I first learnt about paradoxical intention from my own experience. I was constantly trying to suppress and block out my thoughts but whatever we want the mind to do, it usually does the opposite. This is why using paradoxical intention can work wonders.
Quite recently, I read a few books on this topic and I’m very grateful that the authors are advocating it because this approach really did help me.
What we normally do when we have an unpleasant thought or feeling
If you are anything like I was, you constantly try to block out each and every thought that disturbs you. Maybe you freeze with indecision about what to do with certain thoughts. Even more so with a feeling because they are lot more intenser than thoughts.
Our natural urge is conflict. It’s in our nature to fight against anything unpleasant. We are wired to avoid anything uncomfortable. When a feeling and/or a thought arises, it cannot be there. It is so not acceptable. We shouldn’t be feeling or thinking this way. They have to go!!!
What usually happens when we struggle against our inner state? Does it calm us down and relieve our suffering? Of course it doesn’t, it just makes us suffer more.
This is when I had a wake up call. If trying to fight off my inner state wasn’t working, then surely I had to give up trying? That’s exactly what I did.
A lot of the time, this can work well in the external world because we can get ourselves out of situations that we perceive to be unpleasant – not desirable.
What we normally do is take this some approach and use it to deal with our internal world of thoughts and feelings. This is the big mistake we make. This is what intensifies are psychological suffering.
How the paradoxical intention method works
If what we normally to is to tense up and resist anxious thoughts and sensations, the paradoxical intention method is to do just the opposite.
After all, if we’ve repeated the same approach again and again without experiencing any sign of transcendence, then it’s probably time we try out a new approach.
This might seem scary and a little unnatural at first, this is a good thing. It means you are trying out a new approach. Anything in life we try for the first few times feels alien and uncomfortable. Don’t be put off by this because it will feel natural and right in time.
So, the next time an unpleasant feeling or thought comes into your consciousness, I want you to say yes to it. No longer make any attempt to run away from it. When we run from our thoughts or feelings, they chase us.
Changing “I shouldn’t” to “I should”
One of the things which really helped me to deal with anxious thoughts and feelings was to change my attitude towards them. For so long I would convince myself that feeling and thinking this way was completely unacceptable.
I would get angry and frustrated and tell myself that “I shouldn’t be thinking or feeling this way.”
In reality, all this did was make me more worked up and tense. The problem with telling ourselves this is it creates inner conflict and further suffering. In order to fully transcend our suffering, we have change our relationship towards our inner state.
It’s natural to not want to have these anxious thoughts and feelings, but what good does it do when we resist them? It does no good because what we resist, we strengthen. Resistance breeds more suffering.
The way to transcend the anxious energy into a healing one is to become internally aligned with the anxiety and fear. Lean into it, no longer panic over it.
You don’t have to struggle anymore. You won’t get worse by trying to make it worse. By trying to make it worse, you take away it’s power. This is why it’s called paradoxical intention. The power was never in the anxiety, it was in how we were responding to it.
Are you crazy!? No way am I asking for more
I know it seems bizarre wanting to experience more anxiety but this is how you transcend the fear. You can’t expect to dissolve the anxiety if you are not allowing yourself to fully feel your anxiety.
Instead of trying to not think of the anxious thoughts, try and think more. Instead of trying to suppress and resist the feelings, embrace them. You can do this by saying “yes” internally.
If our heart is racing, Barry Mcdonagh, author of DARE, says we should say this to ourselves: “Okay anxiety, that’s good but can you make my heart pound even faster?
If we are reacting with fear to the thoughts which are swimming around in our minds, we can say: “Can’t you make them more intense anxiety? Aren’t there any scarier ones, I’m bored with these ones?”
This approach will give off the impression that you are not scared of your thoughts. Fearing them, running away from them and trying to fight them off just gives off the impression that these thoughts are threatening.
However, when we use paradoxical intention, we can shatter that illusion of fear. By deliberately trying to experience more anxiety, we feel less anxious. What causes us more anxiety is in our resistance and fear of the anxious thoughts and sensations, which is why we need to internally accept them and then invite more in.
By changing our relationship with the anxiety, we are sending a clear message to our subconscious that these thoughts and feelings are not dangerous. We are telling our brain that they are aloud to be there, they are not a problem.
If you feel an energetic shift in your body, that’s a good thing. When the brain gets the message that you’re not in any danger, it activates the relaxation response. Using paradoxical intention helps to activate this response, at least it did for me.
This will feel scary at first because you’ll be unsure if this approach can really work. What you have to understand is that you are creating the fear by fearing the anxiety/panic. It’s job is to keep you safe. It’s not out to harm you. The reason you feel more anxious when you fear it is because it’s getting the message that you’re in danger. So it activates more anxiety to keep you safe.
Once you stop fearing it by trying to make it worse, you switch off the fear response because it’s getting the picture that you aren’t scared.
The good thing about paradoxical intention is that you can apply it to any emotional state. Not just for anxiety. It’s the fear and resistance to a particular emotional state that breeds more suffering.
When you go with it, when you allow it to manifest in whatever way it wants then you transcend the suffering. The emotion will still play out, but you won’t be creating unnecessary suffering through resistance.
Keep practicing this approach because it will make a big difference. Be patient and persevere.
Until next time.