Sunday, April 21, 2013

Don't Drink the Poison

Holding onto anger is like taking poison and expecting someone else to die.
We all know anger is an unhealthy emotion to dwell upon, and yet it's not easy to let go of strong, negative feelings toward someone who has harmed us, perhaps in dreadful ways. 

If you have clients who have set appropriate boundaries, held the person accountable, moved on with their lives, and still the anger persists, an imaging technique can be very effective.

Steve Andreas describes one approach in "Resolving Hate," the Case Report on page 6 of the Spring 2013 Milton Erickson Foundation Newsletter. His client "Sally" harbored hatred toward a once-admired man who'd criticized her unmercifully and with whom she no longer felt safe. Andreas asked her to picture someone she'd once hated and still didn't care for or trust, but had been able to let go of her anger, to describe everything she could about that image.
This person was... about 15 feet away from her, faded, foggy, and in muted color... straight ahead of her, down about 30 degrees from the horizon. When I asked her to move the image of the man she hated into this position, and allow it to become faded, foggy, and in muted color, she immediately felt the tension in her chest release, she could breathe easily, and her anger drained away completely.
He then asked her to imagine several scenarios in different locations where she might encounter the man who'd been a problem, and notice her reactions.
These rehearsals both tested her new response, and also programmed it in, so it would be automatic when she encountered him in the real world... About three weeks later, Sally emailed me: "Today I glanced up, saw him, had the thought, 'Ugh, I don't even want to talk to him,' so I looked in the other direction and kept walking. There was a tiny blip of irritation and then I was over it in about four seconds."