Another Skill for the Toolbox: Opposite to Emotion

February 8th, 2013

An image that reads, "OPPOSITE"A vital part of the recovery process is building a toolbox of coping skills and mechanisms you can draw on when urges come, emotions run high, and returning to old negative behaviors seems the easier way out. One skill I’ve particularly been finding myself using daily, sometimes even moment by moment, stems from Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and is called “Opposite to Emotion.”

It’s nothing fancy, and if you take the words literally, you have the skill. Basically, if you are experiencing distressing emotions, you act opposite or do something helpful rather than harmful. This does not mean you suppress emotions, rather, it is used to help regulate and tolerate emotions and experience more positive events and growth.

For example, lately my ‘to do’ list seems to be never ending and I have been extremely overwhelmed.  I’ve been experiencing both fear and depression that many mornings I don’t want to get out of bed. My first urge upon awaking has been to pull up the covers and avoid the day. In that moment, I have to use my skills and self-talk to remind myself that ignoring my responsibilities and not taking care of myself will only have more detrimental effects and cause more stress. So, rather than avoiding the day, I take it moment by moment and get myself up, make a list of small steps to accomplish and face the day acting opposite to my fear and depression even though my body and mind might be screaming “no, no, no, no!”

Another example is sticking to my meal plan when all the monster voices in my body and mind want to engage in old negative patterns and behaviors. All I can sometimes hear is “oh, you can skip that meal or snack,” “you ate too much, go get rid of it,” etc. and I have to act oppositely and remind myself that my meal plan is nourishment to my body and without it I would not be able to do the things I love. Sometimes, I have to combine the skills in my toolbox, layering opposite to emotion with distraction or self-soothing actions.

Image of a face smiling on the left side and crying on the rightThis skill can be extremely helpful with activating the wise mind, so you can create positive events from deregulated emotions. Again, it is not meant to discount emotions! If you are in an unsafe place and experience fear, get out! Don’t own guilt or shame that is not justified. If you need to say you are sorry because you actually did something against your values, apologize. Just remember that even when our emotions run high and everything in us screams “no!” , take a moment to double check the thoughts, feelings, and emotions surrounding them. Before you react, pause and step back to see if it’s an opportunity to act opposite and even begin to take that small baby step toward creating something more positive in its place.

DBT was created by Masha Linehan. For more information:

Written by: Faith (Guest Blogwriter)

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