The Psychology Of Relationships
Feelings and Bad Memories Collections
as we call it in Transactional Analysis, Rackets and Stamps)
The following concept taken from the theory
of Transactional Analysis is useful, even if
the language is a bit obscure.
The principle of substitute feelings (or
rackets in Transactional Analysis) is fairly
straight forward. Generally, we talk about
four main basic feelings: angry, sad, scared
We will avoid more complex emotions like
shame or disgust at least for the moment. As
children we express angry, sad, scared and
happy feelings quite spontaneously.
some of us learn as children in our families of origin that some emotions
get us more attention or rewards than others.
holds true too. Some emotions may even be completely repressed in a
family. What happens then is that we learn to substitute one emotion for
another. Here is an example:
say in Joe Blogs' family of origin, scare and fear were, for some reason,
encouraged as emotions. Perhaps both his parents were slightly shy people,
and he was an only child, for whose arrival his parents had waited for a
parents were slightly timid, and because they were over-protective of him
as their only child too, he got a lot of attention and reassurance when he
felt scared, because his parents could relate to him feeling scared and it
meant he stayed close by. Also, his parents expected the world in general
to be a scary place so he started to feel scared of it too.
On the other
hand, his parents really struggled with his anger or adventurousness. They
could not understand it and felt threatened by it. He got no validation
for his aggressive impulses. In the end he "stopped feeling" anger as much
as he could.
emotional energy of "anger" had to come out in some way, and because fear
was acceptable, angry feelings got diverted into feeling scared instead.
Joe Blogs still feels scared a lot of the time. His scare feels authentic
and real to him, but someone from the outside might wonder what he can
possibly be so scared of.
Additionally, when he gets into fights with his partner, he backs down at
the first sign of any disagreement. He might feel very scared, rather than
angry enough to protect his own interests.
he might miss out on being assertive and getting what he wants from life,
because he cannot sustain anger as a positive emotion to protect himself
and challenge the people around him.
also not be that great at sex, because he doesn't stay with his own desire
repeat the idea about rackets: A racket feeling is a familiar emotion,
learned and encouraged in childhood, experienced in many different
situations, which is unhelpful for adult problem solving. In the wider
sense a "racket" could be a whole internal or external process
by which a person interprets or manipulates her environment so that she or
he ends up confirming their world view (which won't be an
am ok, you are ok life position!
Also have a look at
For example, a person may go into temper tantrums when things don't go
their way. They feel hard done by and experience feelings which are
familiar from childhood, but are far too exaggerated a response for the
learned patterns. They substitute one feeling or internal or external
process for something else which was there before hand. The earlier
expression was the spontaneous one and as such could contribute to the
solution of a problem situation.
example, anger is a really good idea when you need to protect yourself.
Fear or sadness might exacerbate the situation. The racket is repetitive
and often inappropriate; and as in our example, it can work either way
around: Can you imagine how unhelpful it is when your partner gets angry
in response to your tears, rather than supportive or sad about how you are
A racket is
therefore generally inappropriate and manipulative, although the person
who feels it feels it for real and won't be able to see that.
really come out big time when a couple starts arguing. Each person will be
drawn into their favorite protective mode when they feel threatened or
challenged. Unfortunately, rackets just keep us stuck. There is a mismatch
of emotions, which then do not add up to the resolution of an issue.
say one partner, Andy, feels insecure about the relationship. He feels
like John will leave him for someone else. He expresses his scare to John,
who gets into his anger racket (about how he always has to take care of
everyone just like he had to with his mum).
experiences his partner's anger as doubly hard to take. First of all, it
does not validate or sooth his fear, and secondly he is already feeling
scared and his partner's anger just makes his fear go through the roof.
John gets more and more angry as Andy gets increasingly scared. You can
finish the scenario in various ways, but they are all unpleasant or
As you can
see the original spontaneous emotions are much more useful as they
communicate about the real issues. (It would be better if John could get
angry with his mum's neediness, which he experienced as a child, not with
an adult request for some reassurance.)
variation on the racket theme are "stamps" or collections (hence
stamps as in stamp collections!) of bad memories, which some people tend
to keep. It's as if people have a tendency to keep events which turned out
badly, in their heads. Whenever something else happens that isn't good
they go over the first experience too and the list or collection gets
bigger and bigger.
When they have collected sufficient "stamps"
they can "justify" their anger or whatever outburst they have in
store, even if the current situation doesn't really warrant it. Some
people collect stamps for just a day, others keep them for years before
they cash them in as part of a long term game.
It's easy to
give an example of stamps, I am sure we have all experienced it or done
it. Imagine you are "collecting" a sense of resentment with your partners,
because he or she isn't doing enough around the house.
You end up
not saying anything, maybe because you want to keep the peace or you
prefer stewing over it. Then, in the end your beloved doesn't do the
washing-up like you expected them to, and you feel fully justified in
having a really good go at them, starting to recount all the stuff they
have neglected doing over the last few days (or months, or years!).
best thing to do with a collection of bad memories is to let them go. Do
whatever you need to do to set the scales right, but then let it go. Don't
go back to it next time you have an argument about something completely
different and dredge it all up again.
applies to racket feelings, though they are much harder to change as
they're difficult to spot on your own. However, you can ask yourself the
things can I do or feel in this situation?
Would any of
it make more sense than what I am doing or feeling now? In additions,
consider what the rackets you learned in your family were.
Can you see
yourself still doing them now? Emotions can be hard work, but life sure is
easier when they are authentic and real.