Monday, July 9, 2012

Injunctions and Drivers

The Transactional Analysis theory distinguishes Injunctions and Drivers as the basis on which children (usually until the age of 7) build their life scripts. I will not go into details now about the theory, but rather enumerate the Injunctions and the Drivers. When I have first learned about them it was quite a revelation for me. I hope it also helps you to start identifying your own ones.

Narcissistic parents are especially adept at imposing all these (negative) injunctions and drivers onto their children. When the child is young, their most basic instinct is survival, and that survival solely depends on parents. Thus, to absorb these injunctions and drivers is a rational decision back then. However, they will not dissolve during the process of growing up, and can cause problems during adult life, when 'making parents happy' is not the only way of survival anymore.

I will use data from Wikipedia, Internet of the Mind, sessions with my therapist and my own knowledge.


Injunctions are parental messages that instruct the child what not to do. These beliefs are the "Should", "Must", "Have to" and "Ought" beliefs that we hold about how things are in the world.
Some Injunctions are good and helpful while others become limiting beliefs that can sabotage our relationships and life goals.

  • Don't be (Don't exist)
    • "If it weren’t for you children, I could divorce your father…"
    • "You were a mistake"
    • "See what you do, why do you put me through this!"
    • "I wish you’d never been born!"
    • The message can be delivered in a multitude of non-verbal ways such as how the parent cares for and holds the child, the facial expressions and tone of voice, frowns, scowls, etc.
    • Those who have this injunction can indulge in several types of self-harming behavior, or substance abuse to shorten lifespan. Or they can simply 'cease to exist' by diving into an abusive relationship, not having social life, etc.
  • Don't be who you are (Don't be You)
    • Parents do not accept the personality of the child, they would prefer to see the miniaturized version of themselves, including looks, preferences, way of thinking, career, religion, etc. They communicate that the child is not 'OK' the way he/she is.
    • An example is children who get the message they are not the sex that was preferred by their parents adopt this Injunction. A mother with four boys who wanted a girl may subconsciously make the youngest one her "daughter". Or a father with all girls may make one of them a "little buddy" by giving positive strokes for doing son-like activities.
  • Don't be a child
    • Parents communicate that the child has to be perfect and should provide the absolute maximum at all times. They have to instantly possess all knowledge. They are not allowed to 'not know' something, to be carefree, to play freely, to enjoy simple little things, to do something without a 'reasonable goal', to be free of problems.
    • Children who have been assigned the role of taking care of the younger children may have lost or given up their own childhood. They continue to function without the childlike qualities they have not yet developed. Other methods of conveying this message include telling a five year-old to "grow up!" or giving a toddler positive strokes for being "little men" or "proper little ladies".
  • Don't grow up
    • Parents communicate that the child should not make adult decisions, should not be an autonomous human being. The child should not separate from the parents, nor have their own norms, life or sexuality.
    • The baby of the family often is the recipient of this Injunction, especially when the empty nest is approaching. This is usually the case when there is not a lot of intimacy between the parents or in single parent situations. Fathers may send this message to their daughters when they refuse to allow make-up, dating, wearing certain clothes when it is really an age-appropriate thing to do.
  • Don't make it in your life (Don't succeed)
    • Parents communicate that children should not be successful on their own, or without their parents. They are rewarded for making efforts but not actually finishing projects. Or, failure. Parental jealousy is also predominant, especially if the child gets better in anything that the parent has ever done before. Attempts of being better are belittled, frowned upon and forbidden.
    • A father may send the message to "not do better than me" by quitting when his son begins to win at the game they are playing. Expecting perfection or frequently saying things like "You can’t do anything right!" or "What the hell is wrong with you?" are other ways this message gets conveyed.
  • Don't do anything!
    • Fearful, over-protective parents say don’t climb trees, don’t run, don’t try, don’t go too far, don’t play rough, don’t go too high on the swings, etc. These parents also tend to do everything for (instead of) the child. 
    • The child gets the message that they must be fragile, or incompetent, and/or every decision they face is critical and, therefore, has trouble making decisions. They especially fear to make wrong decisions. They feel that passivity is the safest way to live. They believe that the world is a fearful place, where they cannot ever be safe.
  • Don't be important
    • The message conveyed is that children should not be in the center of attention. They cannot be smart, beautiful or successful. They should not have any needs (social, physical, emotional or any other), or if they do have any, they should sacrifice their own needs on the altar of others' needs. If they take steps towards meeting their own needs, they are confronted.
    • This injunction comes from messages like "kids are to be seen, not heard", "Keep your mouth shut at the dinner table", or other discounts about how they may nothing of importance to offer. Children who are made fun of because of how they look, their race, or their social status may experience this injunction.
  • Don't belong
    • Children are expected not to belong to any group or society that are not approved by parents. They are encouraged not to have social connections, and their preferred groups, religions, societies, movements, nations, bands are frowned upon. Their attempts to make friends are criticized and are forbidden.
    • Children who move a lot are most often the ones who have learned not to attach to a social group because as soon as they make attachments they move again and have to start all over. Other circumstances include kids who were frequently put down or made fun of for one reason or another by other kids.
  • Don't be close
    • Parents usually convey the message that no one can be trusted (who is outside of the family). Everyone else has ulterior motives, and has a knife behind their back. Friends, spouses and any intimate relationship are made impossible by the family by not letting friends visit, convincing the child that the friends are not appropriate for them, and driving them away.
    • Discouraging the child from coming close, a lack of attention and affection, lack of physical touching, and a lack of positive strokes all send signals that may be interpreted as "Don’t Be close". Also, losing several people who have been close may be enough for a child to decide it is not worth getting close because "People I care about always leave me".
    • This is usually also a result of broken promises, unpredictability, emotional unavailability of the parents who are preoccupied with a problem or each other.
  • Don't be well (Don't be sane!)
    • Some children only experienced nurturing when they were sick. They grow up to use the sick role to gain attention of others and to self-nurture as well. Usually at a subconscious level, getting well would mean isolation and abandonment to someone with this Injunction. 
    • Children who grow up with a parent or parents who have a mental illness can learn how to do mental illness through role modeling. They may also be negatively stroked for healthy thinking and positively stroked for silly or bizarre behaviors. Most often, double-bind messages from parent to child where the child is "damned if s/he does and damned if s/he doesn’t" can foster this injunction
    • Being 'different' is also predominant with children who have this injunction. They think that they cannot be noticed nor loved if they are not different from others in some twisted way.
  • Don't think
    • Children are discouraged from asking questions, wanting to know the world (the early 'what's this' and 'why' questions especially), questioning parents' actions or belief systems. They are discouraged from drawing consequences on their own, their theories about the world are belittled and they are often labeled stupid. Their thoughts are measured by the parents' thoughts, and there is only one 'right' solution or way of thinking. They are not allowed to change their minds. They are often thought-policed, and parents communicate that they have every right to know about all the thoughts in the child's head.
  • Don't feel
    • Feeling and expressions of fear, sadness, anger, guilt, embarrassment, loneliness, happiness, joy, or any other are not allowed.
    • Emotions are judged by parents as 'right' and 'wrong', emotional invalidation is predominant.
    • Learning to emotionally "Numb Out" creates physical, emotional and psychological safety
In addition, there is the so-called episcript: "You should (or deserve to) have this happen in your life, so it doesn't have to happen to me." (Magical thinking on the part of the parent(s).)


