When my sister was little, around the age of 7, she was asked in her class at primary school to draw a picture of God.
This was a Church of England primary school as many were in those days, but it wasn't especially religious – but nevertheless this was an exercise she was asked to do. Faced with a blank piece of paper, she set about creating a beautiful shooting star. Only when she'd finished did she look around to see that everyone else had drawn an elderly man with a stick and a beard.
The teacher asked why she'd drawn what she'd drawn and she replied 'because that's what I think'. The rest of the class had their creations put on the wall. Hers wasn't. The teacher in question was so concerned that she felt the need to call my mum in to discuss this behaviour. And whatever the outcome of that conversation, the picture of the shooting star never ended up on the wall.
Fast forward to this day and my sister is a confident individual who will happily (and indeed sometimes deliberately) go against the trend. She learnt that doing something different was a good thing. But I'm not sure everyone would have reacted in the same way.
The story came up when my sister and I were discussing the key parts of Transactional Analysis theory – I'd just been on a course and I was telling her about it. One of the key parts of the school of thought is that 'who we are' is shaped by things we learnt in childhood (or 'life scripts') – and in particular things we learnt not to do (or, 'injunctions'). Some may argue that this isn't very 'positive psychology', but in my view I think it is very likely to link to our personality strengths and where they have come from.
According to the theory (Goudlings, 1976) there are around 12 things that, despite the best intentions of our parents or caregivers, we may have been subconsciously taught not to do. When we think about it, most of us have at least a little of one or two of them, even if we can't quite place where they came from. We then compensate for these lessons with particular patterns of behaviour ('working styles' or 'drivers') as we grow older.
One of the 12 is 'don't think', or particularly 'don't think for yourself'. Another is 'don't be you' (be like everyone else). Either of these could have been my sister's interpretation of the shooting star event – fortunately for her, they weren't. Though I'm sure there were other events in her life which taught her different things about who she shouldn't be. I know there were in mine.
The working styles (Kahler, 1974) that arise from these sorts of events are, in my opinion, fascinating. You see them all over the workplace in your colleagues and in your friends; you probably have one or two yourself. Though there are many personality tests out there, I like these because they give you a bit of the 'why factor'. Have a look at the table below and think about which working style sounds most like you. Then, look at the 12 'don'ts' – what may have shaped you?
In true therapy style, TA suggests that we focus on trying to change some of those beliefs about ourselves, if they are limiting the way we think. A good strategy. From a positive psychology perspective though, I encourage you to also think about the working style and the strengths it carries for you as an individual. Take control.
|Don't be / Don't exist||Be perfect - high standards, organised, accurate|
|Don't be you / the sex you are||Please people - harmonious, pleasant, aware of others|
|Don't be a child (often the oldest sibling)||Try hard - enthusiastic, energetic, lots of new ideas|
|Don't grow up (often the youngest sibling)||Be strong - reliable, calm, strong sense of duty|
|Don't be important||Hurry up - fast, last minute energy, deadline driven|
|Don't be close / love / trust|
|Don't be well / sane|
|Don't think / think x|
|Don't feel / feel x|