Understanding Paradoxical Intention (With Examples)

Last Update on December 19, 2022 : Published on December 19, 2022
Paradoxical Intention

Have you ever been in a situation where an obsessive thought decides to trouble you and all that you tell yourself is, “stop thinking about it”? But has it ever worked? Have you ever stopped thinking about something after repeatedly telling yourself not to think about it?

Whenever I’ve tried to do it, it has never worked. I end up overthinking which makes it even worse. Paradoxical intentions can come in very handy in such situations. Many therapists use paradoxical intention techniques to help individuals suffering from various mental health conditions like insomnia, stress, anxiety, depression, etc.

Today we will understand how you can use paradoxical intentions to fight those obsessive thoughts that stop you from achieving your goals. Let’s address that elephant in the room, what are paradoxical intentions and how can we use them?

Paradoxical Intention: Definition


Paradoxical intentions are a type of cognitive technique used by various psychotherapists to help their patients handle their fears or negative obsessive thoughts. Paradox means the opposite of something that is happening or when you completely contradict something.

Paradoxical intentions are those intentions that are opposite to your obsessive thoughts. Viktor Frankl came up with the concept of paradoxical intentions and believed that ignoring your obsessive thoughts makes you think about them even more.

Therefore, it is best to face that obsessive thought rather than run away from them. But you don’t have to face those obsessive thoughts, just accept them, you have to trick your brain into believing the opposite.  Once you get a hang of this cognitive technique of paradoxical intentions, you’ll soon see the magic happen.

For example, your obsessive thoughts tell you that you’re going to fail the test tomorrow. Instead of ignoring this thought, you tell yourself the complete opposite. You tell yourself; you’re going to fail with distinction. This change in thought will eliminate stress and help you focus on studying rather than overthinking your fear.

Understanding Paradoxical Intention In Therapy


The big question here is how these paradoxical intentions work in therapy. Well, therapists use this cognitive technique as an intervention rather than a treatment. When we separate both the words, the paradox is the ‘opposite’ of something and intentions are your ‘idea’ or ‘willingness’ or ‘plan’ to do something.

Therefore, this technique requires you to state the opposite of your fears, obsessive or negative thoughts, and be willing to commit to that. Paradoxical intentions are techniques that are used to help an individual engage with their fear or negative thoughts in such a way that their belief in them reduces and the belief in the opposite thought increases.

Paradoxical intentions are used for various mental health conditions like sleep disorders, anxiety disorders, stress, trauma, etc. Most of the symptoms of these disorders are governed by obsessive thoughts and paradoxical intentions reduce the effect of these obsessive thoughts.

For example, you have insomnia, and you are preoccupied by the thought that you won’t get any sleep tonight. That’s the time you use the paradoxical intention technique, tell yourself, “Tonight I will fall asleep with my eyes open and might shut.”

It might take some time and practice but if you are consistent with this technique, you’ll see how helpful it is.

Paradoxical Intention: Examples


Our mind is very notorious! It always does the thing we don’t have to do. For example, if someone tells you to not open a certain door, your mind will constantly try to convince you to open that door.

When an obsessive thought comes to your mind and you tell yourself to not think about it, your mind being notorious will constantly try to remind you of that thought. When you use paradoxical intentions, you never tell your mind to not do something and therefore it doesn’t take it as a challenge to do something that you’ve asked not to do.

Let’s look at some examples of paradoxical intentions.

  • You’ve just learned driving but you have this irritation and fear that you’ll not hit the brakes when needed. This fear often stops you from driving. Instead of thinking, “don’t think about not being able to hit the brakes”, tell yourself, “I will stop the car even if I’m in the middle of a highway”.
  • You have a very important presentation next week. You’re afraid you won’t be able to explain your point of view clearly and that’s why you’ve been postponing the presentation. The obsessive thought of failing will come to you, don’t tell yourself to ignore the thought. Instead, tell yourself, “I will speak my heart and explain by perspective even if I speak gibberish”

With paradoxical intentions, you’re basically tricking your brain and diverting its attention to the paradox and not to your feelings of fear. It can be very helpful in dealing with negative thoughts that come in the way of your success.

That’s All Folks!

I hope you found this blog about paradoxical intentions helpful, interesting, and thought-provoking. Do share this blog with your friends and family so that we all know how to tackle obsessive thought and beat our notorious brain at its own game.

Thanks for reading.

Take care and stay safe.

About The Author

Kirti Bhati
Kirti Bhati

I am an English literature (major) and psychology (minor) graduate from St. Bede’s College, Shimla. Postgraduate in Clinical psychology from IIS University, Jaipur. She has published a Research paper on Music therapy in the military population and Workplace stress in a national seminar conducted by Fortis hospital (gurugram) and international seminar conducted by St. Bede’s College, Shimla, Respectively. Authored a dissertation work on ‘effect of social media addiction on the mental and physical well-being in adolescents’ Currently working at calm sage as a writer.

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