This was yesterday’s paradoxical tip of the day!
If you defend yourself against a criticism that appears to be totally false and unfair, you will prove that the criticism is absolutely valid. In contrast, if you genuinely agree with a criticism that is totally false and unfair, the moment you agree with it, it will no longer be true, and the critic will no longer believe it!
This is called the Law of Opposites. What does it mean? If you grasp it, it can change your life!
Yesterday’s tip is called the Law of Opposites, and it’s the philosophical underpinning of the Disarming Technique. The Disarming Technique is one of the most important of my Five Secrets of Effective Communication. Do you know what it is?
Here’s the definition of the Disarming Technique: You find truth in a criticism, even if you think the criticism is wrong, exaggerated, or unfair. If you do this skillfully and genuinely, in nearly all cases the person who’s criticizing you will suddenly conclude that their criticism wasn’t valid! But if you defend yourself, you’ll prove that their criticism was absolutely valid! This is a paradox for sure, and it’s pretty amazing.
I use the Disarming Technique all the time in my teaching, my therapy, and in my personal life. Here’s an example from my teaching. At the end of the first day of every workshop, I have the participants complete a rating for the day that includes a space to write down what they didn’t like, as well as a space to write down what they did like. I tell them that I will review the evaluations carefully in the evening, and promise to read several of the most brutal comments, as well as several of the most positive comments the next morning, at the start of the second day of the workshop.
Sometimes I get a hostile comment or two, even if the overall ratings from day 1 were positive, or even spectacular. For example, someone may write something to the effect that I seemed arrogant or narcissistic or that I was too critical of other schools of therapy.
Here’s how I might typically respond using the Disarming Technique plus several other communication techniques (Feeling Empathy, “I Feel” Statements, and Stroking):
“You know, it was painful for me to read your comment, because I agree with you. You’re right. I am too narcissistic. It’s one of my worst flaws, but certainly not my only flaw. You were also right in saying that I’m often too critical of other schools of therapy. I do that a lot, and it can be very insulting. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if you’re feeling angry with me, and for good reason.
“Humility and respect are far more effective teaching tools than arrogance or putting people down. I want you to know that I deeply appreciate your willingness to let me know that I screwed up in that way yesterday!”
I find that audiences respond incredibly well to this type of comment, and the morale on day 2 soars. Do you see why?
The Law of Opposites works like this. If I genuinely agree with the criticism, and admit that it was painful for me to read it, the audience members see me as vulnerable and human, and hopefully even a bit humble and down to earth. Most people are quick to forgive if you speak from the heart and admit that what they’re saying is true.
But this is extremely hard to learn, in part because our ego gets in the way! And the Disarming Technique really requires the death of the self, or ego–what the Buddhists called “The Great Death.”
It’s also hard to learn because defensiveness is programmed into our human nature, and in addition, you may not “see” the truth in the criticism at first. And if you do this as a gimmick, it won’t be effective.
I hope that makes the Law of Opposites clear. Let me know if you “get it!” You can use the Reply / Comment feature below to let me know if you understand my solution to the riddle.
Coming Next Week! Move Fast if You Want to Attend!
One of my best two-day workshops ever!
“Scared Stiff: Fast, Effective Treatment for Anxiety Disorders”
A two-day workshop Sponsored by Jack Hirose & Associates
June 4 -5, 2018 Calgary, Canada
June 6 – 7, 2018 Winnipeg, Canada
Mike Christensen and several others will be joining me at both locations to help out with supervision of the small group exercises. You’ll LOVE this workshop and you’ll learn TONS of powerful techniques to treat every type of anxiety. You’ll learn how to heal your clients and your own feelings of insecurity and self-doubt as well!
I will also do a live demonstration of the new TEAM-CBT with a member of the audience who’s been struggling with anxiety on the first night of each workshop. Mike Christensen will be my co-therapist. The live demonstrations are nearly always the highlight of every workshop.
I hope you can join us in Calgary or in Winnipeg. Thanks so much!
* * *
Hey, I also have a cool new workshop on intimacy in mid-June!
June 15th, 2018 in Mt. View, California
9:00 AM – 4:00 PM
Michael’s at Shoreline
2960 N. Shoreline Blvd.
Mountain View, CA 94043
Sponsored by the Santa Clara Valley of CAMFT
(California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists)
In this entirely new workshop, you’ll learn how to transform failed, frustrating relationships into satisfying, trusting ones, so you can enjoy greater success in your clinical work and more loving relationships with the people you care about the most.
I’ll be joined by the brilliant and totally wonderful Kyle Jones, a 3rd year PhD student at Palo Alto University with outstanding clinical skills. Although I’ll be doing the main teaching, Kyle will back me up and help me provide helpful feedback to all of you during the many small group exercises throughout the workshop.
In the morning, we’ll focus on dealing with challenging clients, and in the afternoon we will take on a far greater challenge: how to deal with challenging loved ones!
All of that plus:
- Free breakfast
- Free lunch
- 6 CE credits
- Lots of fun while learning!
Click here for registration and further details
At the end of this workshop you will be able to:
- Use the Five Secrets of Effective Communication
- Enhance your own and your client’s communication skills with the Intimacy Exercise
- Transform hostile relationships into trusting, loving ones
- Resolve therapeutic logjams and boost your therapeutic effectiveness
- Track therapeutic progress and assess the quality of the therapeutic alliance
- Fail joyfully
- Transform therapeutic failure into success
You will also learn how to deal with clients and loved ones who:
- Complain but ignore your efforts to help
- Challenge or provoke you
- Criticize you unfairly
- Refuse to talk or open up
You will also learn how to deal with clients and loved ones who are:
- Narcissistic, controlling, or self-centered
- Angry, threatening or violent
- Resistant and oppositional
- Overwhelmingly depressed, panicky, or hopeless
Hope to see you there!
* Copyright © 2018 by David D. Burns, MD.
I can absolutely see how this technique can work. Now if only I can learn to use it with my husband. I have not felt good about myself for most of my life, and have a hard time dealing with criticism because of that. Especially when it comes from my husband, whose opinion I have always valued so highly.
This is so true. Sometimes, your “inner dialogue” upsets you so much it is awfully to use the Five Secrets. The chapter on handling criticism in Feeling Good might help, along with the material on needing approval, etc. Thanks, Lisa! david
I am reading the book now. Have no idea why I didn’t read it years and years ago. Should have, that’s for sure. Could have avoided so much pain.
Thanks! Appreciate the kind comment! d
Well, I appreciate you replying to me!
that’s good to hear! d
Hey Dr. David,
Thanks for explaining as well as giving good examples for this technique. I was a bit off base with my hunches. The disarming technique really works like a charm and works instantly, too. Phil McCormack (Philomablog)
I’m a recovering perfectionist and the paradox makes quite a lot of sense. I used to let criticism, real or false, affect me deeply. Now I try to see criticism as a chance to learn and improve. I just wish I could react the same way to self-criticism. Does the Disarming Technique work against your inner critic?
Hi Angela, The answer is YES! But when you disarm yourself, it is called the Acceptance Paradox. You can hear it happening for real in some of the recent podcasts using the Feared Fantasy and Externalization of Voices,and you can read bout it in my books, like Ten Days to Self-Esteem (available on Amazon.com). You can also hear and grasp it if you listen to any of the live therapy podcasts with Mark, with Daisy, or with Marilyn. The Acceptance Paradox is a spiritual technique. david