Replacing “old scripts” in relationships

Do you ever feel like you keep playing out the same old script and having the same old relationships, or the same relationship patterns?

Have you married some variant on the same person over and over again, and do you consistently shrink yourself or fight in the same old ways?

In therapy, you may also notice some of that “old stuff” seeping in. You may feel yourself withdrawing from me the way you withdraw from others, or find yourself talking lots and connecting little — or find yourself suppressing your own needs, or feeling overwhelmed by them.

The beauty of a therapy that works well is that you get to bring those patterns with you, and we get to both have a real curiosity about your experience in the relationship here.

We may make new discoveries together. And we may get to find options beyond that script you’ve played out in relationships a million times.

Pat Ogden, author of “Trauma and the Body”, calls these scripts “procedural memory.” Your body and your mind are used to going through a sequence of steps in relationships — much like how your body and mind just “know” how to drive a car without thinking through each move, your body and your mind also instinctively respond in old ways in relationships.

In counseling, we can actually be curious about these “memories” you relive together — and we can find gentle and compassionate ways for you to interrupt those “old scripts.”

Here are some examples:

-Every time a particular client feels misunderstood, she starts to withdraw, to “go into her own world” and to think about leaving the relationship. She feels misunderstood in my office, starts to “zone out.”

Something new happens when I ask her to take me with her, to help me to understand where the misunderstanding happened. I work with her with feeling her feet on the ground, being aware of her own experience, and with telling me where I “missed the boat.” We talk the misunderstanding over — and she feels herself come back to life. We both feel closer than we did before the misunderstanding — and her body and mind have also replaced an old script, as for a moment, she feels like her voice and her feelings matter, like she can share them instead of running away.

-Another client is used to talking…and talking…and talking. He often gets lost in his own words, talking faster and faster.

I ask him if it would be okay to notice the speed of his thoughts, to notice his breathing, and to take a moment to just sit with what’s happening within him. As he and I make eye contact and breathe together, he feels a release of some emotion, and is able to feel more connected than he did when he was “just talking.” He’s replaced, just for a moment, that old script of hiding himself behind a wall of words.

-A woman shares an important piece of her history with me, and then starts to talk about something else. I ask her to let the words she just spoke sit with both of us, and I ask her to take in my response to the depth of what she’s just said. I may even ask her to repeat her words and let herself feel them.

She realizes that she hasn’t felt safe to let herself share deeply with someone for some time, and that by letting herself register my response to her sharing, new possibilities emerge within her — for feeling the importance of her own words, for feeling that she can be heard. She’s let go, for a moment, of that old script of feeling like no one can understand her.

When clients can try, even for a moment, to play with a new way of being, of hearing, of speaking, of moving, they can start to identify their old scripts — and to learn ways to go outside their same old lines.

This builds the foundation for new types of relationsihps, new ways of sharing, new ways of being in the world.

No one should be confined by a script or two that they learned a long time ago. We all have the potential to learn new lines, to discard scripts that no longer work for us, and to try out new ways of being. Sometimes, it just takes the right support in being mindful of your old scripts and trying out new ways of being.

The old script will always be there if you need it. But you can develop more options. And that’s the point — to have a choice about how we respond. To get to see what maybe wasn’t there before: Safety. Caring, kind people who want to hear us. The ability to make room for ourselves and room for others.

I love helping people to discover their old scripts and to find their authentic voice outside all those old feelings and those “old lines.” If you’d like to talk about working together and you’d like some help to identify how your old scripts could be getting in the way of your current relationships, click here. I’ll be delighted to support you in having a new experience.

Author: Michaela Lonning

I'm a counselor in Corvallis, Oregon, and I work mostly with intelligent and sensitive people who are struggling with a sense of connection to themselves or in their relationships. Near Corvallis? Come see me. Not near Corvallis? I work with clients around the world via Skype: Come see me.