From Injunctions to Inner Transformation: My Personal Journey

By Selva

April 27, 2023

I joined TA nearly a decade ago; with a passion to understand others at work. But TA shifted the focus to myself and help me understand myself first. The big idea that struck me was that I’m seldom in my Adult and my goal is to strengthen my Adult. I noticed that control was very important to me and staying in control felt safe. When I reflected on this further, some of the big questions I asked myself were:

“Why is control so important to me? What will happen if I don’t have control?”

“Why don’t I feel safe?”

“Why am I in one-down or one-up position but seldom feel equal with others?”

“How come I feel I am alone, despite having doting parents and a caring family?”

The answers came in layers through different TA concepts. I found pertinent answers in the idea of Injunctions. Injunctions are “prohibition or negative command from a parent” (Hay, 2013, p.1). “They are often the non-verbal messages that the Child selects from the behaviour of the Parents” and given from the Child Ego State of the Parent and taken in by the Child Ego State of the Child (myself) (Cornell, 2016, p.126). Claude Steiner (1974) showed this as arrows in the Script Matrix Diagram (Steiner, 2007a) as below.

There are two central decisions to each injunctive message: a despairing decision (the first response) and a defiant decision, a coping mechanism (McNeel, 2010). My despairing decision was that nobody really cared and I was all alone. At the very core, a fear of loneliness and that I may be left with nothing was very scary. I used control as a way to hold to on to something to protect myself. It shows up from small to big matters. E.g., I get annoyed if the glasses in my kitchen are left scattered so I demand orderliness at home. I feel anxious investing in stocks because I can’t control the returns.

The idea of Injunctions as “messages from Child Ego State of Parents, given out of the parents’ own pains, unhappiness, anxiety, disappointment, anger, frustration, secret desires” (Goulding & Goulding, 1976, p.42) helped me understand where these challenges may have come from and what I can do about them now.

Early Influences –
We are a family of four. I am the elder child and I have a sibling. My mother was only 15 years old when I was born and I can only imagine her emotional unreadiness for the life ahead of her. The struggle and lack of support is an integral part of her story. She is a dominant figure in my life and my Injunctions Don’t Feel, Don’t be Important & Don’t be a Child arise from watching my mother struggle, receiving messages from her about life .
I decided early on that –

  1. 1. I am alone. Others will take advantage or me, so I won’t depend on anyone.
  2. 2. I will not let others know what I feel, I will show them that I am strong
  3. 3. Life is a struggle and I deserve a good life only if I try hard.

How did I develop these Injunctions?
Don’t Feel

I saw my parents arguing, blaming each other often. Anger was commonly expressed at home but I seldom saw them crying or consoling each other. My mother disapproved when I cried, because ‘crying was for the weak’ and modelled anger. Feeling angry was seen as strong and in-control (one-up). Feeling sad meant being weak (one-down), never to be shown outside. I was consistently stroked for displaying courage and shamed for crying. The Child in me picked up ‘Don’t feel what you feel, feel what I feel’ Injunction. I find it hard to be sad or vulnerable in front of others even today. It took years for my partner to learn that I can be sad, with no tears. I could have avoided those painful lonely moments; had I learnt how to feel and express.

Don’t be Important
When I saw my parents busy with their own life and not spending time with me, I felt alone. We were bootstrapped for money and felt ‘one-down’ in our social setting. I watched my parents struggle to make ends meet and sacrifice their own basic needs. So, I felt guilty asking for anything with them. The Child in me decided ‘I will be OK if stop asking or needing anything or anyone’. I’ll relegate my needs and even stop expecting anything from anyone. I set myself up for struggles. The Child belief was ‘I can’t get what I want, so stop desiring’. As an Adult, I had issues spending for self and curtailed my basic needs to avoid spending. I took responsibility early on, felt uncomfortable resting and believed life is a struggle.

