We’ve talked of the frustration, hurt, anger and demoralisation that repeated arguments and ‘go-nowhere’ conversations can render.
Recurring showdowns with family, friends or job colleagues sap our energy, morale and jeopardise our enthusiasm for our relationships. They make us want to cut family ties or contemplate quitting a job.
This feeling of having been suckered into repeated arguments and deadlocked conversations time after time, reminds me of the movie, Groundhog Day. I’m sure you know it; it’s on the TV often.
Staring Bill Murray it’s the story of a TV weatherguy who travels to the annual prediction of the seasons event in the town of Punxsutawney in Pennsylvania.
According to folklore, if the Groundhog emerges from his burrow to find sunlight casting his own shadow he shuffles back into his den and winter continues for another 6 weeks.
If it’s cloudy, the Groundhog stays out and Spring is joyfully pronounced.
Unfortunately for Phil Conners, the weatherman, a spooky twist of fate causes him to wake up each new day only repeat the same scenes with his colleagues and the townspeople, time after time.
We the audience are skilfully made to share his frustration, and the claustrophobia of feeling trapped as Conners flails to break free of the cycle and resume life anew.
Cursed by a pattern
Constantly repeating arguments and go-nowhere conversations are like Groundhog Days.
Some people notice the repeating dramas happen with the same person; a partner, relative or colleague.
Alternatively you might see a theme of recurrent arguments and frustrating conversations with different people, not necessarily all at the same time.
This is true for a lot of us. The people might change but the the drama that’s played out seems to follow a pattern; we might even call it a template, and leads us to experience the same feelings at the end.
Noticing these repetitions though can make us even more demoralised. Noticing makes us feel even more trapped in a part of our life we don’t want.
The struggle of being caught in someone else’s pattern
If you don’t recognise or are troubled about arguments or frustrating conversations in your own life right now, possibly you recognise being a witness of someone else who gets into regular arguments on a theme with others? It could be your nearest and dearest, a close friend, teenager or work colleague.
You might have said to yourself; “how she is with me is just like she is with… (so and so).”
Possibly you’re having trouble because someone close has remarked upon the same about you? They say; “you argue with me just the same as you always do.”
Or; “you argue with your friend; your workmates; our kids; my parents; just like you do with me.”
The human mind is a creature of comfort
Why, when we have constantly repeating arguments and end-up feeling the same hurt; anger; subjugation or loneliness, don’t we just learn from the experience and move-on?
Humans are intelligent and adaptable creatures; right? Surely, you say, we something feels bad, people change?
Here’s the answer. People too are creatures of comfort. We get into repeating arguments, or demoralising ‘go-nowhere’ discussions with the same person or on a theme with different people because inside ourselves we perceive the feelings we get from them to be comfortable and reassuring.
Don’t be preposterous man!
That’s ridiculous! How can anyone derive comfort from feeling upset; angry; lonely; or frustrated?
Well, I hear you. Let me explain more.
The Adaptable baby
Charles Darwin taught us that humans, like any other species of animal, insect and bird, adapt to ensure, as far as we can, our own survival. So our instinct as young helpless babies and infants is to adapt to the people in our environment so as to get our physical and emotional needs catered for.
From the day we’re born we’re constantly seeking the security of attachments. First with our mother and then, later-on we seek new attachments with new people, important to us who come into our lives.
We look to these people, first our parents and carers and later our new attachments for the fulfilment of our Relational Needs.
Eight Relational Needs
Psychologist, Richard Erskine, identifies eight relational needs.
In an ideal world, our upbringing would provide us with and equip us to experience these relational needs in healthy ways, wholesome ways, that nurture our progress and happiness.
The Eight Relational needs are: –
- The need to be allowed ‘to be’. We want to show people who we are truly are, without fear of losing the other person’s respect and affection.
- The need to be Valued. We want people to feel we matter to them; of being considered worthy by those around us. First our parents and childhood family, then later our partners, our friends and those at work.
- The need for Acceptance. We seek acceptance by others for being present in their life and for being present in the world in our own right.
- The need for Mutuality. We want to feel that our thoughts, needs and our caring is understood by close people in our lives us having to explain ourselves all the time or constantly re-proclaim our care. Neither do we want to have spell-out our wants and needs all the while but to have others who care to recognise these when they reasonably can.
