November 13, 2006


From Negative Assumptions to Autonomy

My search for a new therapist continues. In the meantime, I've been working on some therapy exercises I got down at the trauma program in Dallas.

It's interesting how synchronicity works. One day in the outpatient program, we discovered that our facilitator would be out. That particular day, we got a variety of fill-in therapists and facilitators for our group. One guy was Jim. I don't even know what his last name is.

Jim taught us something that I found quite illuminating and helpful. It's called "The Racket System." Ever heard of it? I hadn't. And Jim didn't tell us where he learned it.

After doing a little research on the Internet, I found that the Racket System has its roots in TA--the Transactional Analysis model. TA was developed back in the 1950's by Eric Berne, MD of "I'm OK--You're OK" fame.

In 1982, Richard G. Erskine and Marilyn J. Zalcman won the Eric Berne Memorial Scientific Award for their Racket System. You can read more about this at the International Transactional Analysis Association website at

As a child abuse survivor, I find The Racket System helpful because it helps me identify my patterns of behavior based on my belief system--a faulty belief system born out of abuse. The Racket System helps me identify my negative reinforcing patterns of thoughts, feelings and behaviors.

Basically, how I used the Racket System is by drawing myself a little diagram. It starts with a simple line, drawn in horizontally across my paper. The line has three notches in it, one for each heading: "Feelings," "Behaviors," and "Reinforcing Memories." I was asked to start with the "Feelings" category. (I told you they are really big on feelings down at the Ross trauma program.) When I first arrived in Dallas, the major feeling on my plate was "Overwhelmed." So, I wrote this down under the feelings category. I also filled in, "Annoyed," "Resentful," and "Disappointed."

During our group session/lesson, Jim pointed out that we often have feelings that come up again and again, but aren't really the root of what we're truly dealing with. As a society, we've come up with more "polite" terms to use, such as overwhelmed, annoyed, resentful and disappointed. Jim stressed that the real, underlying feeling at play is usually anger, fear or sadness. He also reminded us that the first feeling we have as infants is anger. When we're babies and we're hungry, we are immediately angry. "Whhaaaa!" we wail. "I'm hungry! Feed me now!"

In my case, I am probably more accurately experiencing the feeling of fear when I say I'm overwhelmed. I'm angry when I say I'm annoyed or feeling resentful. And when I say I'm disappointed I may be feeling a mixture of anger and sadness.

Under the next heading, "Behavior," we were asked to look, not at what we always do, but what kind of behavior patterns we tend to exhibit. For my behaviors, I wrote down: depression, isolating, rage outbursts, dissociation, self-injury (I haven't scratched for years, but I've caught myself hitting myself in the head again recently), cruel self-talk, and "wishing I was dead." (I have not been actively suicidal for years, either, but I have to be honest about my bad habit of wishing I was dead.)

I'll get to the third category/heading across the top of my racket system diagram later. Next, I want to explain the sub-category under the "Feelings" heading/section I wrote down. This was a biggie for me. What I wrote down here were my "Beliefs." These are the faulty assumptions we often jump to just before, during or after we indulge in our negative behaviors such as self-harm, negative self-talk, depression, isolation and outbursts of rage and violence.

Under "Beliefs," I was instructed to set up three bullet points for beliefs about: "Self," "Others," and "The World." For beliefs about myself, I wrote, "Unworthy," and "I don't deserve to be happy." For beliefs about others, I wrote, "Abandonment," "My kid doesn't get to be happy either," and "Friends can't be counted on." For my negative beliefs about the world, I wrote, "Nothing works," "People suck," and "Nobody cares."

Good Lord! With beliefs and assumptions like that, no wonder we get depressed!

The thing Jim told us we need to remember here is this: It's all based on lies!

I keep this in mind as I continue with my racket diagram. Even though it's all based on lies, I don't quit here. Knowledge is power, people!

