You know the feeling. You have to step up and present in front of people, and suddenly you break out in a sweat and start stuttering. Or perhaps you’re afraid you’ll mess up and become so paralyzed that you can’t even take a step. Maybe you’re trying to satisfy your partner, but you’ve already given up because it seems impossible. Or maybe you’re stressed about what the future might hold and find it hard to enjoy the present moment when that situation arrives. Or maybe you have a phobia about something?
We don’t have to be great neurotics for these things to happen to us. Believe me, I’ve been there too. The technique I’m about to introduce can help with everyday issues. Although this technique may not work for those suffering from existential vacuum, it is effective in overcoming other phobias and fears. These things can’t always be overcome with simple philosophical understanding like, ‘I know, I have nothing to be afraid of. Everything is fine. The spider is small and won’t hurt me, etc.’ Sometimes, certain expressions of fear or stress worsen and ‘keep us up at night.’ The good news is that we can defeat them by using this logotherapeutic technique. It’s called paradoxical intention or paradoxical resolution. Although this therapy is short-term, it can help in the long run, which contradicts what Freudian psychology falsely claims (Emil A. Gutheil). The effectiveness of this technique works regardless of the origin of the disease (Edith Weisskopf-Joelson). It also helps with obsessive-compulsive disorders (obsessive thoughts, repeating a certain type of behavior, for example, checking if the door is locked 100 times)
All such fears of what may or may not happen are called anticipatory anxiety in logotherapy (psychology dealing with the meaning of life). Desire is the father of the thought and fear is the mother of the feared anxiety. Fear really attracts what a person is afraid of. This is hyperreflexia. Viktor Frankl, the founder of logotherapy, provides several examples from practice where people have overcome their anxiety or fear using the technique of paradoxical intention. Finally, I will explain why this is the case.
There was a certain doctor who had a fear of sweating excessively if he had to speak in front of others. This fear troubled him for four years. After a single session, he was able to overcome this anxiety by telling himself, “Before, I only sweated a liter, but now I have to sweat at least 10 liters!” Or the story of an accountant who came to Dr. Eva Kozderova at the end of his rope with thoughts of suicide. He suffered from a writer’s cramp and his handwriting was unreadable. Nowadays, you might think this is not a big deal, but a few decades ago, writing helped him earn his daily bread. The doctor advised him to consciously try to scribble. His way of thinking changed, and the next day he began with the thought, “Now I will show people how I can scribble!” He couldn’t do it. He was cured within 48 hours. Another colleague of Frankl’s from the laryngology department of the Vienna hospital had the most severe case of stuttering he had ever encountered. The adult man had never stopped stuttering all his life, except for one exception. When he was 12 years old, he was riding a tram without a ticket. And what happened? Oops! The inspector! He was so shocked that he wanted to at least evoke sympathy from the inspector and show himself as a poor stuttering boy to avoid getting fined. And what? He couldn’t do it. That’s when he used paradoxical intention.
The other pole of hyperreflexia is hypertension. It is an exaggerated desire to fulfill a certain wish. The wish that a person forcefully desires makes it impossible to fulfill it. A typical example is the fear of insomnia, where a person focuses so much on wanting to fall asleep that they cannot do so. According to the paradoxical intention technique, the person should try to stay awake as much as possible and free themselves from the given thought. Similarly, it is the case with sexual neurosis disorders. The more a man tries to express his sexual potency or a woman tries to achieve an orgasm, the less able they are to succeed. Pleasure should be a side effect, not the goal itself. The goal should be sincere dedication and surrender to the partner.
The paradoxical intention method consists of reversing the patient’s attitude because it replaces fear with paradoxical desire. Anxiety is reduced when thinking in this way. This ability is unique to humans. It is about detaching oneself from oneself, which is encompassed in the sense of humor. Gordon W. Allport’s statement is fitting: “The neurotic who learns to laugh at himself is on the way to mastering himself and perhaps to his own cure.”
If a person constantly thinks about what might happen in fear, they give power to these thoughts to harm them, which creates a feedback loop and strengthens the syndrome. When a patient stops fighting their persistent thoughts and instead ridicules them with irony (by applying paradoxical intention), the vicious circle is broken, the symptom weakens, and recedes into the background.
Try using paradoxical intention today, tomorrow, or the next time you encounter a situation that worries you. Let us know in the comments how you overcame it.