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”
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!
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!
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.
Hi web visitors and friends on social media. Yesterday I got a really interesting email from my esteemed colleague, Angela Krumm, PhD, who created the certification program for TEAM-CBT. Angela’s clinical practice is located at the Feeling Good Institute in Mt. View, California. and they also offer training for therapists. I thought you might enjoy the question, as well as my answer. You will see that the information is relevant to everybody, and not just therapists.
If this topic of developing more loving and satisfying relationships interests you, you can read more about these techniques in my book, Feeling Good Together, available at Amazon and other book sellers.
The TEAM Certified list serve is having a colorful discussion about the use of apologies (specifically, saying “I’m sorry”) within the Five Secrets of Effective Communication. People are pretty engaged and arguing both for and against “I’m sorry.” Would you like me to share the comments with you?
If you’re interested, I’d love to post a response from you about whether you teach people to say “I’m sorry.” I think your general mode (if I remember from past training) is to avoid “I’m sorry” since it’s so generic and less specific than the Five Secrets.
Let me know if you want to see the comments and have a chance to respond. I can send them to you!
Angela Krumm, PhD
To my way of thinking, “I’m sorry” can be effective or dysfunctional, depending on how it is used. In my experience observing clinicians in training, as well as troubled couples in treatment, it is nearly always dysfunctional, but it doesn’t have to be. Let me explain.
I recently treated a troubled couple from Los Angeles who had treated each other shabbily out of anger for many years. Without going into all the details, the husband had an affair with a woman they both knew from their church, and slept with her every night for six months. The affair appeared to be his way of getting back at her for something she had done that hurt him.
His affair was devastating to the wife, and she kept making up excuses for the children why Daddy can’t come home tonight. Every time she tried to express her feelings of being hurt, angry, anxious, humiliated, and betrayed, her husband would say, in a defensive tone of voice, “I’ve said I’m sorry! You have to put that behind you so we can move on! We’ve already talked about this!”
As you can see, he used “I’m sorry” as a way of avoiding listening and hearing how his wife felt. And although they’d bickered about their problems endlessly, he’d never really listened or giving her the chance to be heard.
I don’t want to scapegoat him—she gave the same dismissive and defensive answers when it was her turn to listen to his complaints and feelings. But it seems pretty clear to me that his use of “I’m sorry” was defensive and aggressive. It was his way of saying, “shut up, I don’t want to hear what you have to say.”
Therapists frequently do much the same thing in response to criticisms from patients. For example, a patient might say, “Last session you interrupted our session to take an emergency call, but I’m paying for the time!”
The well-meaning therapist might apologize and say, “I’m really sorry. I’ll remind my secretary to hold calls during our sessions unless it’s something super severe like an actively suicidal patient.”
It should be easy (I hope!) to see that this therapist is also using “I’m sorry” as a way of brushing the patient off, so the therapist doesn’t have to deal with the patient’s anger and hurt feelings. But those kinds of feelings may be a central problem in the patient’s life, and the therapist has missed a golden opportunity to deepen the relationship through the skillful use of the Five Secrets.
I have often said that no therapist in the United States or Canada is able to deal with or acknowledge a patient’s anger. Of course, this is an exaggeration to make a point, but it is SO TRUE most of the time! In my experience, it is very difficult for therapists to master the Five Secrets, for use in therapy, as well as in their personal lives, which can be even harder.
Of course, you can apologize skillfully. Apologies aren’t inherently dysfunctional. For example, you could respond to your patient’s criticism like my example below, which is based on the Five Secrets of Effective Communication. The abbreviations in parentheses at the end of each section indicate the communication technique(s) used in that sentence.
“I felt badly about interrupting the session, too. (IF) This is your time, and any interruption is unfair, and I want to apologize. (DT) The call was from an actively suicidal patient, but still my focus should be on you. (DT) I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re feeling hurt and ignored, and maybe even a bit angry with me, for good reason. (FE; DT) This is especially painful for me, because one of the themes you have described is that ever since you were a kid, the people you care about seem to ignore you, and don’t take you seriously. You said they gave your older brother all the attention, because he was a straight A student, so you end up feeling lonely and rejected most of the time. (IF; FE; DT) Now I’m in the role of ignoring you, and it’s especially painful for me because I respect you tremendously (IF; DT; ST) At the same time, I’m excited, because this is really important and can give us the chance to slay that dragon and deepen our relationship. (ST; Positive Reframing) Can you tell me more what that was like for you, as well as other times I’ve said or done things that hurt your feelings? (IN)”
I’m sure that can be improved upon, and is perhaps too long. But the important thing is that you are honoring your patient’s feelings, and encouraging him or her to open up. In this context, the apology is okay. However, notice that the phrase, “and I want to apologize” probably isn’t even needed.
I would also say that therapists, as well as patients, sometimes polarize things as “this way” vs. “that way,” so they can argue and feel like experts. Sorry if I sound a bit cynical here! Skillful and effective therapy is rarely “this way” vs “that way,” but exists on a higher plane. TEAM-CBT does not consist of simple formulas you can apply. It is an art form that is difficult to master, and simplistic approaches usually won’t be effective.
The bigger issue is that every one of the Five Secrets can be used in a skillful, compassionate, helpful way, or in a dysfunctional way. In fact, this is true of every method and technique in TEAM-CBT. For my two cents, I’d rather hear that people are asking for help in learning, rather than arguing about who is right and who is wrong, but I’m old and probably sound pompous or annoyed, so I will stop babbling!
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