Paradoxes as Provocative Operations – Thinkibility Boost

counter paradox

In an earlier blog post about contradictions we stated that:

“paradoxical messages can seriously paralyze human relations and even lead to schizophrenic behavior. However, at the same time paradoxical communication can also be used to jolt someone out of his current mindset.

lateraal denken

Above we have symbolized “main stream thinking” or “current mindset” with the trajectory A->B. An alternative way of thinking is symbolized by trajectory A->C. The Provocative counter paradox is imaged as PO, or as a stepping stone outside the standard way of viewing things.

Some more examples of the latter, so called counter-paradoxes are:

  • Idea manager to an inventor: “Your idea is wonderful and perfect and cannot be improved, now, let’s explore it”.
  • Employee to his boss: “You’re right, solutions are there for immediate success and long-term problems”.
  • Therapist to a patient: ” It is not your fault that you are now deeply in problems, how did you organized for that?”
  • Debater: “Is this fact yours or mine?”
  • Consultant: “Yes, indeed, it is very important that we centrally administer the process of decentralization “.
  • Boss to an employee: “Listen, in this company I give the orders, and you execute them. “Employee: “Ok,  who begins?”.
  • Consultant to an entrepreneur: ” You perseveres that there is no solution to your problem, however I do know the solution, but will not reveal it to you”.
  • Evaluation Quality of Universities committee: ” Professors who don’t lecture and don’t publicize must be brilliant”.
  • A Human Resource Consultant: “Let’s have a masked ball. Everyone will attend as him or herself.
  • Consultant: “The board hired me for help.  I have listened to all your discussions about the problem of the company. However, since you have the problem of not achieving a description of the problem, I can’t help you with your problem”
  • Psychologist to a woman who never was able to say “no”: “Please, say “no” to me”.
  • Teacher: “Can you here me in the back of the class?”. Pupil: ” Yes, but it is not disturbing”.
  • ” What you’re saying is so untrue that even the opposite must be false”.
  • ” If you confess you are wrong, I will agree with you”.
  • “Don’t be so difficult! I want to know any difficulties immediately”.
  • “I urge you not to follow-up my advise”.
  • Professor to his students: “Don’t believe me, I am an academic crook”.
  • Provide that it is brought by humor, counter-paradoxes could provoke suddenly magical shifts in behaviour and attitude.


I Am a Depressive Character – You’re Absolutely Right

This post is about patterns or logical bubbles in psycho therapy. As we will see there are some parallels with lateral thinking.

lateral thinkingThere are several reasons why a person attends psychotherapy. Someone may attend psychotherapy because she is suffering because she thinks herself into a situation she doesn’t want to be in. She visits  a psychotherapist to get an alternative for her mental state. Or someone visits a therapist because he does something compulsively, and wants to get rid of that compulsory habit. We can represent this situation as someone being caught in a destructive thinking path, as show in the image as a road from A to B. The patient is looking for an escape to an alternative path to help them get into another thinking or behavioral habit. In the picture represented as side way C.

Some readers will recognize this as the way Edward de Bono explains main stream thinking and lateral or creative thinking. With main stream thinking we mean how  humans normally and routinely make sense of, interpret, represent or model the world they experience, and to make predictions about that world (A -> B). The thinking involved with discovering new inventions, coming up with new ideas and concepts and non-obvious alternatives need breaking away from standard thinking patterns (A -> C)


An assumption in psychotherapy is that the therapist has to diagnose the patient before a treatment plan can be made. In order to do that the therapist will delve into patient’s past, his problems, how he solved them, and how he digests uncomfortable feelings and emotions. Psychotherapists must be  ood active listener: re-stating or paraphrasing what they have heard in their own words, encouraging the patient to express feelings, showing complete understanding and empathy.The therapist is responsible for a solution. That solution is per definition outside the standard thinking or behavioral patterns of the patient, so a big challenge is the acceptation of therapist’s solution by the patient. If he doesn’t do that, the therapist is not professional enough. This phenomenon is called psychological resistance  in which patients either directly or indirectly oppose changing their behavior or refuse to discuss, remember, or think about presumably clinically relevant experiences.

Everyone who ever ventilated a breakthrough idea – an idea outside accepted thinking – will recognize this mechanism. It is rejection and you will have to come up with a better idea, That is why much therapy processes takes years. The patient refuses to alter his thinking, so the therapist is forced to make a better diagnose. Both patient as therapist are caught in a perpetual pattern in which the patient does not want to leave his comfort zone, a behavioral state within he operates in an anxiety-neutral condition, using a limited set of behaviors to deliver a steady level of performance, usually without a sense of risk.


Does this remind you of a situation in which you do want to come up with fresh ideas, and you are trying and trying, erring in circles with no results? You are still in main-stream thinking (A->B).

An alternative to classical psycho therapy is Provocative Therapy, invented by Frank Farrelly which advocates radical (and sometimes humorous therapeutic moves intended to jolt the client out of his current mindset.

