When is it okay to use reverse psychology? Learn more in this article.

Share

What Is Reverse Psychology

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, reverse psychology is, “a method of trying to make someone do what you want by asking them to do the opposite and expecting them to disagree with you.” Essentially, it is a strategy of getting what you want while saying the opposite of what you want.

Reverse psychology is based on the notion that while people have a propensity to resist direct persuasion or directions, they may act more adamantly in the other direction if they feel as though they are making an independent decision. The fundamental idea is to appeal to someone’s desire for independence or chance of rebellion. 

It is vital to remember that reverse psychology should only be applied with care and in proper circumstances. Since reactions might vary, it might not always work. It is also critical to think about ethical issues and apply it in a courteous and responsible manner.

The Concept of Reactance

Reactance is a psychological term for the uneasy feeling you have when you believe your independence is threatened. When reactance is present, the instinctive reaction is to go against what is required in order to demonstrate your independence.

If you’ve previously enjoyed freedom and it’s abruptly taken away, you’ll probably react negatively. For instance, if a parent forbids a child from playing video games after school after the child has been doing so for some time, the child may react violently.

Reactance is the core of reverse psychology. This strategy aims to instill this sense of reactance in an individual, hence making them resist our demands. If you demand something that you don’t want, they will probably respond by doing what you desire.

Examples of Reverse Psychology

Parenting

Parents can employ reverse psychology as a tactic to influence kids’ behaviour or cooperation. However, it’s crucial to use it sparingly and sensitively, taking into account the child’s age and emotional health.

Reverse psychology may sometimes be used in parenting to get the child to do what the parent thinks is best.
  • Duties and responsibilities: If a child refuses to carry out some chores, a parent may respond, “You know what? I don’t believe you’re prepared to handle these roles just yet. Perhaps I can find someone else to complete them.” The child could feel pushed and motivated to display their maturity by eagerly accepting the chores if it is implied that they are not competent or mature enough, and prove their parents wrong. 

  • Eating well: A parent may reply, “I guess you’re right, vegetables are likely too unpleasant for you.” to a youngster who refuses to eat their vegetables. This way, the parent can encourage a sense of independence and curiosity in the child and increase the likelihood that the child will try the vegetables by expressing agreement with the child’s opposition.
  • Bedtime routine: In response to a child’s protests about an earlier bedtime, a parent may comment, “Staying up late is only for big kids who can handle it. Besides, you may miss out on the fun in the park tomorrow if you wake up late!” Framing sleep as something that only older children can handle and highlighting the potential consequences of staying up late makes the idea of sleep appealing and encourages your child to follow the nightly ritual.

Keep in mind that reverse psychology may not always work with every child, and it is important to gauge their reactions and adjust your approach accordingly. Open communication is essential to understanding your child’s needs and wants and developing a strong and trustworthy relationship with them.

Sales

In order to persuade customers and raise the likelihood of closing a deal, a salesperson may resort to using reverse psychology.

  • Limited availability: A salesperson may say, “I’m not sure if we have enough stock of this product for you. I wouldn’t want you to pass on the opportunity because it looks to be in high demand.” to elicit feelings of urgency or FOMO (fear of missing out) in customers. Implying scarcity or limited availability can encourage them to make a purchase.

  • Suggesting alternatives: A salesperson may also go, “Based on what you’ve told me, I don’t think this product is the right fit for you. However, I have another option that might be more appropriate for you.” rather than outright promoting a certain product. The salesperson can increase the likelihood that the customer would be interested in the original product by insinuating that they might not be a suitable fit for the product.
  • Reversing the pitch: You may even hear, “I’m not sure if this product is what you’re looking for, it may be too complicated or costly for your requirements.” This tactic may prompt the customer to contradict the salesperson and prompt them to ask more questions, possibly increasing the likelihood of them purchasing the item.

Reverse psychology must be applied in sales in an honest and ethical manner. Instead of tricking or influencing clients, the objective is to involve and assist them in making educated decisions. Any sales strategy should primarily focus on developing trust and providing actual value.

Relationships

  • Quality time: If one partner wants to spend more time with the other, they may say, “I think you’re too busy to hang out, let me find something else to do.” This comment may cause the other party to reconsider their priorities and make adjustments to their schedule to accommodate their loved one’s needs.

  • Taking initiative: One spouse can say, “Since I always make the decisions, I will just go ahead and make the plans.” if they wish their partner to take more initiative while organising activities. This may encourage their partner to take the initiative and participate in the planning processes.
  • Appreciation: If a partner desires appreciation, they may say something like “I read about how little moments of gratitude can really strengthen the bond in relationships. Not sure how that works.” By downplaying their need for validation, they can cause the other partner to be more mindful of their efforts and express appreciation more overtly.

  • Personal growth: If one partner wants the other to work on personal improvement, they may say, “I don’t think you’re ready to make any changes or better yourself.” This statement may spur their spouse to pursue personal development activities out of a need to prove themselves or a worry about stagnation.

Nonetheless, excessive use of reverse psychology may cause the relationship to turn sour. One may appear passive-aggressive and make snide remarks without actually being clear about their expectations and desires.

Procrastination

  • Lowering expectations: Upon finding yourself procrastinating on a task, you may tell yourself, “I don’t expect to do a terrific job on this, I’ll probably just speed through it or do the bare minimum for this task.” Lowering your standards may give you a sense of rebellion and inspire you to prove yourself wrong by making an attempt to perform better.

