Why reverse psychology is a valuable resource and when to use it

The great tennis player Rafael Nadal is not only the “king of clay”. He is also the champion of the reverse psychology, as his fellow-rival, the Greek Stefano Tsitsipas, hinted at a press conference: “When he says he can’t play and has his known foot problems, Nadal is practically threatening you. In this case, in fact, we can talk about reverse psychology, in my opinion: when he’s in difficult situations, he puts such a level of intensity into it that racing with him is even more complicated.”

The Spaniard, record holder of Grand Slam titles despite his age and physical problems, is a God of sport, and we know it. But from him we can take some traits of reverse psychology, to achieve our small, big goals with less effort (and more concreteness) in daily life. And he guides us along this path Stephanie Ortensisports and wellness psychologist.

It’s a great stress reliever

“Reverse (or reverse) psychology is one psychological technique of persuasion, which can be used on others as well as on ourselves. Nadal’s example is a typical case of self-help,” explains Dr. Ortensi.

«It does so because it lowers the bar of our expectations of a certain performance. In fact, in any test, whether it’s a job interview, an exam, a competition, a competition or an economic choice, it is good to remind ourselves that there may be obstacles beyond our control (for Nadal the diseased foot, for us perhaps the little time to prepare, the difficulty of a test, the presence of prepared competitors, the sudden shift of the date): as a result of this functional alibi, performance anxiety, the main enemy of any activity, tends to bending down and, therefore, one “travels” towards the goal freer from the fear of making a mistake, of failing. Reverse psychology In short, it reduces the pressure linked to the result, and the outcome is to make us do better. Furthermore, when we give ourselves limited chances of success (if it goes all the better, if it doesn’t go somehow I was prepared…) we don’t perceive our efforts as useless. It is not an irrelevant consideration: in this way we also repair ourselves from disappointments, which are always disabling the stimulus to start again and bring home the goal that is close to our hearts».

It has risks

Okay, reverse psychology can be a self-defense mechanism but it is not “good” for every circumstance. Some precautions are needed, otherwise it ends in self-whipping.

«If every time we face a challenge, we fill our heads with “inverted sentences” (I will never make it to this or that reason) we will end up falling into the trap of demotivation and renunciation», warns the expert. «It’s one thing to tell yourself you’re never ok, but another thing is to load yourself with some limits (now I have this problem; I don’t know the opponent’s reactions; I’m good but, in fact, for that job they’re looking for skills other than my). In short, converse tricks only work well if our self-esteem is solid beyond that result, we have proven experience (and sense of effectiveness) in that type of performance, and above all, we aim for a clear goal. We are in balance, that is, between the awareness of our value and the mutability (and unpredictability) of the many elements that can condition our action. Coming back to Nadal: he knows what his job is, he recognizes himself as a champion but in the competition he lightens up saying “I’m not feeling well and maybe I won’t win. In fact, however, he doesn’t really believe it, and it shows in the results ».

Advice extended to mere mortals: let’s forget reverse psychology if we are dealing with an unprecedented enterprise, or life, due to age and running in, still has to “test” us. «Here, against the tension, it pays more to move on Positive thoughtthat is, focus on the action we are doing, and not on the result».

The theory of reactance

Beyond its reassuring “mind-holding” function, reverse psychology is best known as one method of indirect persuasion on others.

“That is, something is said (or done) that is the opposite of what we want or want a person to do, in order to bring them to our side”, continues the psychologist. «It is more probable, in fact, that a child will eat tomatoes if we say “Here are some very good vegetables, it’s okay if you don’t touch them” than forcing it at every meal; or that a teenager puts herself on the books after the phrase: “Even if you don’t study, it’s the same for me” instead of asphyxiating him with sermons on the importance of school. While no one likes prohibitions and obligations, and we tend to escape them to reaffirm our autonomy, reverse psychology taps into the rebellious impulse (theory of reactance) of people. And not saying openly what we want from our child (or anyone else) leads him to think that if he eats or studies it is only the result of his choice. Better: by doing so he opposed our indifference.

Some studies, not surprisingly, show that kids raised in families who don’t push their hand about the use of alcohol or drugs tend not to abuse them.

There is the rule of common sense

There is no field of life where inverted psychology cannot bring us a profit. In the work can dissolve unnecessary conflicts; in human relationships it allows us to become influential without making us appear bully or petulant. And in love it can make us more attractive.

“At times walking away, showing a touch of detachment, throwing a few compliments here and there helps, at times, to win someone over or to revive a deadlocked bond,” concludes Ortensi. “At least it has the effect of inducing the other to think if and how important we are to him/her”.

In any case, common sense always wins: in small doses and in contexts that require a prompt solution, reverse psychology can make life easier. Instead, adopting it as a behavioral style is a deception: for us, above all, who never feel up to situations and who exploit the weaknesses of others to emerge.