That is exactly what lateral thinking also is about. To escape from taken for granted thinking to alternative perceptions by deliberately setting up Provocations.

Imagine, someone tells you that she is depressed. Normally you would comfort her, you would do your best to cheer her up, give her a fresh look on the situation or just show empathy. But what if you respond that she is absolutely right and perhaps still far too cheerful? What would happen?

Regarding Jeffrey Wijnberg there are some rules that form the basis of Provocative Psycho Therapy. As you will notice, these are radical different as what therapists usually do:

  1. The therapist gets an equal speaking time as the client;
  2. The therapy starts immediately as the patient enters the clinic;
  3. The therapist uses deliberately no structure during the talks;
  4. The therapist never use hands solutions;
  5. The therapist tries to get in the “laughing state”as soon and well as possible;
  6. The therapist don’t prepare the sessions, but transfers that task to the client;
  7. The therapist uses a (played) pessimistic attitude;
  8. The therapist understands little or nothing of the deeper meanings of what the client tells him;
  9. The therapist is paradoxical in his communication: non-verbal he is signalling warmth, passion, empathy) but verbally he is critical, provocative (doubt, challenging, incomprehension);
  10. The therapist says whatever comes to him.

Please note, it is vital to create a “safe container” when using Provocative Therapy. The work is carried out in an environment designed to be positive, there is a regard for the client and a belief in their capacity for change.


Double Bind

double bind

In earlier posts “Contradictions and Aggression” and “Don’t Think You Can Think” part 1 and part 2 we did some thinking about contradictions, dilemma’s and paradoxes. A special case of these are double binds.

A double bind exists when

  • an impossible ultimatum is put forward (either/or, however, both alternatives are unacceptable)
  • two directives are in conflict (be spontaneous)
  • two conflicting messages (you are absolutely fantastic, but you have to change your behavior)
  • double bind questions (do you still beat your wife?)
  • conflict between words and actual behavior (yes, I drink too much)

Essentially, a double bind is a form of unconscious control or exerting tacit power.

Elizabeth Davids offers four strategies to reduce  feelings of confusion and being trapped in a situation where you can only lose.

  1. Look at the bigger picture
  2. Don’t introvert
  3. This is not my game
  4. Look for a third option

Actually, she mentions a fifth strategy, the reverse double bind or counter paradox, which we will explore in another blog post.

Don’t Think That You Can Think (1) – *&;^#Grrrgrr#^&;*

In a previous blog post about the relation between contradictions and aggression we  suggested that on-going paradoxical messages could affect a person’s  mental health. Also, contradictions, if not noticed, can lead to feelings of  powerlessness and furious destructive aggression. The title of this post is such a contradiction or  a paradox.

Some of our readers have asked for some more examples or contradictions.  Here are some that  we collected over years. we admit that it needs some thinking effort to fathom the double meaning of some.

So, don’t read this. . .*&^#Grrrgrr”#^&*



  • Jim: “I don’t mean anything with this”. Suzy: “What do you mean with that?              Jim: Nothing”. Suzy: “*&^#Grrrrgrr#^&*
  • A protester carries a  sign above his head, saying: “Against protest”.
  • A check player to his opponent: “Afterwards we should decide who shall start?”
  • “My task is to teach you something, and your task is to listen”, a professor says to his students, and continues, ” If you are finished  listening, please tell me so I can stop teaching.”
  • A Neanderthal man had just invented the wheel, when a passing fellow tribesman asked him: “But how do you kill enemies with that thing?”
  • Mother: “I think sex is dangerous and dirty, but I like it when a boy gives  my daughter his attention.”


  • Same mother: “Sons should be polite and tidy, but I love when they are rude and rowdy.”
  • Sam to Peter: ” Every time I ask you something, you deny it”. Peter (irritated): “Of course not!” Sam: “Look at you,  you’re getting angry “. Peter: “You are really mad, aren’t you?” Sam: “I said so, you are really aggressive”.
  • Here in our community we have only one rule and that is that there are no rules. . .
  • A waitress in a restaurant says to a customer: ” If you have any complaints about the staff, you should  talk with the boss’s wife”.
  • Carl: ” I  prefer not to put forward any of  my ideas”.
  • Wife to husband: ” You never give me flowers if I don’t ask for it”.
  • “If you are really powerful”, said the Devil to God, ” then make a boulder so huge you can’t lift it up”.
  • Boss at an employee: ” That’s what made our company great. You suggest ideas, and I shoot them off”.
  • A wife shows her just coiffed hair to her lover: “Do you like it?”. Lover: “It’s beautiful”. Wife: “Didn’t like you my previous hairstyle?” Lover: “Yes, sure!”. Wife: “But now not any longer?” And on and on until eternity. . .


The examples above are funny but quite seriously. . .*&^#Grrrgrr”#^&*

Paradoxical messages can seriously paralyze human relations and even lead to schizophrenic behavior. However, at the same time paradoxical communication can also be used to jolt someone out of his current mindset. An interesting subject for another post.