- The need for Self-Definition. We each need to feel unique and feel free to explore our uniqueness.
- The need to feel we ‘Impact’ on people. I don’t mean physically with a clunking fist, I mean we each like to feel that our presence in people’s lives has influence; that we matter.
- The need to Express Love. We each have an instinctual need to show our feelings to others in an open and positive way.
Any Feeling is better than no feeling
As infants, we look first to our parents and carers for the fulfilment first of our physical needs – food, clothing, warmth, shelter, safety – and then our Relational Needs.
Remember as babies we have no powers of discernment. No’one can chose the home their born into or the parents who nurture them.
The world is not a straightforward place, as we all know. Being adults we know that if we’re not happy that our needs are being met , we have choices. We recognise the possibility that things might be different if we were to move elsewhere, be with someone else or work at a new company.
Unlike us as adults, when we’re infants we can’t explore the possibility of getting our needs better met anyplace else than through our parents and families. So, as Charles Darwin proposed, we like other mammals, adapt ourselves to survive.
As adults we also know that life is difficult and can look back on our parents and the stresses, limitations of character and the personal experiences that shaped their own lives, affected their emotional behaviour and ultimately their capacity for relating.
Even good parents have bad times. Good parents with loving intentions have their own problems; their own issues; their own hang-ups. This impact can be perceived in childhood in negative ways our parents never intended us feel.
As infants we have only our childhood level of intuition as a tool with which to gauge the quality of our parents’ responses, positive or negative, to our demand for needs.
Have in mind also that using that primitive intuition our childhood instinct, like all other species, is to adapt to survive.
Doing what the adults like: behaving as we need to survive
To us as young children, adapting to survive becomes interpreted as behaving in whatever fashion is likely to gather the most profitable attention to our relational needs.
It also means using our intuition to feel what we believe our parents and carers want us to feel to merit that attention.
Some parents or carers like their baby to smile and to always appear happy For them, an unhappy baby makes them nervous. Wearing a frown they peer at baby and ask themselves; aren’t we doing everything right Why is she still crying?
Worse; some parents have so many issues and dramas of their own, they don’t respond to a happy baby. To them, if the baby looks happy it means he’s healthy and that’s all that counts. Job done.
To them, unless baby cries and generally makes a nuisance of himself they think, let’s leave him be. Or worse, they might say to themselves; I want to ignore him; that baby get all the attention around here; what about me?
It’s easy to see how a child born to parents whom she intuits are more comfortable responding to a happy baby than to crying baby makes sure she’s always wearing a beaming smile.
This baby perceives that it’s no use her feeling sad and expressing it. That way makes her parents feel upset, anxious and not willingly responsive to her needs.
She perceives the need to feel happy so that her parents themselves feel happy, remaining secure and untroubled in themselves. If she does that, she feels it’s more likely the adults with tend to her needs more quickly and willingly.
No matter what her original feeling was; perhaps scared, lonely or feeling bored this little girl intuits that it’s better for her and for her parents if she puts those feelings aside. If she’s happy and seen to be happy, then her parents are secure and in the awareness of that likelihood, she’s secure.
Born on the wrong side of the tracks
An unfortunate youngster whose parents leave him on the sidelines to get on with it could start off his early years feeling that the only way to way for any attention is when he’s sad, or angry or left-out.
His experience might lead him to think that if he’s happy, people think he’s fine and no’one responds. So it’s better to feel sad and behave in ways that make him sad. After-all, that’s what he sees the grown-ups feeling.
So when he disrupts the adults, seeing them sufficiently cross and pained behind their own acts of caring for him for him; he perceives that he too must feel sadness in order to fit-in. When he feels sadness he intuits being on the same wavelength as the adults. In being so he feels it’s ok for him to command the attention.
Copy Cat Kids
Youngsters also follow the cues of those around them; like elder sisters and brothers. In a family where the parents compete with each other for the most attention, children may be neglected.
Children like this can grow up perceiving that to get attention in this family they need to compete with their siblings for attention. A household like this can feel to a new baby like a free-for-all where he who disrupts the others loudest, longest and severest gets attention.
