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What’s Opposite Action?

We experience a wide range of emotions daily, and yet, our culture encourages people to shove these emotions down by overworking, scrolling endlessly through their phones, watching hours of TV,  or using alcohol and drugs. This is because our society views being in touch with our emotions as a weakness.  When we avoid our emotions, we don’t immediately get the emotional signals our body sends to us, however, that doesn’t mean that these messages aren’t still being sent out. Instead, it stalls the feeling, and later on when you’re feeling particularly vulnerable, you’ll be overwhelmed by anxiety, depression, headaches, and stomachaches and you aren’t sure where they stem from at that moment because it’s from something you ignored earlier. It is important to address these challenging emotions as they come up rather than pushing them away. You can do this by using the DBT skill “Opposite Action.” So, what is opposite action, and how can you use it?

Opposite Action is the intentional attempt to act opposite of your emotional urge.

When you experience a strong emotion, an action urge usually follows closely behind. For example, when you feel scared, your action urge might be to avoid, escape, and hide underneath the covers all day. When you feel depressed, that action urge might be to isolate yourself from your friends or wallow in self-pity. When you are using opposite action, the goal is to deliberately contradict the emotional urge that you have and address your emotions in a healthy way instead of harming yourself or others further.  It also remedies the suffering you might feel because of the distressing emotion.

 Here are some ways to offset the common emotional reactions that you may experience:

Fear

Instead of avoiding your fear, confront it. This will help you build mastery over that fear so that it doesn’t effect you as badly.

Anger

If you are feeling overwhelmed by anger, instead of lashing out, take a second to walk away from the situation and take a deep breath. Find a way to feel some sort of empathy or sympathy for the person that you are angry at. Try to approach this from a place of love and understanding.

Sadness

If you are feeling sad, you might feel the need to avoid what you are sad about and isolate yourself. Instead of doing that, address what you are feeling sad about either through journaling or talking to a friend, and spend time with the people that love you to find common humanity and remind yourself that you are not alone.

Shame/guilt

If what you did warrants a consequence, accept that consequence without beating yourself up about it. Ask for forgiveness and try to make an attempt to repair what went wrong. It is important to forgive yourself and let it go. 

It is extremely important to not equate the opposite action skill with suppressing your emotions. The point of using this tool is to gradually change the emotion, making the experience more positive and eliminating unnecessary suffering. This skill is best used whenever your emotions cloud your perception of the truth. Sometimes a strong emotion will encourage our brains to create stories about the situation that aren’t even true. When you use opposite action, instead of denying the emotion that you are experiencing, you are simply challenging it and proving the story wrong.

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Alli Cravener is a social media coordinator and writer who is passionate about connecting people through words. Alli studied English at Arizona State University and has found her niche uniting concept and content in the realm of mental health and the expressive arts. Alli’s interests include painting, history, learning about other people, and wearing the color pink. She likens herself to a “mouse in a palm tree”, and she loves it that way.

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