Contradictions and Agression – Thinkibility Boost

Ever had an undefined feeling that something is wrong? That there is something  that does not make sense but “you can’t put the finger on it”?  You have this tingling feeling but you can’t point to exactly what it is. . . yet you know that there is “something”. It’s intangible knowledge or understanding, and you are not able to ‘touch’ the intuition that supports the understanding. Look at this:


Ten to one a contradiction might be involved. A contradiction is something that is opposite or very different in meaning to something else. Or there is a difference or disagreement between two things which means that both cannot be true.  Or someone is doing things that could not be interpreted unequivocally, because it could mean different, contradicting things. Or things are said that could not be “true” and “not true” at the same time. They contradict each other.

 A contradiction could even lead to a double bind, which is a stressful situation where regardless of your response you will automatically be wrong. “Do you still beat your wife?” . If you say yes, you are a bastard. If you say no, you admit that you have beaten her before, so you are a bastard.

Because the meaning of the communication cannot be clearly understood, vague feelings of unhappiness, uneasiness and uncertainty could be provoked. You can even feel anger, resentment and frustration.  The body reacts to the unequivocal messages. Unfortunately, the underlying reason for these feelings and emotions  are unconscious.

We can use a range of strategies to dissolve cognitive dissonance but basically it comes down on avoiding or even ignoring contradicting situations and information. Often our bodily signals will be suppressed  in order to restore consistency, which can lead to  psychosomatic symptoms like headaches, heart attacks and back pains.

However, we suggest to give carefully attention to signals you body gives you if it is confronted with contradictions, however unconsciously those will be received. If suddenly experiencing angry, uneasiness, frustration or a bad feeling in your stomach, the following inconsistencies could have happen:

  • there is an inconsistency between verbal and non-verbal communication – someone says “yes” but nods “no”
  • there is a discrepancy in someone’s behavior  – someone says that he will come in time  but he doesn’t
  • there could be a contradiction between the content of a dialogue and the subtext (the content underneath the spoken dialogue). When we are talking or writing to someone  there can be conflict, angercompetitionpride, showing off, or other implicit ideas and emotions that  contradicts what is said. “Well done”, she said sarcastically.
  • nonsense and no-nonsense could have been used in the same phrase, as well logical and illogical arguments or a contradiction. “The situation is hopeless, but not serious”.
  • A paradox – a statement that apparently contradicts itself and yet might be true. “Don’t believe me, I am a liar”. A paradox may contain an non-executable order. “The barber is a man in town who shaves all those, and only those, men in town who do not shave themselves.” However, this causes an impossibility for the barber, because who will shave him? On-going paradoxical messages could be ruined the development of mental health.  A mother has given her child two shirts, but when she wears one of the shirts, she says; “didn’t you like the other one?”. Or a female politician  who is encouraged to look beautiful and then is commented as being not a serious politician since she wears lipstick. There are many paradoxes like “any pilot requesting mental evaluation for insanity—hoping to be found not sane enough to fly and thereby escape dangerous missions—demonstrates his own sanity in making the request and thus cannot be declared insane”. Catch-22 is a logical paradox where the creators have made up arbitrary rules in order to justify and conceal their own abuse of power. In the works of Kafka also many examples of catch-22 situations can be found. A list of know paradoxes can be found here.


In the picture above you see the Monty Hall problem, which steams from a situation that may occur on TV game shows. It is a type of probability  puzzle. What should you do?

“Suppose you’re on a game show, and you’re given the choice of three doors: Behind one door is a car; behind the others, goats. You pick a door, say No. 1, and the host, who knows what’s behind the doors, opens another door, say No. 3, which has a goat. He then says to you, “Do you want to pick door No. 2?” Is it to your advantage to switch your choice?”

Vos Savant’s response was:

“Yes; you should switch. The first door has a 1/3 chance of winning, but the second door has a 2/3 chance. Here’s a good way to visualize what happened. Suppose there are a million doors, and you pick door #1. Then the host, who knows what’s behind the doors and will always avoid the one with the prize, opens them all except door #777,777. You’d switch to that door pretty fast, wouldn’t you?”

  • Another contradiction presents itself as when there are two possibilities, neither of which is acceptable. A father to his son: “Will you forward or backwards climb the stair to go to bed?” This is called a dilemma.
  • There is a discrepancy between what is verbally said and what is implicitly said about the relation the messenger wants to establish or maintain. “Yes, sure, I love you”, he said while continuing waking towards  the fridge to get a beer.


Contradictions, if not noticed, can lead to feelings of desperate powerlessness and furious destructive aggression.

However, contradictions, if not neglected, are powerful triggers to reflect on a situation and extract information from it. Attention to feelings and bodily signs are the clues to this.

Why I am so angry?

Why do I feel so uncertain of myself?

Where does  that aggression so suddenly come from?

There could be contradictions around!