Their adaption feelings are of resentment, hostility and contrivance.
Still other children may notice their relationship to their own parents differently. They notice instead that it’s when they’re ill, helpless, incapable or insecure, they get the most attention. But if they explore; take risks and demonstrate their bravery this brings from their parents a look of anxiety; a frown; a discouraging caution or a warning to be careful.
These children are possibly going grow up perceiving that being, bold, or healthy, or taking a chance isn’t what they should do to feel parental approval or in order to safe in the world. Instead they equate feelings of insecurity, or boredom as approval.
Some children recognise that if they’re poorly and ill the adults become most concerned and attentive. Strangely they begin to feel that getting ill makes them feel more secure. Even though their parents are anxious for their wellbeing, it’s an anxiety the adults are content to feel. In feeling needy and attracting the concern of his parents such a child perceives he fits-in.
Survival Feelings become Racket Feelings
In Transactional Analysis (TA) psychology, we call these survival feelings, Racket Feelings.
Our survival feelings become Racket Feelings.
They’re called Racket Feelings because they’re non-authentic feelings. Instead they’ve been contrived in early infancy through our limited childhood perception of what we need to feel in order to be most secure in our attachments with parents and carers.
Our Racket Feelings are those we feel we need to experience to have the best chance of our Relational Needs being met.
Our survival feelings become rackets because, like the up-front appearance in a fake scam they’re offered up to the world (and within ourselves) in place of our real feelings.
As we grow through childhood, teenage years and into adulthood our experiences, what we draw from them, adapt, twist and distort our Racket Feelings.
Starting out as feelings adapted for our survival, our Racket Feelings become our fall-back feelings in times of stress.
We are reminded of our Racket Feelings in our encounters with the many new people who from time to time replace our parents and the sole providers of our relational needs.
Upsets like repeated arguments and go-nowhere conversations have us reaching inside for our Racket Feelings.
Stuck in Groundhog Day
Strangely, whilst our Racket Feelings themselves may make us feel wretched, dismal, alone, misunderstood or angry, our psychology doesn’t understand it would be better to change.
We start out as youngsters perceiving our racket feelings are what we experience in order to get attention to our relational needs and grow up feeling them as self-satisfying, self-comforting feelings in our hours of need.
Expression of our real feelings often lay suppressed and dormant. We might never even have learned to feel some true feelings. We blanked them out as too unwise to adopt as survival feelings so early on. Instead, even as adults we conceive that the racket feelings, the ones perceived as necessary for our early survival are those we should feel; those we should adopt, as the way to go.
As adults we look to new partners, our children, our friends or our colleagues for what matters to us.
What happens when things go wrong? What happens when the world and others have us feeling our relational needs aren’t being met?
The answer is that, just as we’ve learned in childhood, we look to our own inner world for security. How do we do this? We re-feel our Racket Feelings.
In our interactions with people who come into our world, yes, including through recurring arguments and ‘go-nowhere’ conversations, we seek the reward of Racket Feelings.
Perversely, when we external world messes us around we perceive our Racket Feelings as a source of comfort and belonging.
How does this help us?
If we can relate to having repeated arguments or frustrating ‘go-nowhere’ conversations with people in our lives or can relate to patterns of us or others as getting into these time after time, chances are the payoff we experience for the ordeal is the familiarity of our Racket Feelings.
Knowing that the payoff of Racket Feelings is the strange comfort we derive, we can decide instead in favour of change.
For ourselves we can decide on aiming for the reward of more healthy emotional returns. In those others we identify as slaves to the habit of repeating arguments and go-nowhere discussions we can invite change by deciding not to be a facilitator for their Racket Feelings.
Next I’ll go into how our Racket Feelings invite Racket Behaviour and what your Racket Behaviour tells you what you feel about your Life Position. For now, think about what could be your own Racket Feelings.
Now it’s your turn.
An Experiential Exercise is simply psycho-speak for an invitation for you to examine your own feelings, thoughts and behaviours.
- How aware of your Racket Feelings are you?
- Think of people in your life with whom the same Groundhog Day arguments, the same dramas, the same fruitless conversations happen, time after time.
- How do you always seem to end up feeling?
- What does the other person say about how, what you say, think or do makes them feel?