There is an exercise you can do which is an incredibly powerful tool to dispose of lingering angry feelings towards someone’s behaviour or to release words when we have not been able fully to articulate our anger at the time. It might apply to a difficult client, a colleague, a manager or someone closer to home. The exercise is based on an approach originally published by a Dr Mahfouz in 2008.
If we have felt strong anger towards something which someone has done or said, and we were unable to express it, for whatever reason, an open ‘angry file’ is created in our minds. This is done on purpose by our brains to protect us from what the brain perceives as a dangerous enemy. Anger is a very necessary emotion in order to protect ourselves, and it is a positive emotion when used efficiently and assertively.
When an angry file has opened, however, it needs to be closed down after its useful shelf life has expired. Otherwise it lingers and can create background stress. It can affect our ability to concentrate on our work and feel good around our peers. This exercise allows us to close the file after its ‘use by’ date has passed, so the file can take its rightful place in the past (and stay there – where it belongs).
So, here goes (you might want to write it down first, but you don’t have to):
- Prepare for the exercise by relaxing physically. This will also calm the mind. Diaphragmatic breathing or progressive muscle relaxation would be a good place to start.
- In your mind (armed with all the strength and resilience you can summon), re-experience the time you felt angry but did not express it. There might be all kinds of reasons you did not express it, including disbelief, shock or office protocols. Or it might be that you just could not find the words at the time because of the strength of emotion or that you simply didn’t have the skills to fully articulate how you felt.
- In your mind, calmly and firmly call the person to order and express your anger at his or her behaviour or words as fully as possible. Express everything – no holds barred. Take as long as you need to do this. Because this is all being done in your mind, there are no difficulties. You are in complete control of the situation; it is all in the safety and privacy of your mind. There is no need for criticism of the person, contempt or name calling. Just give it to them as it was – the plain facts about how that behaviour or those words affected you. Remember that you did not deserve to be treated in that way, and say so. Give the person’s behaviour or words a robust, firm and dignified dressing-down.
- Imagine the person in front of you, actively listening to you and possibly trying to defend what he or she said or did. Your job, in your mind, is to blow their defences deftly out of the water and bring the person back to how those words or behaviour affected you. This is about you, not the other person. You have an unconditional right to insist on this.
- When you have fully articulated everything in your mind, when the person’s excuses have been disposed of and when (and only when) you feel that you have truly defeated the totality of the rightful object of your anger (that behaviour and those words), you can leave the scene.
- As soon as you have fully expressed those angry feelings, the brain will recognise that you have vanquished the enemy and it will close the file. Job done. Congratulations.