The Blue Beneath the Red – How my Anger Substituted my Fear and Sadness

By Lokesh Rasinkar

April 18, 2023

One of the first things I wanted to understand about myself was my anger. I found TA concepts like Rackets, Life Positions and Ego States helpful in understanding the intrapsychic processes that explained my anger and offered me ways out.

One of the things I learnt from TA is that as children we are often not allowed to feel or express all the feelings we experience. These feelings could be hurt, anger, guilt, fear, frustration and so on. We, as children, notice how the immediate family, primarily parents, react to our feelings. Over a period of time we learn that only certain feelings are getting our parents’ attention and certain other feelings are being ignored, punished or judged. We are sometimes invited to feel some feelings over and over again. There are also verbal messages we get about feelings. As a result, some feelings become more familiar. Because they were allowed, they feel safe. We feel them very often in different stressful situations. Berne calls these feelings Rackets. Fanita English says “Rackets are stylised repetitions of ‘permitted feelings’ which were stroked in the past. They are expressed each time a real feeling (of a different category) is about to surface” (English, 1972, p.1)

Knowing that rackets were substitute feelings, I decided to check if there were any other feelings that were below my anger. I have shared two instances below.

  1. Once my wife had gone to the bank and I was waiting in the car. I had stopped the car on a busy road. While waiting for her to return I began to fear that a traffic cop was around somewhere and he would come and question me about having stopped the car there. This thought caused so much anxiety in me that I called my wife to tell her to hurry up. But since she usually keeps her phone in vibration mode she didn’t realise I was trying to reach her. When she finally returned after many minutes I gave her a verbal lashing for not answering my call and being late. The fact is no cop came. It was just my fear of that happening that led me to getting angry. I realised that I did not have permission to express my fear. It showed up as anger.
  2. The other involves my 3 year old daughter. She wanted me to play with her. And I was preoccupied with some frustration in my head about my business. She wanted me to play with a toy but in my anger I threw it. I remember the reaction on her face. She was scared. She teared up and said, “Why you doing this papa”. I was immediately filled with regret. I apologised to her. I had transferred my anger from elsewhere in this situation. I was angry with myself and with others in office because the business was not doing well. As I thought more deeply about the anger, I realised the fear below it. The fear that our business wouldn’t survive.

Life Positions

I was able to further understand my anger with the concept of life positions. Life Positions are basic beliefs about self and others, which are used to justify decisions and behavior. “The very early experiences of the infant, play a deciding role in the establishment of that person’s life position. Once it is decided upon, a person’s life position influences how she thinks, feels, acts, and relates with others”. (Woollams and Brown, 1978, p.118)
I learnt that the favourite racket of the “I am OK, You’re not OK” life position is anger. However, I have strongly associated myself with the “I am not ok, you are Ok” position. That’s probably why I couldn’t see that I was in the “I am ok, you’re not ok” position also a lot of times. Joines explains that the reason why anger is the favourite racket of the “I am OK, You’re not ok” position is “because of fear that others might see something wrong with them” so they “….keep others at a distance”. (Joines, 1988, p.2). I recognised that I felt not good enough internally. So my anger was a defence mechanism to protect me from feeling the pain of my not-OKness.

Ego States
For questions like who am I? Why do I act the way I do? How did I become this way? I have found answers in the concept of Ego States. Eric Berne defines Ego States as, “a consistent pattern of feeling and experience directly related to a corresponding consistent pattern of behaviour” (Berne, 1972, p.443)
Eric Berne explains that as individuals when we act, think or feel a certain way we are doing so from three different ego states called the Parent, Adult or the Child Ego States. “The three ego states are referred to as the structure of the personality, and diagnosis of the ego states is called Structural Analysis. The study of how we use these Ego States is called as the “The Functional Analysis of Ego States” – where the Parent Ego State shows up as Critical Parent or Nurturing Parent ego states. And the Child Ego State shows up as Free Child and Adapted Child Ego States.

