Opposite Action is an Emotion Regulation skill for when you have an unjustified emotion that is triggering you to act in a way that doesn’t help you.
All emotions are valid in that they are real and you experience them as physical sensations, thoughts and action urge. Some, however, are unjustified in that their extreme intensity does not meet the facts of the situation. A great example of this would be an intense fear of elevators. Perhaps you were once stuck in a very hot and crowded elevator for an hour before someone came to fix it and let you out. Since then, you have been extremely afraid of riding elevators and avoid them at all costs. However, you now have a job interview for your dream position on the 60th floor of a sky rise building. Your intense fear triggers you to not attend the interview, but that would be very unhelpful for you. Therefore, you need to act opposite of your urge and take the elevator.
Here are 4 other ways you can use Opposite Action:
1) The feeling of love towards an abusive partner. If you are with someone who abuses you,
and you are still experiencing much love towards the person, that is real and valid, but certainly not helpful to you. In this case, using Opposite Action would mean doing the opposite of what the love makes you feel like doing. So, physically staying away from the person you love and separating yourself in other ways (phone, social media, frequented places, etc.) would be ways to do what is needed to take care of yourself.
2) The feeling of intense anxiety in social situations. Perhaps you are someone who becomes extremely anxious when meeting new people, so much so that it triggers you to avoid all social situations where there may be someone new present. That much anxiety is certainly real, but it doesn’t meet the facts of the situation in that chances are nothing life-threatening will happen simply by meeting new people. So, acting opposite of this means attending these social events that are so very scary.
3) The feeling of intense sadness often experienced during the depression. Sometimes depression causes such sadness that is debilitating because it triggers you to isolate, stay in bed all day and avoid responsibilities. However, acting on these urges is not only unhelpful, it often increases the depressed feelings. So, acting opposite of these urges would mean spending time with friends and family, going to work and physically exercising.
4) The feeling of intense guilt when you say ‘no’ to an unreasonable request. Some people have much difficulty taking care of their own needs and saying ‘no’ when necessary. Saying ‘no’ to someone you love can produce such intense feelings of guilt that trigger you to do things that you really don’t want to do. Therefore, acting opposite would mean saying ‘no’ to demands that are unhealthy for you.
Emmi Barnoski, LCSW
1731 N. Marcey St, Suite 510
Chicago, IL 60614
When you know a thing, to hold that you know it, and when you do not know a thing, to allow that you do not know it: this is knowledge.