Often people are told to “just let go” of hate, anger or resentment. (This implies that hate is a physical “thing” that can be held onto, rather than a feeling. Usually what is being “held onto” is not the feeling, but the image, sound or voice that elicits the feeling.) However useful that advice might be, it doesn’t tell the person how to do it, leaving them no better off. Often the net result of this kind of advice is additional annoyance, leaving them with the same anger they started with, plus a new additional layer of self-criticism for not being able to “just let go” of it.

A couple of months ago I asked readers of my blog to contact me if they experienced hate, so I could talk to them as a kind of pilot study to learn more about it. I talked to several people, and I also worked with two of them, to find out if it would be possible to come to some kind of resolution. I primarily used a method called “mapping across” with submodalities (the smaller elements within the five sensory modalities), which is a fundamental and widely useful method developed by Richard Bandler many years ago.

I have found many interesting and useful applications of this method, and I’d like to share the initial results of this exploration with you. In this process, you first discover how a person’s images of a problem experience are different from an appropriate resource experience. Then you keep the content of the problem experience the same, but transform the way it is represented into the qualities of the resource experience. Our Grief, Shame, and Forgiveness processes all use this mapping across as a fundamental aspect of the intervention — supported by other key steps that are unique for each different issue — which we modeled from people who had successfully resolved each issue.

The first person I worked with, “Fred,” (not his real name) a 46-year-old man, told me that he has “had issues with anger for as long as I can remember,” particularly when he felt let down, or mistrusted. He said he had always hated someone, “hopping from one person to another,” resulting in a “whole chain of people” with whom he hadn’t reached any resolution, and (half-joking) “It seems like I’m not happy unless I’m angry at someone.” He said he often criticized people in order to improve what they did, rather than allow them to discover how they could do better. This often resulted in his feeling angry, and people often told him he was overreacting.

Currently he hated an ex-employee (“Sam”) whom he had trained for years, but who had quit about a year previously, and with whom he had had no significant interaction with since then. When I asked him how much time he spent hating Sam, he said that whenever he criticized himself, he did it using Sam’s voice tone, and since he criticized himself a lot, he thought of Sam almost all the time. Whenever he thought of Sam, he felt strong feelings of anger, “like heartburn” in his upper chest.

I asked him to compare how he thought of Sam, with the way he thought of someone whom he had previously hated (“Bill”) but now had no troubling feelings about. He saw Sam’s face huge, and with a very loud voice, about arm’s length up and to his right, in the general area of where he visualized his future, and he said, “It’s almost like a block.” His image of Bill was quite different—straight in front of him, much smaller, about 10 feet away, whole body in a larger context, without any sound. Sam’s face was a dim blurry outline, while the image of Bill was a sort of greenish sepia hue.

If Fred represents the image of Sam in the way he represents Bill, his feelings will change accordingly. So I asked him to take the image of Sam, and let it recede until it was 10 feet away, and have the image get smaller, yet at the same time include Sam’s whole body and see it in a context, let the sound fade away, and then allow it to slide over to the center where his image of Bill was located.

At first he had difficulty, because his feeling of hatred “kept pulling the picture back to the right.” Since I thought it likely that his feelings resulted primarily from the loud critical voice, I asked him if he had allowed the sound to go down to zero. It turned out that he had forgotten to do that, probably because I gave the instructions too fast. After he allowed the sound to decrease, it was easy for him to slide the image over to center and down.* When he did that, his feelings immediately dropped to a 6 or 7 on a scale of 10, and then continued to decrease. (Feelings often have more duration than sounds or images, so if a feeling is strong, it sometimes takes a while for it to decrease after the stimulus for the feeling is changed.)

