My favorite bad feeling

By Poonam Gupta

February 13, 2023

My journey with TA (Transactional Analysis c) started with a 2-day intensive script workshop post attending TA 101. That was the first time I looked at my seemingly ordinary life with the eyes of an observer. Knowing and understanding that the story that I have been telling myself about who I am is a function of my meaning making of my experiences and not the absolute truth and that I have the autonomous capacity to change my own sense of who I am has been extremely empowering. My journey has been one of increasing awareness and gradual abandoning of the dysfunctional patterns that I have repeated until now.

The understanding of the concepts of Racket feelings and the Racket System made me realize how we unconsciously ensure that our dysfunctional script plays out and we get the payoff that we think we deserve or are worthy of. A racket isa substitute feeling that replaces a more genuine feeling which would surface in a given person at a given moment were it not for the fact that during the person’s childhood the individual was penalized or discounted whenever he manifested the genuine feeling that now seeks to emerge’ (English, 1976, p.24). Racket feelings are therefore the ‘permitted feelings’ rather than the authentic feelings. These permitted feelings are often patterns that were developed in childhood.

Looking back at my childhood I had some vivid memories of instances where my needs were discounted, and I ended up feeling small and unimportant. Also, instances where I expressed my needs and was reprimanded which led me to feel humiliated.But there was no space for me to express my anger or negotiate my need. I ended up feeling very small and humiliated for both having a need and for expressing it, and it being discounted and punished. ‘Sacrifice’ was modelled as a way of life for me. ‘What others will think’ took priority over what I felt as a child. I realized that as an adult I have found myself often in the same space, feeling very insignificant, small and unheard. I have experienced this in meetings in professional settings when my point was overlooked. In personal relationships, I would expect the other to anticipate my unsaid needs and feel very hurt when they failed to do that. In the process of feeling my favorite feeling, I was unable to feel or express my real feeling which was often anger: Anger at not being seen or heard; anger at being overlooked.

Richard G Erskine and Marilyn J Zalcman (1979, p. 53) in their paper ‘A model for Racket Analysis’ defined the Racket Systemas a “self-reinforcing, distorted system of feelings, thoughts and actions maintained by script bound individuals. The Racket System has three interrelated and interdependent components: the Script Beliefs and Feelings, the Rackety Displays and the reinforcing memories.”
Script Beliefs:Script beliefs and feelings are all the Parent and Child contaminations of the Adult. A script originates in the past but is alive in the present moment and shows up in the form of a programmed pattern of behaviors.
Rackety Displays: Rackety displays consists of all the overt and internal behaviors which are manifestations of the script beliefs and feelings. Included are the observable behaviors which are a direct result of the intrapsychic process. Rackety displays also include fantasies.
Reinforcing Memories: Each of the various ways of engaging in Rackety Displays can result in the collection of Reinforcing Memories – which are the recall of selected events during the person’s lifetime. Reinforcing memories serve as feedback to the script beliefs.
I have represented my Racket system in the diagram below

My beliefs, actions and meaning making together became a self-reinforcing loop, that allowed me to stay small and scared. The beauty of this way of understanding my script was that I could see how to interrupt this loop. I could break the circuit anywhere and all other components would get impacted.

How I interrupted my Racket System

My script belief changes:
The childhood memories were always there at the back of my mind and I never really thought much about these. Reexamining them in light of the TA theory helped me clearly see how these beliefs have shaped and directed my entire life. With my adult resources, I was able to redefine the meanings that I gave to these experiences. Knowing and understanding that these script beliefs are not the absolute truth and that I have the autonomous capacity to change my own sense of who I am was extremely empowering.
My personal work helped me get in touch with the child I once was and I made a few significant re decisions like ‘I am important’, ‘I am lovable even if I assert my needs’, ‘I don’t have to please others to survive’. The most impactful experience was when I pictured my birth scene in my head as an opening activity during my script work, I remembered a tired mother who was extremely overwhelmed, was sad, and had a constant frown on her face. All my early memories of my mother have been of her engaged in too many chores and tasks and doing everything on her own. I made a decision early on – not to trouble her and increase the burden on her already overwhelmed life. Becoming aware of the Child that made this decision allowed me to see the context in which the little me had made it. I could account for myself as an Adult now and make the redecision‘I am important’.

My Authentic Feelings

I had learnt that my sadness and feeling of shame was rackety and thereal feeling was anger at unfairness and my own inability to express my needs and feeling choiceless. With the strengthened belief that ‘I am important’ my feelings of shame and embarrassment associated with expressing my needs started dissolving and I was able to access my anger with ease and was able to express my disagreement and deal with conflicts with greater ease. My arguments became more rational compared to the script pattern that it followed earlier – which was feeling like a victim and crying uncontrollably.

Changes in my observable behaviors

I began to claim my space more courageously and exercise my choice unabashedly. Taking time off from work without guilt, Carving out ‘me time’ to indulge in guilt free self-care, cooking and ordering my favorite meals, not apologizing when I don’t mean it, to quote a few.

Interrupting my reinforcing memories

I found enough evidence for my updated beliefs as I recalled memories that I had discounted to keep my racket system going. As I started accounting for other positive experiences and strokes and imagined what it would be like to be led by my updated beliefs, my autonomy system (Stewart and Joines, 1987) began to take shape

These redecisions, behaviors and positive memories constantly allow me to step away from my recurrent pattern of feeling small about myself. It continually guides me andhelpsme express my true feelings – my desires, my anger etc. and provides me more options to lead my life in a flexible, enlivened and more fulfilling manner devoid of the self-defeating recurring patterns. When I look back on how much I have changed since my TA 101 in terms of my own comfort and confidence around my convictions and decisions, I feel very hopeful

About the author:

Poonam Gupta has held multiple roles in the space of HR, Learning and Development, Organization Development and Talent management during her career spanning 18+ years. Her passion is to enable businesses to design systems and programs that brings out the best in their people. She is also a coach and an aspiring psychotherapist. Poonam holds a diploma in transactional analysis and is preparing for her CTA.

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