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 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 civilization, 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: The U.S. stock market shot up after the election, adding to my wealth.
Then I went on to a 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 ensure that everything goes well with an invitation that I received recently to treat a person for phobia as part of a TV show. 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. Her troubling thought, after a rough week at work, was she was thoroughly incompetent. The opposite thought was that she was thoroughly good at her job. I asked her for evidence on both sides. She mentioned poor performance at cleaning up a mess. She also mentioned very positive comments from customers throughout her shift. She decided that the truth was in the middle and that she would complete the cleaning task more quickly with a better method in the future.
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.