  • Implying inability: You can persuade yourself when you’re putting off a task by saying,  “I don’t think I can finish this by the deadline. It’s too challenging for me.” This may inspire you to begin working on the assignment by igniting your competitive nature or drive to demonstrate your competence and prove yourself wrong. 
  • Deadlines: If you’re putting off a task, thinking, “I’ll never be able to finish this on time, I will have to stay up and use up my free time for this.” could make it seem more urgent. These statements could inspire you to start earlier and use time management strategies by highlighting the pressure and potential consequences of not finishing the assignment on time. 

Does Reverse Psychology Work?

Pros

When used ethically, reverse psychology has a multitude of benefits.

Motivation

Reverse psychology does have merit in motivate an individual.

By instilling a sense of difficulty or disobedience, reverse psychology can be used as a motivating technique. Advocating the opposite of what is sought can raise someone’s drive to disprove the proposal.

Autonomy

Reverse psychology typically appeals to a person’s need for independence and autonomy. By making a recommendation that goes against the individual’s inclinations or wants, you instigate a sense of rebellion and prompt them to take responsibility for their actions.

Persuasion

Reverse psychology is a different method of persuasion that does not include direct coercion or explicit instructions. Instead, it offers a subtly challenging or suggesting suggestion as opposed to forcing someone to do anything, giving people the impression that they are making their own autonomous judgements.

Problem-solving

Reverse psychology can inspire people to consider novel ideas and unorthodox solutions. It can stimulate creative thinking and urge them to take into account various views or approaches by pressing them to question their presumptions or expectations.

Relationship-building

Reverse psychology also encourages relationships based on trust, humour, and playfulness when used sensibly and in an appropriate setting. It can foster a fun atmosphere and serve as a means to increase camaraderie and understanding.

Cons

Reverse psychology must be employed carefully, as it has its own set of drawbacks too.

Potential backfire

When people are aware that reverse psychology is at play, some may become angry, defensive, or disobedient. They might feel taken advantage of or lose faith in the individual using the tactic. This would affect the relationship between both individuals involved in this situation.

Manipulation

Reverse psychology has the potential to become manipulative when employed carelessly or unethically. Relationships can suffer, trust can be lost, and bad things can happen when the goal is to manipulate or deceive someone rather than to empower them.

Emotional impact

Reverse psychology can negatively impact emotions and cause confusion or irritation if not handled appropriately. If the recipient feels tricked or manipulated, it could lead to misunderstandings. Relationships may also suffer as a result.

Lack of honesty

Presenting a false or misleading stance that implies the opposite of what one genuinely intends or believes can occasionally be a part of reverse psychology. Misunderstandings or a lack of actual connection might impair open and honest communication.

Dependence

Relying too heavily on manipulation as a means of persuasion rather than promoting open communication can have the opposite effect. It is critical to create a balance and avoid relying too much on reverse psychology as the main method of persuasion or inspiration.

Context sensitivity

Reverse psychology is not always successful in all circumstances or with all people. Its effectiveness is dependent on a variety of elements, including the personality of the user, the nature of the connection, and the situation. Before applying reverse psychology, it is critical to determine whether it is acceptable and to take the unique circumstances into account.

Effectiveness of Reverse Psychology

The effectiveness of reverse psychology on individuals differs due to one’s characteristics and circumstances as well as the technique used. For some, it might work, while others may react negatively, or not even react at all. The effectiveness of reverse psychology depends on the following reasons.

Self-awareness

The personality and self-awareness of each individual vary. Reverse psychology may be more effective for those who like challenges or want to disprove others. However, people who are fiercely independent, unyielding to persuasion, or more perceptive might not react as planned. Thus, for them, reverse psychology may not work.

Context

It matters how the recipient and the individual employing reverse psychology relate to one another, and what kind of relationship they share. For reverse psychology to be successful, trust, comprehension, and open communication are essential. Without these components, the recipient may detect manipulation or turn defensive, which could have unintended consequences.

Ethical considerations

Reverse psychology that is manipulative or dishonest can damage relationships and destroy trust. Refrain from using it to manipulate or control people. Use it to inspire and empower them.

Individual differences

Individuals react differently to numerous psychological tactics. One person’s solution might not be suitable for another. When employing reverse psychology or any other persuasive tactic, it is crucial to take into account individual differences, preferences, and sensitivities.

How Often Should We Use Reverse Psychology?

We should consider using reverse psychology only occasionally and in balance with other communication techniques. It is not a strategy that serves as a means of inspiration or communication. Instead, think of it as one tool in your arsenal of interpersonal tools. Consider the following aspects before deciding whether to apply it or not.

Appropriateness

Apply reverse psychology only if the scenario at hand is suitable. Consider using it strategically, for example, with other forms of incentive or communication.

Individual responses

Reverse psychology affects people differently, and some may respond to it more favourably than others. It is critical to consider the person’s personality, preferences, and emotional health. It may be time to consider other strategies if someone continually responds adversely or grows resistant.

Balance

Balance in a relationship requires communication and compromise.

It is vital to have a wide variety of communication tools in your toolbox – Individual counselling can help with improving your skills. Overusing reverse psychology can stifle conversations. Maintaining strong relationships requires striking a balance between straightforward communication, active listening, and collaboration.

Conclusion

Just as with all other communication techniques, it is wise to use reverse psychology in moderation and with clear intentions. At the end of the day, nothing can replace an open, authentic, and honest conversation.

Join our newsletter

Latest mental health insights, tips, and news delivered to your inbox monthly

Unsure of where to start?

Leave your details here, and someone from our team will contact you ASAP with recommended therapist names!

Seeking Therapist Recommendation

Book a Demo

Leave us a message and someone from the TYHO team will get in touch to organise a demo of our platform 💜

CAPTCHA image

This helps us prevent spam, thank you.