Against these, a child is often told other things he or she must do. There is debate as to whether there are five or six of these 'drivers':
The basic notion of these drivers is the assumption that you will be 'OK' as long as you let on one or more of the following drivers drive your life. If you stop living your life based on these, you will lose the love of your parents (and all other people in the world), you will not be able to function and you will cease to exist.
  • Please me/others!
    • You exist to serve (your parents) others, and others only. Your needs and desires have to be nonexistent. Other people's happiness are way more important than yours. If others are unhappy, or they did not reassure you that you made them happy, you have failed. You have to perform others' requests without critique and without any hesitation. You don't have the right to say no. You should feed others but you cannot eat, you should make others feel comfortable, but you cannot rest, you have to please others, but you cannot let yourself to be happy. You mustn't pay attention to yourself, nor let anyone do it for you. You have to be like a candle: provide light and warmth for others while consuming yourself. Die in cancer.
  • Be perfect!
    • You have to be perfect. If you achieve only 99%, it is the same as if you were doing nothing, and you are worthless. If you fail, or you miss a minor detail, you cease to exist. You have to be absolutely precise in everything: work, behavior, body, choice of words, sexual life, you even have to have fun and relax perfectly. You always have to win at everything.
  • Be Strong!
    • You have to be strong all the time. There is no time to feel anything or to express your emotions. You mustn't have any emotions at all, they are for the weak, the worthless. If you ever dare to feel anything, you are forbidden to show them. You must have the perfect poker face ever, at all times. You cannot be weak, you cannot be human. You must be invulnerable, and put up with everything other people cannot put up with. You have to refuse help.
  • Try Hard!
    • Life is hard, life is a constant battle. Try. Try hard. Try harder. You cannot refuse requests. You must always get better and do more. Do everything, and even more to reach the goals and finish projects, but always stop before the end. Never finish anything in your life. You can become terminally ill, you can go crazy, you can destroy your own relationships, you can choose tasks that you are unable to complete, you can forget what you were doing, but you must never finish.
  • Hurry Up!
    • You mustn't be lazy, you cannot take your time. You cannot focus on a task. You don't have time for anything, you mustn't rest, you always have to carry on and move forward. Thinking about things, looking at them from different angles or contemplating over them is a waste of time. You have to be able to do multiple things at once, and you must be ready with everything by yesterday. So much to do, so little time.
  • Be Careful! (in dispute)
Thus in creating his script, a child will often attempt to juggle these, example: "It's okay for me to go on living (ignore don't exist) so long as I try hard".

In the next post I will describe a few 'mantras' that you can practice telling yourself to help countering these injunctions and drivers. However, I also recommend seeking a therapist (I am not one of them).


  1. Wow! My NPs are right they are perfect! If this list was a test they just scored 100%!

    Thanks for this. It gives me another reason to forgive myself.

  2. Almost all of these were what my parents put me through. A fee were saved for my siblings (my sister is the one who got the message that she is incompetent and can't do for herself).

    Too bad many of these child-rearing fails don't get the attention they should. So many people could be helped if they realized how they'd been affected by their narcissistic parents and that they, above all, are not crazy.

  3. Thanks for posting this! I think it succinctly sums up the insidious way N parents operate. My NM definitely favored some of those more than others, like Don't Feel, Please Me, and Be Strong.

  4. Yup. I think there were more Drivers than Injunctions in my case, but this list neatly sums up my parents' approach to child-rearing.

    Thanks for posting this.


  5. Stunning list. Thank you for putting it in your post. I linked to it because this is a list worth sharing to others that had this list imprinted on their lives as children.

  6. :bow: I'm happy that I could provide something helpful to you :) Hugs to you all!

  7. Scatha, Thank you for this post. For the past month I've been reading everything I can about Narcissistic Mothers. I received all the messages from my mother listed in this post. It's so overwhelming and right now I don't know how I'm ever going to heal from all the damage. I'm just beginning to understand how truly insidious her constant criticism and gaslighting was.


Comments are welcome!