We all have thoughts, positive or negative, that trigger strong emotions in us.
For instance, many people have persistent thoughts that trouble them: I am going to die. I may get fired from my job. People are germy. I will never amount to anything.
We also have persistent positive thoughts that lead us to feel happy but can put us at risk: I have it made financially. My health is great. My job is very easy.
My recent troubling thought was that the election of Donald Trump as president would begin the decline of western civilisation, as in the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
To combat that thought, I used a way of thinking called dialectic. It involves thinking the opposite of an emotion-rousing thought.
I thought: The election will lead to benefits for me and others. Then I looked for evidence for my new opposing thought. I found some: Stock markets shot up after the election, adding to my wealth.
Then I turned to a frequent happy thought: I have a job that I enjoy (working as an academic).
An opposite thought is that I will lose my job. I could not find evidence for the opposite thought, but thinking it led me to take action to help make my work valued and marketable.
One action I took was to help ensure that everything goes well with an invitation that I received recently to treat a person for phobia as part of a TV show in early 2017. Universities like academics who do something positive on TV.
So I showed initiative and contacted the proposed client well ahead of time to lay the groundwork for successful treatment.
I asked one of my friends to try opposite thinking with regard to her most troubling thought: That other people find her unpleasant.
The opposite thought was that others found her pleasant. The evidence for the opposite thought: Customers where she works often call her affectionate names, such as "Love," "Doll," and "Gorgeous”. Also, co-workers sometimes are very nice to her.
Finally, her boyfriend spends time with her and shows affection.
There was also evidence that some people, at some times, found her unpleasant. She concluded that the truth lies somewhere in the middle of the two opposites.
The idea for opposite thinking comes from philosophers like Hegel. To philosophers, thinking in opposites can lead to valuable insights involving the integration of opposite ideas.
To psychotherapists, the integration of opposites can help prevent black-and-white thinking such as “I am an idiot” and “My ex is the devil incarnate”. Dialectical behavior therapy aims to foster that integration.
Fiction writers like opposite thinking. Consider Bizarro World of Marvel Comics, where doing something perfect is a capital offense.
Another example: The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. There is someone who could use integration.