A little later, Fred said that his feelings were down to a 1, and he was smiling and grinning. Then he said, “I’ve been blinded by the present, not able to see the future. Now that the face is out of the way, I can see my future.” He said a little ruefully, “There’s not much there, but I can see it now, and I can start filling it in.” A little later he said, in a low and thoughtful voice, “There are a lot of people I need to apologize to.” I wanted to be sure that he wasn’t going to start criticizing himself, so I verified that he was only feeling a soft sadness for having so often gotten angry at others inappropriately, and that he simply wanted to make amends.

I suggested that he think of a time when he might get angry in the future, and to be sure that he could also see the rest of his future, to give him a longer time perspective on the current annoyance.

In summary, the large and loud face of whatever person Fred was currently angry at had kept him from seeing his future. Since it occupied so much of his attention, his response was out of proportion to the situation. This is an example of Daniel Kahneman’s principle “What you see is all there is,” (WYSIATI) in his exceptional book, Thinking Fast and Slow. Now that Fred can see his future, he has a much larger scope of experience, so his response to frustration or difficulty will be much more balanced and appropriate.

*Later I found out that he had added a piece to the transition. As he slid the image over to center and down, he slid it down into a kind of “mud pool” and out of sight. This is not something that I would ask someone to do, because there may be some good information that would be lost by disappearing it completely. Usually it is much better to change a representation than it is to eliminate it altogether. As Milton Erickson said, “Your task is that of altering, not abolishing.” However, it seems to work for Fred (see below.)

Follow-up: A couple of weeks later, Fred emailed me as follows:

“My apologies for not getting back to you sooner. I found our conversation very useful, in that I got to recognize the significance of the imagery in what I’d always presumed to be a wholly auditory issue. The level of anger I experienced before our call was greatly reduced for several days after, which gave me a chance to work on why I had kept returning to the same thought pattern that disturbed me before. I’ve since discovered that the anger/hate is tied to the poor relationship I had with my father. Each time I faded/moved the image of the person ‘presently annoying me’ there would be a vague image/sensation of my father in the distance which I hadn’t noticed before. It seemed to be ‘mirrored’ as if I were looking in a mirror, but seeing my father instead of myself, and I took that to mean that I was behaving like him!

(This is a nice example of how one change can sometimes reveal other aspects of a problem that need to be further addressed. Peter was able to take this next step of examining his image of his father as if mirrored.)

“I hadn’t been able to resolve the issues with my father regards the anger/hate, as I seemed to have some memory ‘black spots’ from childhood. I’ve been recently using EMDR (A kind of eye movement work that is similar to the NLP EMI method), which for me has revealed much from these ‘black spots’ and I’m feeling much calmer about things in general.

“I continue to use the method you taught me for a variety of stuff and find it greatly useful in reducing stress related to insignificant incidents that I used to blow out of proportion. Now when I sink these people into the mud I add a little steam coming off them, and watch the steam dissipate into the air! It works really well. :-) Thank you for showing me this.”

The second person I worked with, “Sally,” hated a man she had once admired, but who turned out to hate women, and who had repeatedly accused her and criticized her in front of others. She came to realize that she couldn’t trust him, felt that she couldn’t defend herself, and felt unsafe around him. They both live in the same small town, and though she tried to avoid him, there were inevitably times when their paths crossed. Whenever she saw him, she felt tightness in her chest, and intense anger and disgust — so intense that she was “almost on the verge of tears.”

I asked her to think of someone she had hated in the past, but now felt OK about; she no longer hated him. Then I asked her to see her image of that person and her image of the man she still hated at the same time, and compare them and notice the differences.

Her image of the man she hated was straight in front of her, about 2 or 3 feet away. The image was of his upper torso and face, “big, clear, and in vivid color.”

Her image of the person she had hated in the past, was about 15 feet away, about 20 degrees to her left, full body, “faded, foggy, in muted color.” There was no sound with either image, but she felt that the image of the man she hated “held a quiet menacing anger.”

If you compare Sally’s images with Fred’s, you can notice that there are interesting similarities. Both representations of a hated person are close and large, and include only face and upper torso. Both representations of the person no longer hated are much farther away, full body, and in a larger context. But there are also many individual differences in location, focus, color, etc.

