The Power of Opposite Action (Dialectical Behavior Therapy)

The past few days have been incredibly challenging for me emotionally.  Due to a number of stressors - the main one being a work dilemma, I have felt a very heightened, intense emotion of irritability.  Needless to say, this is an uncomfortable feeling to sit with. Who wants to feel irritable?

I tried self-soothing with cheerleading statements, such as "This too shall pass" (remembering and taking comfort in the fact that no feeling or mood lasts forever), but since it's going on Day 3, and I'm still highly irritable, I began to feel discouraged.  Even my self-soothing took off less of an edge than usual, and the concept attaining radical acceptance of how terrible I've been feeling seemed elusive. 

There are other skills that can help in this situation, including Opposite Action.  According to Dr. Marsha Linehan, founder of DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy), we use Opposite Action, an Emotion Regulation skill, to act opposite of our emotional urges (Skills Training Manual for Treating Borderline Personality Disorder.)

In my particular case, since the emotion is "not effective or adaptive to the situation that prompted the emotion," (Linehan), I am working on ways to engage in Opposite Action.
Here are some of the things I've done to put this skill into practice this weekend:
Got outside on this beautiful summer day and went to the forest.  There, I hugged a Redwood Tree.  There was something peaceful and calming about touching it. I went so far as to hug it, as you can see of this photo of me from this afternoon.  Last night I watched a movie, and in it, a young woman was gifted a meteorite fragment ring.  While I can't get my hands on one of those at the moment, I knew I could get to a tree that has been here for hundreds of years and touch that.  I could feel grounded and secure in its presence.

So, how did I use Opposite Action in this case?  Due to the emotions I was experiencing in connection with irritability, I didn't want to leave the house. I felt like lounging in my pajamas all day feeling sorry for myself. I suppose there's a time and place for lounging in your pajamas, but I knew on some level that I needed to get out into the sun in order to feel better, so I acted opposite to the urge of retreating and sleeping and got dressed and headed out.

Last night, I watched a funny movie called Heartbreakers. It's rated PG-13, and there were a few small triggers, but overall, I was able to watch this film with my boyfriend and have a few good laughs. It was also a great distraction for over 2 hours. 

How did I use opposite action?  Again, with the irritability, I literally felt like complaining about how badly I felt while not taking any action to actually try to help myself.  Because I knew that a comedy could make me laugh, smile, and relax, I was acting opposite to the urge of resisting engaging in self-care.

I'm not 100% irritability-free, but I am slowly feeling better.  I suppose some radical acceptance has shown up after all.  I accept that I feel this way right now, and it is uncomfortable.  I also accept that I can, have been, and will continue to implement skills known to be helpful.

Are you experiencing an emotion that isn't serving your well-being right now?
What are some ways you can use Opposite Action to shift your mood?

Thanks for reading.
More soon.


  1. thank you for posting this today. i was very close with one of my sisters until i was diagnosed (incorrectly) with bi-polar 2. she was embarrassed that i had been admitted into the hospital and immediately created space between us, which triggered me and put me on a personal mission to "make her understand" she had been my only close friend and sounding board for about 15 years. I went into freak out mode. then i got angry and called her and yelled at her for not being there for me. and basically disowned her. that was about 3 years ago. we've since carried on with minimal communication. In the meantime i went 22 months with a med change every month, have seen 4 different psych prescribers and had 3 counselors. I now believe i have been correctly diagnosed with BPD. I have currently been seeing my current thereapist who is introducing DBT. love it, get it and get why i need it. But i'm new, and frankly not very good at it.

    in the last couple of months she has reached out to me, which again triggered me. so i told myself to go slowly and meet her where she is. well , i threw myself at her using all of the charmingly quirky personality traits that i can pull out and use to make anyone love me. well, then she invited me to have a girls night out with her and i was over the moon, sure that she was ready to hear all of my garbage and i was that she would sit quietly, listen to everything i had learned in the last few years, i would show her the youtube videos that seemed that they were produced just for me. i emailed her links, bombarding her with info. the big day came when i was supposed to travel the 50 miles to her home and I froze and worked myself into one of the most severe panic states i have ever been in, and ended up texting her and cancelling and wallowing in the bedroom for a good week. then i received an email stating that she had bought tickets for herself, me and my two oldest sisters (who i'm not close with) to a concert and that we would have a long overdue "sister night".