Don’t be a Child
While growing up, I saw my mother struggle for dignity, moral support and money. She never rested nor enjoyed life. I was stroked for being responsible and for being strong. I pride myself for being responsible all my life. As young adult, I took charge of the family and pulled in all the resources to keep us afloat, when my father fell critically ill. My life motto was ‘I am responsible, therefore I am’.
My parents were in the ‘survival mode’ all their active life and so having fun was seen as a waste of time. I did not see them having fun or being playful. The Child believed ‘I’m OK only if I’m busy and productive’. It shows up till date where I am always busy doing something and seldom relaxing. I’m never mentally off from work and even in my abroad work trips, I feel uneasy going out for fun. I had a sense of seriousness to school, college and work; and believed that life is to be conquered.

Working though Injunctions
I applied McNeel’s Re-Decision model to work though my Injunctions. I realised that I am capable of making a different decision at any time in my life, against the grain of my early limiting decisions (Cornell, 2016). I asked ‘What are my core fears? How do I protect myself now?’ Table A below shows my intrapsychic process and my responses to these questions.

Table A: Self- Diagnostics of My Instructions

How did I deal with my Injunctions?
Reflections in Table A helped me see that my fears led me to think, behave and feel in a certain way; and that I can now make new choices. With my Adult awareness, I re-decided that-

  1. 1. I need not ‘control’ to feel safe. I have other resources such as self-compassion, gratitude and respect for both self & others, available to feel safe.
  2. 2. I am important; my needs are important.
  3. 3. It’s okay to feel scared; It is okay to feel whatever I feel. Feelings are windows to my heart; they convey my core need.
  4. 4. I will make life easier for me; take one step at a time and be in the here and now.

How did I implement these Re-decisions?
I re-decided to ‘Feel’ the feeling: Using Centering Technique, I learnt to get in touch with my feelings through body sensations. Anger showed up in short breaths, burning sensation in the eyes. I felt a lump in my throat when feeling sad. Stress showed up as hand pain and fear showed up in rapid heartbeats. I relied on body signals to recognize my true feelings. I learnt to stay with the feeling (not hide or run away); asked ‘what is my core need here’. When I got angry with my friend for not responding to my calls; I stayed with my anger and asked what my core need was. I discovered that I need connection. My anger dissipated and I began to think of options for staying connected. In my Adult, I applied ethical framework and developed mutual respect for both my feelings as well as the space this friend needs from me. Similarly, when I felt irritable with the family, I discovered my need for self-care. Instead of blaming, I took charge, asked for help so I could enjoy a guilt free rest.

I re-decided to ‘Be Important’: At the very core, this Injunction was about taking responsibility for my needs and setting respectful boundaries with others. E.g., I set boundaries with family that I’m not available for them during TA training hours. I became open to building mutual commitment in Parenting with my partner, a leapfrog shift from my earlier self where I engaged in blame or control. I can now express my needs well and take responsibility for taking care of them.

I re-decided to ‘Be Myself’: The injunction of Don’t be a Child was a brave way of an 8-year-old to stand up for the mother. After TA, I asked ‘how is this belief helping me in the here and now? I discovered that I did not enjoy being in control all the time. I treaded the path of control because I didn’t know any better then. But now when I am in my Adult, I can find other resources to feel safe (self-compassion, be in touch with my body to know my real feeling, gratitude, respect for self & the other). I experimented to let go of control and be open. I kept my calm when the kitchen was in a mess and reframed it as ‘I can get help for cleaning and enjoy this time with my son’. I developed curiosity and learnt about stock market investing. Using the ethical framework, I trusted my partner to be a responsible parent and let go of my control over his parenting style.

In letting go of control, I’m finding new ways to protect myself. I feel empowered to take responsibility for my happiness.

To conclude, I see how my life can transform when I use my Adult capacities. Examining my own life through TA lens and applying ethical principles has been a life changing experience. I will continue to learn/apply TA in the coming years.

About the author:

I am Selva a corporate HR expert and a CHRO success coach. I am also a Podcaster and the Founder of Flourishe. I’ve been a student of TA since 2010 and continue to learn from TA and other schools of psychology even today.

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