When we were little and our parents forbade us something, that thing immediately became more attractive. It was enough that something was forbidden for our mind to start inventing a thousand possible ways to break the rule, preferably without being caught red-handed.
Reverse psychology follows this logic in a certain way. It is a set of apparently contradictory techniques that give us positive results. In fact, they can easily be applied to everyday life.
Treating depression by trying to feel worse?
About 20 years ago, clinical psychologist Randy J. Paterson realized he wasn't making much progress with his patient group. It was a group of people who had been hospitalized due to severe depression. His mission was to relieve symptoms and keep them safe, avoiding the appearance of suicidal ideas.
The problem was obvious: Paterson could not eliminate the group's pessimism. Many of those people had already undergone therapy and hadn't made much progress, why would it be any different this time?
Indeed, these patients, like many who come to the psychologist's office, were skeptical. They didn't think they could be happy or feel better or that therapy would work. Then Paterson had a brilliant idea: What would happen if he asked them to feel worse? Patient response was immediate. Interestingly, they got involved in the treatment and were able to carry on.
From that point on, reverse psychology became an alternative to Positive Psychology and the obsession with happiness that seems to have taken over our culture. The message is simple: If you want to be happier, focus on what makes you unhappy.
The pressure to be happy makes us unhappy
According to Paterson, seeking happiness can be exhausting for many people. Also, in certain circumstances, such as when we are experiencing a difficult period in our life, it is simply something unnatural. It is also difficult for people whose mere prospect of change terrifies them enough to prevent them from moving forward.
In fact, several studies conducted subsequently support his idea. An experiment conducted at the University of Denver, for example, found that the more people valued happiness, the less happy they were. These psychologists believe that the apparent paradox has a logical explanation: overemphasizing happiness can make us feel particularly disappointed when we are not happy.
Another experiment conducted at the University of New South Wales showed that the obsessive pursuit of happiness, coupled with the social pressure to be happy and avoid negative feelings, actually generates maladaptive behaviors and leads us to experience more negative emotions.
A supplementary study conducted at the University of Toronto revealed that when we aim to be happy at all costs, we have the perception that time flies, which increases the chances of feeling overwhelmed. The obsessive pursuit of happiness upsets our perception of time.
In short, obsessing over happiness can make us more unhappy. According to reverse psychology, we may be happier if we go in the opposite direction; that is, we focus on our bad habits and what makes us feel bad, a counterintuitive strategy that can yield good long-term results.
How can you be happy by focusing on what makes you unhappy?
Reverse psychology frees us from the pressure generated by the pursuit of happiness. This makes us lower our mental barriers and we can see more clearly all those habits and things that make us feel worse. Namely, we managed to remove the blindfold and stop self-deception.
Indeed, one of the main obstacles to growth is precisely the fact that we do not realize the beliefs, attitudes, thoughts and patterns of behavior that make us most unhappy. We are simply falling into it, as if we were slipping little by little into a tunnel. Trying to amplify these signals will allow us to take note of our inner dialogue.
In fact, if we realize that if we want to feel bad we must simply throw ourselves on the bed without doing anything, we can also think that to feel better we must do exactly the opposite: leave the house. It is a natural change of perspective, not forced, which offers us different alternative behaviors.
Reverse psychology helps us understand that we are not as unhappy and / or wretched as we thought. Realizing this can make us stronger and can also give us hope that everything will be better tomorrow.
Obviously, reverse psychology is not for everyone - it has its drawbacks - but it works very well when we feel paralyzed and distressed as it serves to unlock our inner resources by removing the barriers we have built ourselves. This change of perspective removes the tension, helping us to regain the lost balance.