Recently I’ve been finishing off some thoughts on Drivers – that is, the motivators that explain what we could do and how we could do it, e.g. Please Others, Try Hard and Be Strong.
If Drivers help identify what we can do, what about messages that tell us about our limitations or boundaries? These flip-side-of-the-coin messages are termed Injunctions (in the Transactional Analytic model).
Injunctions can help us function, but too often they limit our potential. How so? There is a useful paper on this subject at:
… useful, as it includes a list of Injunctions, with some explanation for the specific injunctions identified. along with an acknowledgement of the work undertaken by the Goldings.
However, my interest, here, is in the small safe experiments that are ‘do-able’ in the face of such messages. Let’s look at a few, selected examples:
Don’t be a child
an injunction is often learned by children experiencing the role reversal phenomenon – that is, when the younger person is required to ‘look after’ the older one. Some parents appear to want their children to parent them. Consequently, the young person is likely to experience difficulty having fun, feeling happy or being spontaneous. Too often there is a need to ‘second guess’ the reactions of the parent and anticipate how to adapt themselves to the often-contrary behaviour the parent may present.
Safe experiment: how alert are you to the needs of others? In a sexist society, some women may find they are on alert to notice the needs of their partners and to work hard to meet those needs. Can you identify just one small thing you want for yourself, right now? As you do this, allow the Body Scan to inform you about other beliefs and ideas connected to the ‘one small thing’. At least as important, note the feelings and sensations that go with these thoughts.
Do you observe some resistance to pursuing this exercise? If so, what are you going to do about that: comply or contradict? What are your fears associated with ‘contradicting’ the injunction and what are the rewards connected to compliance with it? As I’ve said before, note down some of your reactions as the details may help at a later date.
Don’t Grow Up
Here, the parent may have been over-protective and, to the young person, the world is presented as a dangerous place
Safe experiment: Here’s a few. 1. what do you need to do to explore the world just for the heck of it? Is there a small risk you can take: maybe invite some-one out for a coffee, or similar? 2. Are you aware of ways in which you stay young? If this injunction applies – even in some small part – you may find a ‘Peter Pan’ in you; for example, I am a fan of Richmal Crompton’s William Brown and Last of the Summer Wine‘s Compo. I have a rebellious streak that was ‘forgiven’ as a young person, but less OK in my 70’s. 3. Notice the way you dress or how you sound, when speaking. If this injunction rings a bell, is there any small thing you might want to change now that you have that awareness?
Most families identify the feelings that can be expressed, and those that are taboo. Thus, anger might be frowned on, but anxiety is OK. As an adult, it is possible to use anxiety as a ‘cover’ for anger. Therapy is there to identify and explore a wider range of our emotions, and our responses to them.
Safe experiment: In the current public health crisis, there are numerous opportunities to suppress some feelings and give vent to others. What applies for you, now? Do you find it difficult to locate any feeling – maybe, a numbness, at best. Some families pretend not to have feelings at all. Can you take time with a trusted companion to consider how your family has been? Does the family ‘map’ help at all? If you do talk, take your time to slow down your actions just enough to to give labels to some feelings. There is a list/poster half way down the web-site page at:
It is not difficult to undermine the confidence of children as they learn to think. It is not such an easy skill to grasp and it is even more difficult to think for ourselves. Too often we rely on authorities to tell us what to think.
safe experiment: 1. Consider: how do your react to this page of material, and my approach to it? Do you feel OK about it? Do you feel confused, or even frustrated by it? I’d like you to feel curious and challenged by it, but that might not be the case. As ever, the Body Scan can help identify what is going on.
2. do you find it difficult to have fun with thinking? Were you discouraged from study or attendance at college? I’m not suggesting you enrol in an Access course as a safe experiment; that’s not a small, safe experiment. On the other hand, you may well be ready to do just such a thing, some time!
3. What smaller thing can you do to enjoy thinking? Can you just notice that feeling. As you just notice it, can you use the SUD’s system to notice how the feeling can go ‘up and down’. Can you stay with the experience long enough to feel the SUD’s go down? At what point are you able to think about those changing feelings; ‘just noticing’ is a safe experiment with a kind of thinking. Here’s a further thought: you may identify anxiety as a feeling when you reflect on how you were taught to think. Consider this: could it be excitement .. at the prospect of exploring something new? I mention this, as anxiety and excitement appear to follow down similar neural networks and, consequently, it is nto always clear which is which!
this is an interesting one; often closely connected to the Driver Hurry Up where the message given out is ‘don’t be long‘. Some Drivers connect closely to Injunctions. In this example, the different messages work in concert and reinforce behaviour required of the young person. Compare this with my comments, below, relating to Don’t Succeed.
- Anything that slows me down can work here. Controlled breathing can help and moving around more slowly, in a deliberate fashion, may work. It’s rare to find that something needs to be done now; something that is important and urgent. I’ve emphasised the value of focusing on now, and yet you can still do this by taking time to imitate the Dormouse, rather than the March Hare from Alice in Wonderland.
- Taking time gives you a chance to tease out people and places to whom you do belong – or, where you could belong. I love the Groucho Marx joke about “I’d not belong to a club that would have me as a member“. Do enjoy the joke, without acting it out!
- Interesting, asking for things (of other people) can help as you have to wait for an answer, and live with that answer.
here is another interesting injunction seen alongside the Try Hard Driver. That can be a damaging connection when Try Hard …… but …. Don’t Succeed are closely connected.
- how do feel about the idea that it’s OK to get things wrong, even to mess up? Possibly, not so good. Reflect on that feeling and explore what might be behind it. Then consider what small thing can be done to disconnect any past actions, from the present feelings?
- consider whether your planning leads you to bite off more than you can chew. The great thing about small, safe experiments is that small is the operative word. Is is very easy not to notice the obstacles getting in the way of reducing the size of the task you are designing. This is an issue often connected to procrastination: do you put things off on a regular basis? What small difference can you make to change the balance of actions here?
- Do you discriminate between small tasks and ones that need to be ‘chunked’, that is, completed in ‘bits’. For instance, when you do your emails, what is the time limit you set for responding immediately or adjourning action? Chose a time limit quite explicitly. The ten-second or three minute rule is often mentioned in time management. Much will depend on the things you do as a matter of course. Some folk have intricate demands on them; others do not
Don’t be close
A child might pick up on a parent not wanting to be physically close to them and might feel rejected. A parent might not be interested in forming an emotional attachment with the child. So in order to protect themselves from the unbearable pain of feeling rejected, the child decides not to feel close with others. If you remember that the ultimate sanction in prison is solitary confinement, this can be a particularly cruel lifetime survival strategy. If someone is overweight they might find messages about Don’t be close and a Don’t Feel working in collusion – one with another.
- affirmation work can help here as it enables us to acknowledge an unhappy feeling without diminishing our sense of self-esteem. Thus, “Even though I am feeling anxious, I can still deeply and completely accept myself”
- explore cultural variations in physical closeness; consider the environment in which you were brought up in. Much closeness – to not very much closeness. Consider this on a continuum – on a scale of 1 – 10 where 1 = not at all close, and 10 is very close. Consider two or three current relationships, and rate your own view of the closeness in each one. Thereafter, consider what small thing might be done to change your rating by just one half-point (up or down). I say ‘up or down’ as there is a problem here; too close might be desirable in some situations, but inappropriate in others. It is that level of ‘inappropriateness’ that is usually defined within the family or culture. If you want to set some different boundaries, how might that be done?
- Can you identify any one person with whom you can share your thoughts and conclusions as you reflect on this topic. How might you go about deciding whether they are trustworthy and, if so, how they might help you with this injunction.