What drives me

An understanding of my patterns through the theory of drivers
- By Veena BM

February 27, 2023

My Context
There have been many instances in both my life when I have felt tears well up and held them back for fear of being judged by those around me. I downplay “happy situations & achievements” telling myself it is no big deal – almost guilty to feel happy. I have a need to “do” something all the time and then get annoyed and frustrated that people don’t understand me. I find it difficult to say “No” to others.

I have used the concept of drivers to understand the above aspects of myself which show up both personally and professionally. It is an easy to understand idea, and I have been attracted to it from the day I did my TA 101 , my first introduction to Transactional Analysis.

Through Transactional Analysis I realized that there are ways in which I have learnt to adapt to the environment. I developed it at an age when I understood what my parents and significant others approved or disapproved of and hence attempted to adapt to them in order to feel OK about myself. These messages were both verbal (“Don’t cry, you will be seen as weak”, and non-verbal (patted on the back for “being brave” despite a wound).

According to Taibi Kahler, “Drivers are behaviours that last from a split second to no more than seven seconds.” (Kahler, 1975, p.280). He further added that “Drivers are behaviours that reinforce an existential position of “I’m OK if,”” (Kahler, 1975, p.283). He identified five Drivers.

  1. Be Perfect
  2. Be Strong
  3. Hurry Up
  4. Please others
  5. Try Hard

While injunctions tell a child what NOT to do, counter-injunctions tell a child what TO do instead. They are called counter injunctions because they counter or neutralize the pain of injunctions thus providing conditional OKness. These are survival strategies we developed as children to counterbalance the injunction. In contrast to injunctions which originate from the Child ego state of the parent, Counter-injunctions come from the Parent ego state of the parents as these are messages they have received from their parents/parental figures. This is represented in the script matrix (ref Steiner from Scripts People Live) above .

Injunctions and Counter Injunctions have also been visually represented by Adrianne Lee’s image of a drowning man, shown below. It highlights the powerful “sinking” effect injunctions have on us and shows the “pulling” effect of “drivers”, in order to feel we are acceptable. In other words, a person is pulled both ways by what he/she thinks, feels, believes should be doing, how he/she should be living, what his life should mean and all the self-sacrifices he/she must make in order to be OK in the world .


The Origin of My Drivers

  • My mother consistently told my sister and me not to laugh as it would incur the anger of my father On a rare occasion when my sister / I laughed in my father’s presence, we got reprimanded heavily by him. I was scared of his anger. However, I was scared of showing my fear too and learnt to supress my fear lest I incur his anger.
  • I did not see either of my parents seeking help from anyone else for any challenges. Consequently, I learnt that it was not ok to ask for help.
  • My siblings and I often got reprimanded by my father for laziness if we were “doing nothing”. I learnt to always do something/appear busy when my father was around. I did not see my mother relax /take a break from her daily work; she was constantly moving from one task to another.
  • My father made all the decisions in the family and demanded obedience. If there was something that my siblings or I wanted, we could not openly ask (e.g., a toy, ice cream, go out to play etc.) and had to wait for my father to allow us for the same.

Through the above experiences I learnt to supress my feelings as it saved me from reprimand and ridicule. I also learnt to keep doing tasks one after another to keep myself busy as I got appreciated at times and escaped reprimand at other times. I accepted what my parents/ parent like figures told me as it kept me safe.

My drivers & their manifestation:

Be Strong:

    • At work, I have received consistent feedback that I have an “expressionless” or serious face always and to “loosen up” a bit.
    • When working on a project or doing household chores, I do not ask for help even when I am struggling and often refuse it when offered.
    • I generally sit with my arms crossed/folded.
    • When I am stressed, I tend into withdraw into a shell


Try Hard:

  • I am the first to volunteer for tasks. However, I quickly lose interest and start looking for something new again. There are many things that I start, but fail to finish (e.g., I joint salsa classes and quit after a few sessions, I initiated a project to get some of the team members certified in a particular tool at work and lost interest halfway through).
  • I tend to go off in tangents in my conversations (talking of different /unrelated things in one sentence) and have received feedback particularly at work to pause and finish one topic before I move to the next.
  • I feel guilty to take a break (At work, I eat my lunch quickly and come back at my desk in 15 minutes, at home if I am tired/unwell I will continue to work).