    I again, was excited for the second chance. as the day drew closer, i started to feel the anxiety again and chose to break out the ativan that i rarely need anymore. the night before the concert after everyone had gone to bed a feeling of terror came over me. i cried most of the night and then realized i hadn't taken my evening meds. I was probably self-sabotaging unconsciously, i think, because that is the one thing that i rarely fail to do for myself. then i gave myself a big peptalk about how stupid it was for me to not take my meds that night, convinced myself i'd never be able to sleep without the trusty seroquel and that it was far too late for me to take it, because then i would be groggy during the road trip to the concert.

    i cancelled 15 minutes before i was supposed to meet up with everyone. hysterically crying through an ativan high. And she did what is i guess normal and said that she feels very angry that i have "blew her off". so i again went into clingy panic and convinced myself that if just bombarded her again with information that she has never asked for and doesn't want-that she would finally understand why i am the way i am. she became very blunt with me and said she doesn't want to understand and she doesn't think that her understanding my dramatic problems will benefit her or her family. shot to the heart. i was her family, i thought.

  2. PART 2 : wow this is waayyy longer than intended.

    today i found out that she is telling several people along with one of my older sisters that i am using meth. i had a problem with it years ago and had backslided and used it a couple of times and i told her about it (maybe 4 months or so ago).

    well since i 'blew her off' her and my eldest sister have come to the conclusion that i am using again and they are telling people. we're originally from a small town that i live very close to and most of the people that i am friends (this is what i call acquaintences) with live there. i finally traced back the rumors to my sisters. it broke my heart.

    so, i wrote a lengthy (several pages) email to them pointing out all of their flaws and turning the light on the deepest secrets that they had shared with me ever since we were kids.

    Thank goodness i was hesitant to send it. i mean i really wanted to but i had that voice inside telling me that this would be it, and that i needed to make sure that i was willing to accept the consequences that send the email would create. I decided to copy the email to a word document and delete it out of email so i didn't accidently trigger the shit-storm which would have ensued had i sent it.

    It's sitting on my computer desktop now. safely in a word document, but flashing neon in my mind. So, i will attempt to use opposite action (which hasn't been discussed in my begiinner DBT sessions) instead of mailing it, at least for today.

    I guess i don't know how to handle this. i want the talk to stop, and i want them to know how badly they have hurt me. i am an isolater and it is difficult for me to visit my hometown without feeling like everyone knows i went nuts. and the thought that i will be visually inspected by people to see if i am showing signs of a meth relapse just freaks me out. i feel like i can't confront them, and i can't ever go back home. facebook is giving me anxiety as i often stay up late and/or get up early and so my posts may look to others as if i am keeping odd hours, which in my head confirms the rumors which feel emotionally devastating to me.

    I could use any input that anyone has on how to handle this. I want my best friend and sister back and i don't know how to go about it. Thanks, and as i said, this post couldn't have been timed more perfectly. :/

    1. I am VERY proud of you for "getting" this concept, since it hasn't yet been covered in your DBT class. I am even more proud that you are applying the skill to avoid making your situation worse and to avoid hurting others. HUGE Kudos! Thanks for taking the time to read and leave your comments. ♥

  3. sooo. i'm not sure how i should handle this situation. do i ignore it? what should I do? i don't trust my own judgement on almost everything right now. I really don't know what to do.

  4. I usually use actions like watching comedies or taking walks with my dogs, really effective.



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