Are you running a Protection Racket?

“Pay up o’ there’s gonna be-a trouble”

Threee Mafia type Gangsters

“You’ll pay us because we’re such good friends”

You know the scene. In fact you’re right there; on a rainy afternoon; front row seat; with popcorn bucket, Kia Ora and a straw.

On the big screen two Wiseguys, footsoldiers of the Lambrini family enter the Deli.

Tony the store keeper, serving kind Mrs Romazo, glances over as the bell above the door rings. The mob guys offer him a sideways smile. His face turns limp and pale.

The chatty elderly Italian lady in the black dress and coat suddenly turns silent and hurriedly stuffs her cheese and salami into her bag.

Giving Tony a nervous, “Grazia”, Mrs Romazo shuffles quickly out the door.

The owner regains a brave smile. He’s supposed to act pleased to see them. He’s not expected to show he’s scared. He knows that; they know that. Camaraderie is what they expect.

After some light conversation and strained laughs, he hands over an envelope.

Wiseguy One lifts up the envelope and balances it in his palm.

“Feels a little light this month, Tony”, he says menacingly.

Tony’s mouth goes dry. He bites his lip nervously.

“You know how business is now guys, since they opened the Fresh n’ Low on Third. I’ve got a special order to Gino’s restaurant this week, big party. I’ll make it good next month”.

You know how the rest of the scene goes.

There’s always a nice Wiseguy and a psycho Wiseguy; right? Psycho wise guy is just itching to take out his mother-in-law’s nagging on the first person looks at him wrong.

Psycho Wiseguy eyes Tony, then the cheese grater on the opposite side of the counter.

If the nice Wiseguy is in charge, Anthony gets a reprieve. If not; well, as you know and as Psycho guy is thinking: cheese graters are sharp tools, and accidents in a Deli, as an occupational hazard do sometimes happen.

Not that kind of Protection Racket

Ok; I apologise. Put the cheese grater away, please. I get carried away at the movies; what can I say?

When I asked if you run your own Protection Racket, I didn’t mean to accuse you of a Mafia scam. Though there are similarities with what I do mean.

Let me explain.

I’ve previously talked about Racket Feelings and how they’re not authentic feelings. They’re a mask; a false facade we learn to put on from infant-hood, perceived through our childhood intuition to be what we need to feel and demonstrate we feel in order attract constructive attention our emotional needs.

Racket Feelings are those bodily sensations, mixed with thoughts, that together comprise what is known as affect or affect response. We might think of this conveniently as emotions but they’re more of an internal feeling that’s particular to us individually rather than something we could conveniently label as something everyone else might also relate easily to, like anger, sadness, hurt, discontent or joy.

Racket Feeling or affect is developed in very early childhood as a way of maintaining an internalised sense of bonding with our mothers, fathers and early caregivers.

Why Racket Feeling?

As my cheesy (sorry!) scene from my straight-to-DVD screenplay attempts to illustrate; a Protection Racket in the Mafia sense is a ploy; hostile intent lies behind the facade of false reassurance.

The Wiseguys claim to offer Tony protection from harmful outsiders. In fact they’re the malicious ones; the same ones who’d break into the Deli at midnight with a can of gas and matches if poor Anthony failed his end of the bargain to meet the monthly blackmail demand.

The Racket of the mobsters is the false appearance of protectiveness belying malevolent intent underneath.

Racket Behaviour is the phrase Eric Berne, the founder of Transactional Analysis psychology, gave to the method by which people go about collecting Racket Feelings.

The Racket Behaviour of the Wiseguys is the fake friendliness. Scaring Tony too much they might cause him to freeze and they might not get out quickly with their money.

Anthony’s Racket Behaviour in this situation is his strained camaraderie. His authentic feeling is scare, possibly also anger. But the behaviour he’s learned to adopt to make things go smoother with these guys is to appear also to be their friend.

What are your Psychological Racket Feelings?

Why are Racket Feelings and Racket Behaviour so named?

Eric Berne, the founder of Transactional Analysis psychology (TA) sought wherever possible to describe quite complicated psychological processes in phrases, the meaning of which are known already to most people. Not just by complicated Latin phrases known in the medical profession.

In the 1960’s, gang land racketeering was a practice familiar to many Americans from Hollywood movies, if not from direct or indirect experience of life in the big cities.

He invented the phrase Racket Feelings to describe a feeling, learned in childhood, the demonstration of which to parents and other carers has the desired effect of gaining attention to our childhood emotional and physical needs.

What are these infant emotional needs? – I’ve talked about Richard Erskine’s identification of Eight Relational Needs in the previous post.

Berne named these feelings Rackets because they reminded him of the non-authenticity of those feelings.

What are Authentic Feelings?

Transactional Analysis (TA) psychologists consider there are probably only four authentic feelings that are uncensored in some way by our thought processes learned in childhood and then taken through to adulthood. These are :-

Mad (as in ‘angry’; not mad, as in Loony Tune crazy)




Eric Berne called non-authentic feelings Rackets theorising that they are created more conveniently to connect identifiably with our parents, and caregivers. The experience of authentic feelings gets squashed down or sublimated altogether; meaning that for some people they may never have had related certain authentic feelings as children.

Racket Behaviour is the way went about collecting those Racket Feelings.

Racket Feelings and Racket Behaviour is the cement by which we learned to feel that bond with parents and carers more securely.

‘I’m in with the in-crowd’

Recent research by the Concordia University of Canada supports this.

Our powers of discerning just what it takes to move from being the new kid on the block to being one of the in-crowd are forged at an early age.

Researchers found that that children as young as 18 months know when their parents’ emotions are faked and when they’re expressing genuine feelings.

Their observations showed that when the toddlers were shown parents expressing emotions that fit the situation presented, they were more likely to respond empathically, by instinct, showing themselves to be more at one with the parent.

To find this out, the researchers engaged 92 babies in tests both at 15 months of age and again at 18 months. At both stages they were presented with an adult looking sad when receiving a present and also an adult looking happy having been hit on the finger.

At 15 months old the babies took each presentation at face value. But at 18 months the discrepancies between what their parents showed they felt and what the babies thought they ought to feel confused the youngsters.

They looked to their surroundings, to other adults in the room, seemingly for clues as to how they should acceptably respond.

The researchers concluded that by 18 months we’re not fooled by our surroundings and are pretty in tune with how our parents are feeling, even though they might try to put on a brave face in times of stress, anxiety or worry.

But it also shows that as youngsters we respond in the manner we interpret as expected of us. If our interpretation is contrary to that which we are lead to believe adults want us to feel, then we follow their guidance; reacting to please.

We adapt our behaviour in order to feel at one with our own audience; our parents, our carers.

Our Racket Feelings become the glue by which our psyche (the sum of our mind and body) cements this bond.

Experiential Exercise

An experiential exercise is psych-speak for a project intended to examine our own thoughts and feelings.

Try this.

  • Over the next few days; if someone says something or does something that makes you feel bad, try for an instant not putting labels onto those feelings.
  • Instead just try to sit (or stand), as if in freeze-frame, with the sensations inside your body and the ‘sensation’ inside your head.
  • Don’t put labels on them: anger, upset, sadness, loneliness.
  • Instead just notice the sensations. Allow yourself to be aware of them for as long as they last in that moment. Then, when you’re distracted by the present again, just move-on.
  • Are these feelings familiar to you?

Next we’ll go more specifically into identifying your own Racket Behaviours.

Having an inkling of our personal Racket Behaviour is a big step in adopting a new approach to those repeating arguments or ‘go-nowhere’ conversations that drag us down.