Have you ever experienced a moment where you feel so angry that you felt you would burst?
For example, the satellite TV company has put you on hold for over an hour. While the waiting was annoying at first, you were able to manage. But as time wore on, your patience grew thin.
Don’t they know that you have plenty of better things to do?
When they finally get on the line, you’re really tempted to give them a piece of your mind. But wait…you’ve been practicing your DBT opposite action coping skills.
Instead of becoming enraged, you shift gears and calmly engage with the support technician. Rather than say things that you will regret later, you are able to get your technical problem addressed.
This is the heart of what opposite action is all about.
What Is Opposite Action?
Opposite action is a dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) skill that involves choosing to do exactly the opposite of what your emotions tell you to do.
When you think about it, we all have emotions that can cause us to make choices we’d rather not make. That’s because, at the moment, your emotions override the logical part of your brain.
In short, a particular emotion is directing the show, urging you to take a particular course of action. However, instead of acting on those emotions, you can use opposite action instead.
How Does Opposite Action Work?
Let’s say that you are feeling very sad because your romantic relationship has just ended. You want to stay at home and isolate yourself from the whole world.
Mostly, because you know that everything out there is a reminder of your relationship. There’s the restaurant where you had your first date, the park where you both played with the dog, etc.
So, if your emotion (sadness) is influencing you to stay cooped up at home, opposite action would have you do something different.
Instead, using opposite action coping skills, you tell yourself to get outside and do something positive, such as going for a jog.
Is Opposite Action Simply Ignoring Emotions?
No, absolutely not. In fact, what’s important about opposite action is identifying that you are experiencing a particular emotion in the first place.
Having that basic emotional literacy is crucial for being able to implement opposite action.
However, that doesn’t mean you should push down or ignore the emotion. It’s more of a simple acknowledgment. Which, creates some distance and separation between your feeling and your actions.
Do Emotions Dictate Actions?
Yes, they can. One aim of opposite action is not to let your emotions take the wheel.
Too often we hear of people who become angry, sad, or fearful and allow those emotions to hijack the logical part of their brains. This, in turn, means that they then make decisions with potentially life-altering consequences.
For many, they believe that they don’t have any control over their emotions at all. Yet, that’s simply not true. You definitely have the power to choose not to act on your feelings. You can choose a different course of action.
Can You Learn Opposite Action?
Opposite action does take practice to see the results. Just like learning other DBT skills though, you don’t have to do this alone. By working with a therapist who understands opposite action and DBT skills in general, you will have a greater likelihood of success.
Plus, during your DBT therapy sessions, you can review with the therapist moments when opposite action worked or didn’t. That way you can both understand what happened and continue to refine the skill.
You are a human being with emotions, sure. But, that doesn’t mean you have to always act on them. By learning and practicing DBT skills such as opposite action, it’s possible to make a different choice.
Suffolk DBT proudly provides quality dialectical behavior therapy, a form of cognitive behavioral therapy, at their offices in Manhattan and Long Island, New York and online. Their experienced NYC therapists specialize in serving teens, children, adults, and college students struggling with depression, borderline personality disorder, eating disorders, and self-harm. Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) skills and treatment can help you or your kids to manage emotions and work through life’s challenges.