Star Ford

Essays on lots of things since 1989.

The trait square

Here is a little therapeutic trick you can do with a piece of paper, whenever you think badly of yourself. First you name your “bad” trait and write it in square #1 of a figure like the one pictured here.traitsquare_conceptThe four steps going around counterclockwise are:

  • Write the “bad” trait in square 1
  • Write the opposite of that bad trait in square 2. This should be a good trait.
  • Write the negative restatement of that in square 3. This should be the same trait as in square 2, only the extreme or negative form of it.
  • Write the opposite of that negative in square 4.

You should end up with a positive restatement of what you wrote in square 1.

Here’s a simple example:
traitsquare_ex1To walk through this one, my negative trait might be “lazy”. So I think of the opposite – what would the person most unlike me be? So I write “energetic”. But that trait could also be seen in a negative light, if one is too energetic, so I write “hyper/manic”. Then I think of what the opposite of that bad trait is, and I write “relaxed”. That reveals that I could choose to see myself as relaxed rather than lazy.


You can also get more descriptive about your issues. Here’s one about me that shows some of my associations:

traitsquare_ex2In this case I used “she” as my fictitious opposite, and I think if I were my oopposite, I’d be in danger of being proud or manipulative. Your associations might be different so your opposite might be something else. Ultimately the restatement of my “bad” trait does not deny it (I might still be ugly), but it shows things that I might also be because I’m not the opposite – humble or genuine.

Seeing “humble” come up like this doesn’t feel quite right so I might go do another one using “pride” as the starting bad trait.

Some people practice direct contradiction as a therapeutic technique. For example if I believed or feared I might be ugly, I would say (out loud) “I’m beautiful”. That’s a powerful technique, but it can be so contradictory that some people cannot say the contradiction out loud. The trait square is different. It does not contractict or deny the original negative thought; it only reframes it. It widens the trait you are looking at to include a more balanced view of positive and negative aspects of that trait.



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