Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a comprehensive and evidence-based therapeutic approach developed by acclaimed therapist Dr. Marsha Linehan. It has been found effective for a wide range of emotional regulation and interpersonal challenges. One of the core skills within DBT is the Opposite Action Technique, a powerful tool for managing intense emotions and promoting healthier behavioural responses.
This therapeutic technique essentially encourages us to act in the opposite manner than our mind and body seems to tell us to.
It’s rooted in the understanding that sometimes the most beneficial way to deal with intense emotions is to engage in actions that are opposite to the urges those emotions prompt. By deliberately choosing an opposite action, you can avoid impulsive and unhelpful behaviors, strained relationships, and reduced overall wellbeing.
For example, if you’re experiencing low mood and energy, the opposite action may involve going outside for a walk, engaging in self-care, or doing something social.
The opposite action technique teaches you to identify thoughts, triggers, and responses which in turn allows you to learn new behaviors and habits.
The Opposite Action Technique in 3 Steps
1. Identify your emotions and triggers. Be mindful of challenging emotions as they arise. Label them. Awareness of these emotions will help you identify the possible trigger and thoughts about the trigger that lead to the physiological responses.
2. Notice your thoughts. Once the challenging emotions are identified, examine the automatic thoughts you had in response to the trigger. Be careful not to dwell in these thoughts – rumination is a key cause of poor mental wellbeing.
3. Choose an opposite reaction. Pay attention to your physiology, which may include heightened heart rate, rapid breathing, or muscle tension. Examine your behavioral urges or reactions, which could include shouting, stonewalling, or self-isolation. Now, consider what would be an appropriate opposite action. Is it taking a break from the conversation? Going outside for a walk? Talking to someone? It may feel difficult to engage in at first – that’s okay. Over time, it’ll become more natural.
Benefits of the Opposite Action Technique
The Opposite Action Technique encourages you to pause, reflect, and choose actions that align with your long-term goals rather than giving in to impulsive emotional responses. As you consistently practice choosing actions in opposition to their initial urges, you can develop a heightened awareness of your emotions and the impact they have on your decisions.
In addition, The Opposite Action Technique can help you express more considerate and empathetic responses in your social interactions. For example, if you’re inclined to withdraw during moments of conflict due to feelings of anxiety, the technique encourages you to engage in open communication instead.
This approach not only helps prevent misunderstandings, but also fosters the development of healthier relationships built on mutual understanding and trust.
The Opposite Action Technique is more than just a strategy for managing emotions; it's a gateway to personal growth and transformation.
Its benefits extend beyond the realm of emotion regulation, touching upon various aspects of individuals' lives.
Enhanced emotional intelligence can equip you to navigate complex emotional landscapes better, while improved relationships create a nurturing support network. By promoting overall wellbeing, the technique can enable you to thrive amidst life's challenges.
Breaking habitual patterns of behavior can be challenging, but by practicing consistently, these patterns can be reshaped over time.
With the opposite action technique, you can navigate life's challenges with newfound grace and resilience, ultimately embracing a life characterized by emotional harmony, fulfilling relationships, and improved mental wellbeing.
Matthew Schubert is a mental health counselor who owns and operates Gem State Wellness in Boise, Idaho.
He specializes in utilizing cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) with children and adults.