• Sarah Felton

Anger and anxiety - what’s a (tennis) racket got to do with it?

In this month’s blog I wanted to introduce you to racket feelings. I have found that a lot of clients come for therapy saying that they are experiencing one emotion but then when we start exploring the emotions it turns out that they aren’t experiencing what they originally came to Counselling for.

There is a concept in Transactional Analysis called Racket feelings - simply put these are familiar feelings we experience when negative things happen. These racket feelings are feelings we have learned, often in childhood, to replace what might be seen in the family system as unacceptable feelings. Often there are explicit messages in a family such as ‘boys don’t cry,’ ‘don’t be sad, be happy’ or ‘don’t shout in this house’ (Ian Tomlinson,2016) Racket feelings are defined by Stewart and Joines as ‘“A familiar emotion, learned and encouraged in childhood, experienced in many different stress situations, and maladaptive as an adult means of problem solving”. (page209)” (Stewart and Joines in Tomlinson, I, 2016)

To try and illustrate what I mean, I’m going to use a fictitious example, to ensure confidentiality, I’ll use myself in this example:

Let's say, someone makes a joke that I don’t find funny, maybe it’s using humour at someone else’s expense. I’m angry but because I’m not sure this will be well received by the person telling me the joke, I decide to laugh along. In this example, my racket feeling is my humour and my authentic feeling is anger.

How do we tell if the feeling is authentic or a racket feeling? Here’s some ways to tell the difference:

  • Racket feelings come from a not ok place

  • Racket feelings involve a discount

  • Racket feelings come from the child ego state

  • Racket feelings don’t solve the problem

Why are racket feelings not helpful? I think the above bullet points are quite useful in working this out. Racket feelings keep us stuck. We are not in our adult ego state when we are experiencing a racket feeling.

According to Folk & Folk (2018) there are two levels of recovery The first is symptomatic relief and the second is about identifying and addressing the underlying factors at the root of anxiety. For some clients symptomatic relief is enough. They don’t want to focus on the past, exploring what might have contributed to them responding to situations in the here and now in a particular way. For others, they do want to do this and this begins to move from Counselling into Psychotherapy.

Heidi Dewitt, a contributor on the mighty says ‘Anxiety presents in lots of ways that may not be obvious. Unfortunately for me, most of the time mine presents as anger’ Heidi goes on to say “What does that mean? It means when I feel anxious on the inside, it manifests itself on the outside as me being pissed off.” (The mighty, 2017)

Unresolved anger is linked to anxiety as the above quotation shows. If as a child you grew up learning that anger was to be hidden or feared you will likely learn to substitute this with another emotion such as anxiety or alternatively, you get anxious because you can’t express your anger.

(NHS website accessed 19/11/18 available at: Accessed 19th November 18 Accessed 18th November 18

( Accessed 19th November 18)



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