it?
  • Why did you take on this behavior script?
  • What were the benefits of your adopting this script?
  • How did you feel in living out this script in your life?
  • What were others' reactions to you when you acted out this script?
  • How comfortable were you in living out this script?
  • Why is this script no longer productive for you in your current life?
  • What changes are needed in this script in order for it to be a healthy one in your current life?
  • What are the obstacles to your changing this old behavior script into a healthy and productive one for you now?

Step 3: Once you have taken each of your old behavior scripts and answered of the questions in Step 2, you are ready to alter the old behavior scripts. For each of your old behavior scripts, complete the following statements in your journal. This will result in an action plan of change for each old script.

An Old Behavior Script Action Plan

  • What is the old behavior script?
  • What changes are needed in the script?
  • What obstacles block my achievement of these changes?
  • What do I need to overcome the obstacles to changing?
  • Who are the people I need to help me change my old behavior script?
  • What is it that I need from these people to help me change my old behavior script?
  • What new behavior patterns will help me change?
  • I will be able to determine if I have changed my old script by:
  • Every time I relapse or fall back into this old behavior script I will:
  • I will know I have been successful in ridding myself of my old behavior script by:

I agree to this plan of action to alter my old behavior script as of this date: (Sign and date your action plan.)

Step 4: Steps 1-3 are not successful in reforming or changing your old behavior script, try the following activity as a motivator to change:


Mr. Scrooge's Ghost Game

Do you remember Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol where Scrooge is visited in his dream by the three ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future? Well, you are to have a similar visit of three ghosts in your dreams. The dreams are your day dreams, and the ghosts are your visualizations of your own past, present, and future. Take 30 minutes for each of the three visualization periods. In each visualization you are to see yourself using the old behavior scripts you identified in Steps 1 through 3. For each period of time you must only visualize how you used and stuck to the old behavior scripts. Do not visualize any change in your old behavior script.


Take 30 minutes first to visualize your past life and how you used your old behavior patterns. Then take another 30 minutes to visualize how in your current life you consistently respond and use the old behavior scripts. Last, take another 30 minutes to visualize your future life where you consistently continue to use the old behavior scripts. Once you have completed the three visualization periods for a total of 90 minutes, answer the following questions:

  • In which period of your life was the old behavior pattern most useful: past, present, or future? Why was it so useful?
  • In which period of your life were you the most healthy: past, present, or future? Why was it most healthy?
  • In which period in your life did the old behavior script have the most negative and adverse effects: past, present, or future? What were these adverse effects?
  • In which period of your life do you feel a different script would have been most useful: past, present, or future? Why? What different script would have been more useful?
  • During your three visualizations, when did you experience the most stress and anxiety: past, present, or future? Why?
  • What does this exercise tell you about the need to alter your old behavior scripts?
  • How willing are you to proceed to alter these scripts? Why?
  • What would your present and future look like if you altered your old behavior scripts?
  • Can you visualize what your present and future would look like if you altered your old behavior scripts? If not, why not? If yes, what does that visualization look like?

Are you now motivated to change your old behavior scripts? If yes, return to Step 3 and write a plan of action to change each of the old behavior scripts that need altering.


Step 5: If after completing steps 1-4 you still have problems resolving the impact of old behavior scripts in your life, return to Step 1 and begin again.