Figure 2.1 – Structural Analysis and Functional Analysis of Ego States

I drew my egogram to understand my ego states. Dusay explains that “Egograms represent the intensity and frequency of the stimuli emanating from an ego state, and they provide visual symbols of the predominant ego states” (Dusay, 1972, p.2)

My egogram at the start of the program was

Figure 2.2 – My Egogram at the start of the program

I discovered that my Adapted Child was the most dominant ego state for me. I am largely compliant to rules/systems/guidelines/social norms etc. Saying no is difficult for me.
The Free Child has very little representation. This ego state makes up very little of me.
From the Parent Ego state I have learnt that my Critical Parent is stronger than my Nurturing Parent. Being critical, finding faults or shortcomings is very easy for me. This is applicable across work, home and also with friends and relatives in social situations.
While I am nurturing to others, I am not nurturing to myself. I realised that my nurturing behaviour was actually a manifestation of my Adapted Child trying to get strokes by taking care of others.

How knowing my Ego States has influenced me
I was not OK with my discovery of how my energy was distributed across my ego states. I found a solution in the theory of constancy hypothesis by Dusay wherein he says that “when one ego state increases in intensity another must decrease because of the shift in the psychic energy, the total of which remains a constant factor”) (Dusay, 1972, p.3)
With this new awareness now, I am keen to raise my Nurturing Parent, the Free Child and my Adult ego states. That is another way of saying I want to reduce the use of my Critical Parent and Adapted Child ego states.

Some of the ways I intend to achieve this is by doing the following:

    1. To increase my Nurturing Parent and reduce my Critical Parent, I used positive strokes

    • Instead of catching people doing something wrong, I catch them doing something right and acknowledge them and appreciate them for that.
    • I don’t impose on others, the standards I set for myself for my work and judge them on that basis. I believe that others are doing whatever they can to the best of their ability or knowledge, I acknowledge that effort and encourage them.

    2. To increase my Free Child and reduce my Adapted Child

    • Break free of the rules. Especially some of those that I haven’t been able to make sense of but still continue to comply like eating non veg on certain days and not on others.
    • Don’t be a stickler for protocols and customs. Become flexible.
    • Spend time playing with my 4 year old daughter all the games she comes up with.
    • Do more things that my heart craves but my mind limits like going picnicking or for drives with family.

After incorporating these changes, I wish to see my ego gram as below:

Figure 2.3 – The ideal egogram I want for myself

A higher representation of Nurturing Parent and Free Child is what I am aspiring for.

Using Ego States to understand my anger

I learnt that my high Critical Parent (CP) and Adapted Child (AC) Ego states contribute in different ways to me getting angry.

Impact of High CP – I expect nothing but the best from myself and others – be it behaviour, attitude, or effort. And when it doesn’t meet the standards I get critical about it. Although the real feeling is frustration at not matching up to norms, it always manifests as anger. For example when my sister in law leaves for office without putting the bike inside the gate, I get angry because I have to put the bike inside at night. This applies to my own self also when I fall short of my own standards. Like for example when I was fined by the cops for not wearing my seat belt while driving, I got quite mad with myself.

Impact of High AC – I have mostly been a compliant child and adult. Whenever I don’t comply, it makes me anxious and also leaves me with a high feeling of guilt. Through Rackets I know that what shows up as anger is in fact fear. From business I can think of an example – I have always ensured that as a firm we were compliant with all the statutory compliances and whenever there were a few team errors I would feel anxious that a mistake has happened. Sometime when we got a notice from any statutory department, the anxiety levels would shoot up. The anxiety makes me turn to my Critical Parent to verbalise my frustration and fears ultimately leading to expressing anger at others and at myself.

What changes have I made with this awareness?
One of the primary reasons about understanding my anger was to figure out ways to stop getting angry. TA as a whole through its various concepts has given me immense awareness and information to understand my anger. Here are some decisions I have taken after this learning.

  1. Don’t judge myself and others. All are doing the best they can and to the best of their knowledge. I have been very conscious of this so I have been most successful in this.
  2. Express my real feelings whenever I can. Make a genuine attempt to voice out what I am feeling. This has been challenging and I have not been very successful in this.
  3. Be gentle and kind to my own self. Don’t get stressed on the perfection and trying to please others, trust I am Ok. Once again I have been reasonably successful in this.

Although I can’t say I don’t get angry anymore, I am happy with the progress I am making. I wish to give myself a stroke for this progress. If I continue on this path I am confident I will get better at managing my anger.

About the author:

Lokesh is a Recruiting professional who co-founded a talent search firm Viaah Consulting. His current venture Capitayn Partners is focussed on Leadership & Specialised hiring & Coaching. Lokesh is a Diploma holder in Transactional Analysis.


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