I use my painfully honest list of faulty beliefs to think back in my life to events that I can include under the third main heading over on the right of my page: "Reinforcing Memories." Here, I listed: "My son has colic for seven months," "My son hates school," "My friend's sister commits suicide," "My lay-off," "My failed business," "I didn't get the internship I wanted," "Friends ignored my birthday," and "My 20-year friend decides she doesn't want to be friends anymore." Whew! Can you see how we focus on events in our lives (some would even argue draw situations to us) that reinforce the negative world assumptions and beliefs? It's easy! We do it all the time!

Then, under the main heading of "Behavior" we insert "Body/Somatic Complaints." This may be a good place to look if you're having trouble identifying feelings or even the first category of "Behaviors." Our bodies send us pretty accurate messages all the time, if we will only listen. For my "Body/Somatic" category, I listed: "Tense Muscles," "Migraine Headaches," "IBS," and "Can't Swallow Food."

The last thing we were told to fill in was also underneath the "Behaviors" category, down below "Body/Somatic." This category is called "Fantasies." Jim told us we could include best and worst scenarios for our fantasies. I suppose, under best fantasy, one could write something like, "Prince Charming comes and takes me away on his white horse." I'm not sure about this. What I wrote was simply, "If I'm dead, I can escape this shitty world." Again, this is not how I feel, think or fantasize all the time; this is my best/worst fantasy that fits with what I've already identified as my faulty beliefs in my personal racket system.

I'm sure you can see, as I did, how all this can lead to a negative, unhealthy, yet self-fulfilling prophecy!

Before we get too caught up in our own racket and start feeling even more depressed, let me tell you about what Jim explained next. Here's the good news: This unhealthy racket system can be transformed into our new "Autonomy System." Yay!

You can re-write your Racket System into an Autonomy System using the same type of three-pronged diagram. First, attend to the "Feelings" area. Feel the feelings. Allow yourself to do this. And allow yourself to feel the real, impolite, down-and-dirty feelings of anger, sadness and fear.

Second, stay in the left-hand "Feelings" area and take a good, hard look at your Beliefs and assumptions about yourself, others and the world around you. Spend some time with your list and rewrite the negative beliefs, changing them to Positive Affirmations. The list of affirmations must be written in the present tense, only in positive terms, and must be realistic. (No Prince Charming fantasies here, thank you.) For instance, I rewrote "I don't deserve to be happy" and changed it to, "I am meant for joy." I also wrote the affirmations, "I am worthy" and "I am deserving." (I will include a list of my negative self beliefs-turned-to-positive-affirmations down below.)

Many people don't believe in positive affirmations. I, myself, am giving them a try. If this is difficult for you, remember this great quote I got from one of the therapist facilitators down in Dallas: "Even if you can't believe it yet, say to yourself, 'I choose to acknowledge that it is possible.'"

Next in our new Autonomy System is "Behaviors." Let's change these negative behaviors that keep us stuck! Here are the behavior changes I have listed for myself:

Last, but not least, is the "Reinforcing Memory" category. You can search your memory to find positive experiences to focus on and reinforce positive beliefs and behaviors. On my list, I mentioned that my wonderful husband found a way to get yellow roses to the hospital on New Year's day when our son was born. (Guess what? I was assertive and I made sure I asked for this! Instead of expecting mind reading, I asked for what I wanted and my husband delivered--even on New Year's Day.) Recent "reinforcers" I listed were: "My husband has cake and flowers waiting for me upon my return from Dallas;" (I told him that I was anxious about returning from the trauma program and would need some special pampering and love.) "My husband has the house cleaned for me when I returned from Dallas;" and "I reached out at church and got positive feedback and hugs."

I really like this kind of soul-searching and empowering transformation. For me, it truly describes autonomy. It continues to place the responsibility for my recovery and healing on me. But, it also gives me the power to do just that!

Below is my list of negative self-beliefs turned into positive affirmations. I told my therapist down in Dallas that I was really resisting doing this exercise. I can be extremely mean and nasty in my negative self-talk. I was afraid that writing it down would "set it in stone" and make it too real. So, what I did is I wrote the negatives one-by-one on one side of a notebook. I immediately went to the facing page and wrote down its opposite, the positive affirmation. When I was done with the list, I drew a huge "X" through the negative side. I also pulled this page out of the notebook and intended to throw it away; I haven't done that yet.