Then I did the same kind of transformation that I did with Fred. I asked her to take the image of the man she hated, allow it to move to 15 feet away, become faded, foggy, and in muted color, and then shift to the side until it was about 20 degrees to her left. When I asked her how she felt with this image moved to this new position, she said it was somewhat better, but her feelings of anger “dragged along with the image,” a strong indication that this was not an appropriate change for her. I thought there might be something about her resource experience that didn’t quite fit, and that probably if I had stopped here, or insisted that she continue, it would not have been good for her.

So I gathered information, asking her about the person whom she had once felt anger toward, but now felt OK about. “What was it about that person that allowed you to let go of your anger?” She said that she had come to care for him and trust him. I said, “It certainly wouldn’t be appropriate to care for and trust the man you still hate, would it?” to which she heartily agreed. This told me that we needed to find a somewhat different resource experience, someone whom she had forgiven, but still didn’t care for or trust. (For more about this kind of selection, read, “Selecting a Resource to Anchor.”)

“Think of someone you once hated, but you were able to let go of your anger, and you still don’t care for him or trust him.” When she paused thoughtfully for a while, I said half-joking, “Surely there must have been at least one or two of those.” She laughingly agreed, and thought of someone. When I asked her about her image of this person, she said it was again about 15 feet away from her, and also faded, foggy, and in muted color, but the location was straight ahead of her, down about 30 degrees from horizontal.

When I asked her to move the image of the man she still hated into this position, and allow it to become faded, foggy, with muted color, she immediately felt the tension in her chest release, she could breathe easily, and her anger drained away completely.

When I asked her to imagine seeing him in some likely place in her small town, she said, “My internal reaction is like, ‘Whatever; he’s over there; it’s OK.’ I don’t want to have anything to do with him, but I don’t have that reaction I used to have. This sure feels better.”

Although the change seemed complete, I asked her to imagine several other scenarios in different locations in her small town where she might encounter him, and simply notice her reaction. These rehearsals tested her new response, and also programmed it in, so that it would be automatic when she encountered him in the real world. She had no significant emotional reaction to any of these rehearsals, so I asked her to send me an email in a week or two with a brief follow-up report, and to contact me again after she had actually seen the man she had hated.

A couple of weeks later I emailed her to ask for feedback. In response, she wrote:

“I haven’t run into him yet, but a few days after our work I had the thought of going to an event that I thought he might be at, just to see how I felt! But I didn’t go (it was a funeral, not the most fun place to test this type of thing). I feel more comfortable about the idea of running into him though. It is already a big difference for me to think about seeking him out vs. not going to places in order to avoid him. Next month I will be taking an evening class at the gym and he will probably be working out, so I will get to test it out then!”

About 3 weeks later Sally emailed me again:

“I saw him today! It used to be that if I saw him from a distance I would get a sudden adrenaline rush, followed with the type of anger where you can’t think straight, and then I would ruminate about it for 10 or 15 minutes. 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 4 seconds and I didn’t even think about it again until now when I thought about emailing you. That’s fantastic! Thank you. :)”

These were nice sessions, and went considerably beyond my original plan of just gathering information about hate. However, the people I talked to had already recognized the difficulties of hating, or had already had experienced transforming hate into forgiveness or acceptance (as I requested in my previous blog post) so that meant they were already willing to go further.

I would like to learn more about extreme hate from someone who is quite satisfied with hating. Since someone who is a skinhead, or in the KKK, is not likely to subscribe to my blog, if you happen to know of someone who is quite satisfied with hating, please invite them to contact me at andreas {at} qwest.net (replace the “{at}” with a real “@” symbol–writing the email this way is just to prevent spambots from harvesting my email address). Please do this on an individual basis — I’m not sending this request to any organized group. My agreement with them would be simply to learn how they do what they do, and not attempt to change it.