Experiencing unwanted emotions? Use opposite action

Opposite action is a Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) skill used to reduce unwanted emotional responses and increase positive emotions. Opposite action helps regulate emotions by purposely going against the emotion’s action urge. 

The goal is not to try and block the emotion or get rid of emotional responses, rather the goal is to try and change the way the emotion is expressed – this will, in turn, help reduce the sensitivity to the emotion.

It's important to note that opposite action is to be use only when the emotion or its intensity is unjustified.

Let's use depression as an example:

The emotion and its action urges:

Depression is often experienced as feeling sad a great deal of the time, perhaps even for no apparent reason. There may be thoughts that accompany depression such as, “nothing is going to work out” or “everyone else has it better than me.” Notice how these thoughts intensify and prolong the emotional experience of depression. Action urges associated with depression may include sleeping or eating more or less than usual, feeling a lack of enjoyment in previously pleasurable activities, and avoiding contact with people.

The use of opposite action:

Opposite action would be making concrete choices to counteract the emotional experience of depression by changing the ways that you choose to think and behave. While your emotions are not subject to your direct control, your thoughts and behaviors can be freely chosen by you. Your emotions are then indirectly affected by changes in your ways of thinking and behaving. Try taking opposite action to depression by challenging those faulty thoughts (e.g., “nothing is going to work out” or “everyone else has it better than me”) that feed the depression. Get out of bed, shower, and do things you typically enjoy. Actively cultivate and express gratitude by mindfully noticing small things in your daily life for which you feel grateful. Choose to pay attention to others and actively engage in your life. Try “showing up” to the present moment and notice the way this mindful connection to your present moment experience changes your emotions associated with depression. 

Here are other examples of emotions, their possible action urges, and what opposite action looks like:

Every emotion has an associated action urge. If the emotion or its urge is unjustified or too intense, then opposite action may be helpful at regulating that emotion.  Table created by Chelsea Fielder-Jenks, M.A., 2014 | CFJCounseling.com

Every emotion has an associated action urge. If the emotion or its urge is unjustified or too intense, then opposite action may be helpful at regulating that emotion.  Table created by Chelsea Fielder-Jenks, M.A., 2014 | CFJCounseling.com

Reflection Questions: 

Which unjustified emotions do you experience most often? What are your action urges? What are 3 opposite actions you can take?

What emotions will be most helpful for you to act opposite to?

Have you ever been successful at acting opposite to an unjustified emotion? What was the experience like?

When have you experienced a justified emotion? How did you act (opposite or in agreement with that emotion)?

 

Here's to increasing positive emotions!

Take care,

Chelsea