Interested in why you take the decisions you do? Why you stick with some things and not others? Understanding what drives us is the first step towards better self-awareness and better decisions.

As adults, we each carry around a set of injunctions and permissions, which we received in our childhood. The decisions we made in response to these messages form the foundations of our life script. Each injunction has its corresponding permission.

Typically, injunctions begin with the word ‘Don’t…’ and permissions begin with ‘It’s OK to…’ Bob & Mary Goulding identified 12 themes which occur again and again as the basis for people’s early negative decisions. These are detailed below.

The point here is to recognise what might be influencing and even driving many of the decisions we make in business and in life. The more we can understand these drivers, the more we can take informed, unbiased decisions which are likely to lead to better outcomes.

  1. Don’t Be (or Don’t Exist): If you have ever felt worthless or unlovable, it is likely that your script messages include a Don’t Exist For example, where parents already have several children and don’t want more, they may in all sorts of subtle ways, convey rejection to a new arrival; maybe by rarely smiling or talking to him. Where parents physically or mentally abuse a child, the message is conveyed overtly.
  1. Don’t Be You This injunction can be conveyed to a child by parents who have a boy when they wanted a girl, or vice versa. (This may be reflected in their choice of name for the child). Or Don’t be You may be more general ‐ e.g. Parents may favour a younger to an elder child or may continually compare their child with other children –eg. ‘the boy down the road can ride a bike without stabilisers and he’s a year younger than you’.
  1. Don’t Be a Child – This injunction is conveyed in messages like ‘You’re too old to…’ or ‘Big boys don’t cry.’ It is given out by parents who were never allowed to be child‐like themselves (perhaps because they were raised in hardship or in a stern home) . Sometimes children give themselves this injunction –e.g. where they act as carers for their parents or younger siblings.
  1. Don’t Grow Up ‐ It is often the youngest child who gets a Don’t Grow Up The parents may not want to let go of having a young child around the family and may define their whole worth in terms of being a good father or mother. A variant of Don’t Grow Up is Don’t Leave Me. Children who stay at home to care for demanding parents often carry this message. Another variant is Don’t be Sexy which is often given by a father to his daughter when she reaches puberty.
  1. Don’t Make It – This injunction is given by parents who feel threatened by their children’s accomplishments or jealous that they are getting chances that they themselves never had. Overtly, such parents will often urge their children to work hard and do well. The Don’t Make It injunction is conveyed covertly. A student who decides to obey this injunction may study hard but then find a way of sabotaging herself –e.g. By ‘forgetting’ to hand in a crucial piece of work.
  1. Don’t (Don’t Do Anything) ‐ The injunction Don’t implies ‘Don’t do anything, because anything you do is so dangerous that you’re safer doing nothing at all.’ People who, in adult life, continually dither between courses of action may be carrying this script message. It is given by parents who are terrified that their children will come to harm if allowed to run free of the parental apron strings.
  1. Don’t Be Important – People carrying this message may become panicky when asked to take on any kind of leadership role or may ‘dry‐up’ when asked to speak in public. In her career, a person complying with Don’t Be Important may work excellently in a subordinate post, but either not seek promotion or sabotage herself when there is a chance of getting it. The message conveyed (covertly ) from parents is ‘I’ll put up with having you around, as long as you realize that you and your wants are not important around here.’
  1. Don’t Belong ‐ The person complying with Don’t Belong feels ‘out of it’ in groups and is likely to be seen by others as a ‘loner’ or ‘unsociable’. The message may be conveyed by parents who continually tell their child they are ‘different’ from other children, that they are ‘shy’, difficult’ or ‘special’. Or the parents may model this injunction through their own social ineptitude; or convey it by continually scape‐goating the child.
  1. Don’t Be Close – This injunction may imply a ban on physical closeness . In this form it is modelled by parents who seldom touch each other. Alternatively, it may signify ‘don’t be emotionally close’ and be conveyed in families that never talk about their feelings. A child may give themselves Don’t be Close (or a variant, Don’t Trust) to stave off the pain of rejection, if they are rebuffed whenever they reach out to their parents; or if a parent goes away abruptly or dies.
  1. Don’t Be Well (Don’t Be Sane) ‐ This injunction may be given by busy parents, both out at work all day and short of energy when they get home. If, when their child is ill, one of the parents takes time off work and the other, perhaps reads takes time to read bedtime stories, the child might conclude, ‘To get attention around here, I have to be ill’ and develop the strategy of getting sick whenever things go wrong.
  1. Don’t Think – This injunction may be given by a parent who consistently belittles his child’s thinking. An adult complying with a Don’t Think injunction is likely to respond to problems by being confused or by feeling bad, instead of thinking how to solve it. Two variations are Don’t Think About X (where X stands for money, sex, etc.) or Don’t Think what You Think, Think What I Think.
  1. Don’t Feel – This injunction may be modelled by parents who themselves bottle up their feelings, Sometimes there is an embargo on all More often, particular feelings are prohibited –e.g. Don’t Feel Anger, Don’t Feel Fear, etc. (often conveyed as ‘boys don’t cry’, ‘be a brave soldier’, etc.). Some parents convey a version that goes Don’t Feel What You Feel, Feel What I Feel, conveyed as ‘I’m hungry, what do you want to eat?’ or ‘I’m cold, go and put on your jumper.’


Executive Coaching will enhance the quality of your decision taking and will improve the corresponding outcomes. These days, most top performers in business work with a coach.

If you would like to invest in yourself and the value of your business then call me on 07730 700258 to arrange a free introductory Coaching session.

Interested in other Self Awareness Tips? Please see “How to Accept Criticism Effectively.”