Please Others:

  • I find it difficult to say no to others and end up agreeing to do projects /tasks that I do not want to do and feel resentful about it.
  • When I receive critical feedback, I take it personally and experience internal churn for many days and sometimes even weeks.
  • I offer help even when it is not asked and get upset if it is refused.

My Growth Journey:
Through the understanding of my drivers and the challenges they pose for me, I learnt that by changing my beliefs I would be able to change my behaviour and vice versa. I have begun to see that emotions are not a sign of weakness but a source of health and vitality, e.g., Anger helps me to set boundaries, fear protects me, sadness allows me to grieve the loss of someone, or something & love/joy enable me to experience intimacy with others and the environment. I have taken personal responsibility for my change and begun to experiment with options.

  • I have given myself permission to express my feelings (e.g., In the TA training when the trainer asked one of us to volunteer to be the therapist, I expressed that I was scared of how I would show up and yet went ahead and volunteered).
  • If I am struggling with a task/project, I explicitly ask for help – I have shifted my belief to “its ok to ask for help” (e.g., If my maid is away, I ask my husband to help with the chores; When designing a leadership workshop, I reached out to a colleague to ask his inputs as he had already done something similar).
  • I have learnt to say “no” and not feel guilty/bad about it. I now believe that it is OK to establish healthy boundaries with others, including family members. (e.g., My sister asked to borrow my laptop immediately and I said “No” & offered to lend it to her a couple of days later; A colleague asked me to get on a call right away and I negotiated saying we could talk the following day as I had a lot of work to complete).
  • I am giving permission to myself to meet my needs with the new belief that I can prioritize my needs over the others (e.g., Going to the spa for a massage; taking the day off from work to take care of my daughter).

My Working Style:
However, there are certain aspects of my drivers that I would like to retain as they serve me well and in reality, are parental values that I would like to preserve. As Petruska Clarkson in her article in TAJ says, “The aspirations to be fast, energetic, pleasing, strong, and excellent are fine goals, profoundly compatible with a value base that places the fulfilment of human potential as a cornerstone of all its efforts, knowledge, practice, epistemology, and ethics” (Clarkson,1992, p.19).
A few examples are cited below.

  • Being able to stay calm during crisis allows me to think and look for solving the same. (e.g., At work when a team member fell sick on the day he had to deliver training at an offsite location, I calmly asked him to see the doctor and subsequently called the Leader for whom the training was organized, explained the situation, and offered to reschedule).
  • My interest in anything new /different as it allows me to take risks and explore a new range of possibilities while considering the implications. (e.g., Moving from being a people manager for over 10 years into a new role in a different organization as an individual contributor).
  • My ability to be understanding and empathetic of others through the use of my intuition and observation (e.g., In a team meeting I noticed one junior colleague was quiet during the entire discussion, I paused and invited him to share his views on the topic; When my daughter was tired from a trip and sat down to complete her homework , I asked her to rest for an hour before getting started and ensured she took breaks in-between as well).

I realize now that certain aspects of my drivers emphasize my “I’m not OK, you’re OK” position thus keeping me in script & reinforcing my belief that I do not have a choice with people and circumstances. I would continue conscious efforts to get over them. However, I also see the benefit of being strong & stoic as it provides me with endurance, I can choose to be pleasing without feeling threatened about my very existence, my appetite for experimenting provides me with multiple options. These values give me the flexibility as well as appropriateness in responding to situations enabling me to become more fully myself.

About the author:

Veena is a talent development leader with two decades of experience across FMCG,Banking, IT and insurance sectors. She is a certified Wrong Thinker and is passionate about helping people discover their true potential. She has completed her Diploma in Transactional analysis and is pursuing her CTA, specializing in Organization Development. She lives in Bangalore with her husband and 11 year old daughter.

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    2 responses to “What drives me”

    1. Vallikala. S says:

      Very well written. I can relate myself with my initial days in TA Training.
      Drivers are mentioned as Working styles in Organizational TA. Hence we can use them as our tool too.

    2. Sarah Brittain says:

      I love this! I can relate to a lot of your experiences.
      I’m about to start my TA certification in Organisational development.

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