Back to Basics Executive Coaching Series – The Difference Between Authentic Feelings And Racket Feelings
My name is Sari van Poelje and I’m an expert in business innovation. I’m the director of two businesses. One is called the Intact Academy where I train coaches and consultants from absolute beginners to supervisor level. The other business is Team Agility where I help businesses innovate their business more quickly than their products.
We’ve been talking about transactional analysis, which I use to help leaders, coaches and consultants to develop and to lead their people. We’ve been talking about ego states, transactions and ways that people maintain their own stories instead of being in the here and now. We’ve talked a little bit about what racket feelings are, but now I want to talk about how you recognize racket feelings.
How to recognise racket feelings
We talk about four basic feelings (George Thompson 1983).
Authentic feelings: happy, angry, sad, scared.
Any time you express these feelings in the appropriate time and context, it’s authentic and not a racket. Authentic feelings contribute to problem solving. Racket feelings do not.
Fear (scared) is a biological reaction that helps you in fight or flight. It helps you recognize when there is a real time threat, for example someone is crossing your boundaries, and there is a real time threat. It is really good to feel fear because it will kick start your adrenaline, which means that you will probably react appropriately. If you see a car coming towards you and you’re not scared, that’s probably a racket feeling on top of the authentic feeling.
Anger is a really good, authentic feeling the moment someone cross your boundary. You see it in primates. If someone crosses their boundary they immediately respond by showing their teeth. Anger is really good to indicate, “Hey, this is where I am. This is my boundary. Do not cross it.”
So any time someone shows boundary crossing behaviour and you don’t show anger or you show pleasing or other behaviours like shame or guilt, when someone else crosses your boundary, you could check if it’s authentic. I know a lot of women who do not learn to express anger very well. They haven’t been taught to do it when they were growing up, and they express fear instead.
Joy or happiness is appropriate to share and create community. When people share intimacy, you could see a shared sense of joy. When people are happy all the time, regardless of what happens to them, it’s usually a racket feeling. I’ve had people in my team who are happy, happy, happy all the time. They have not learned to express other emotions that might help them in the here and now.
So happiness creates connection in the here and now. Shared joy is something that is unbeatable in the creation of intimacy. When I see a sunset together with my partner, we look at each other. We share that sheer joy of that moment shared.
Sadness is an authentic feeling when you are dealing with loss. Your tears dissolve sadness. That’s what they’re for. So if in the here and now you have lost something, it’s appropriate to feel sad. Sometimes I see people get angry when they’ve lost something. They’re not yet at the point where they can actually accept the loss and and grieve. It can be loss of connection to others, a loss of connection to self. It can be a job lost. It is really important to grieve because as long as you do not grieve and show that sadness, you will be stuck in that moment of loss in the past instead of the here and now.
How do you recognize the difference between authentic and racket feelings? The difference is authentic feelings are appropriate to the time and the context. They have a function. Each feeling has a function. Racket feelings are not appropriate in the time and context, and they do not help you solve problems in the here and now.
Some other racket feelings, along with the ones mentioned, are shame and guilt. Shame and guilt are rarely appropriate for problem solving.
Shame is when you’ve done something that you probably didn’t have enough protection for. Biblical shame when they didn’t have the fig leaf to cover themselves. When I see people feeling shame, I I immediately think, do they have enough protection? Shame does not help you solve the problem in the here and now, which is to get enough protection to do whatever you have to do.
Feeling guilt is the curse of the over responsible. It’s when you take responsibility for more than 50 percent of what’s going on. We see guilt when people do something and then they regret doing too much or too little. And if you find yourself regularly taking on more responsibility, you know that the guilt is a racket.
Feeling guilt is also differentiated from something real that you can resolve in Adult. So if you’ve done something to someone and in the real here and now, you could ask them how much pain you caused. Find out what you need to do to reconcile with that amount of pain. If someone tells you you’ve caused a four out of ten pain, find out what a four out of ten reconciliation would be. It might just be a cup of tea.
If it’s guilt from the past, you know, you cannot solve that problem in the here and now. If there’s nothing that can make it right, then you know that the guilt is a racket feeling.
Authentic feelings are appropriate for the time and the context. Racket feelings are not.
It’s important to recognize the difference because depending on if it’s racket or real, you will react differently as a leader, coach or consultant. If it’s real, when someone is scared, you offer them protection. When someone is sad, you offer them reassurance. When someone is happy, you’re happy with them. When someone is angry, you help them form that boundary.
When it’s racket feelings, you help people get their authentic feeling so that they can get past that and get their real needs met in the here and now.
For more information:
Fear, Anger, and Sadness, George Thomson, Transactional Analysis Journal, Volume 13, 1983 – Issue 1
It’s All in the Game: Working with Games and Rackets, Moniek M. Thunnissen, Transactional Analysis Journal, Volume 31, 2001 – Issue 4