I think it is a good idea. I have done something similar myself. The list seems bad, but the positive that you wrote with it is so wonderful. Now believing it is the key because you really deserve all the happiness in the world. (((Marj))) I hope you find a T soon.
I know, Mysti, it was hard for me to be this honest. But, turning the negatives into positives and then finding reinforcing memories (experiences) to back it up is quite powerful. Thanks for your kind words! ((((Mysti))))
This is a great post. I completely agree with your process; I'm on a very similar one. Of course, it takes a lot more work than I ever expected. I'll be curious to follow your story, and I feel better that I'm not the only one!
My comments keep disappearing....anyway, i think this is a great post. And its good to know that I'm not alone in this path!
(((Marj))) what an enormous amount of work you have done. just think you are still doing hard work, all will looking for a therapist...hhmmm
It is time to put away the polietness and get to those deep true feeling to get through them so that beautiful list you wrote, the one that is truly you will be what is left..especially when you are ready to let go of the wrong distorted view on the other page...the one only you can see, we only see the other, the real you, your hardest work is to see it to as real, not lip service real, but heart felt real..then you win. you take there power and it is gone, you prove once and for all that you are no longer their victim, but the powerful, strong, beautiful survivor that you are...that we already see so clearly...take care my friend..remember I, we, are always here for you...m
I think the most helpful program I've ever done is the Ross program in Michigan. I also did it in Dallas several years ago but around 2000 (???) I was in Michigan's program. That is a wonderful place. I think I did more work in 2 weeks than I'd done in the previous 5 years. Wonderful program. It looks like you came back with a wealth of info. It's good that you're journaling it while it's still fresh in your mind so you can have it to see when ever you need to.
Karma: Looks like both your comments showed up. Blogger is mysterious, at best.

*links arms with Karma on the path* ;)

Madd: You have such a nice ability to make me feel all warm and fuzzy. Thanks!

Austin: I'm glad you also found the Ross program helpful. Did you get to meet the man himself? What did you think of him?
Marj, this is a very cool and interesting post. It coincides with what I am working on in my life at the moment. One of the things anyway. I would like to use your post in a part of a post that you have inspired me to write... if you dont mind of course. You know Im good for it!! LOL
I think you should keep the negative list. You can add to it as needed, and then when you are all on the right page and believing the POSITIVES (the stuff we already believe about it), then do some kind of ceremony to kill the negative beliefs. Burn it. No, thats too easy. Obliterate it. (Is that a word? Its late, yanno...)
Anyway, I wanted you to know that I have been thinking about you, and all of my online survivor sisters and brothers, even though everything is so busy lately.
Lisa: *waves* Hi! So glad to "see" you again. Thanks for stopping by. I really like your idea about destroying the "negatives" list--excellent! And you may feel most free to use any or all of this post's info. I'm honored, as usual! :)

What a wonderful post! And what an empowering exercise.

Another one I love to suggest to people is to write a list of every success you have ever had in your life, every challenge you have successfully mastered or overcome. And make a list of the things you like about yourself.

These are not things most of us were encouraged to do but they can serve as a powerful antidote to all the lies.

I'm so glad you shared your experience.
April: I appreciate your comments, as usual! :) Along the lines of listing what I like about myself, I wrote a letter to my self that I may post soon. It was quite uplifting and empowering!
your story broke my heart, to be betrayed like that by those that should have been Protecting you. None of it was your fault, it was totally his fault, and the fault of your so-called mother to allow it to continue (and even to facilitate it, it seems).
Is the pathetic sorry excuse for your father still alive? If he is, can you/have you brought charges against him? He deserves to be in prision for the rest of his life, and for the whole wolrd to know what he did. In no way is he a father; he's a sadistic, pathetic predator, not a human being; especially to threaten to kill you or your sister if you don't watch each other being raped by him. I hope you do consider pressing charges, even if the statute of limitations has passed; he will still be outed for the diseased monster he is. He is not even worth spitting on. You are a survivor of evil, as well as your sister.

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