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 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, you tell yourself to get outside and do something positive, such as going for a jog.
Isn’t It 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.