In the world of Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) opposite action is a tool to for understanding and managing intense emotions as a way to move out of behavioural patterns that our emotions are attempting to dictate. The concept of doing the opposite action is that it allows us to regulate our own emotions the way we intend, while implementing flexible coping strategies that compliment our mental health.

The basic idea is that when we act on what our emotions, the behaviours we participate in tend to reinforce those emotions. For example, when an individual is feeling anxious, the natural response would be to avoid the source of the anxiety or perceived threat of danger. However, the avoidance will perpetuate and intensify the anxiety over time. Therefore, the principle understanding the concept of opposite action can assist us to recognize some of the patterns our emotions have influenced in the past, that have contributed to our symptoms.

How to use the concept of opposite action in our lives:
1. Identify and label the emotion we are experiencing.
2. Consider the urges associated with the emotions, e.g., what is this emotion trying to get me to do?
3. Challenge the urge and consider the potential consequences to following through on the urge.
4. Determine the opposite actions to the urges driven by the emotion and do the opposite. For instance, if the emotion is sadness and the urge is to withdraw from friends and family, the opposite action may involve spending more time with friends or family and engaging in prosocial activities.
5. Follow through on the action despite the resistance you may feel in the body or mind.
6. Practice a observing your thoughts and emotions from a distance, including your bodily sensations without judgement, and then follow through with the opposite action.
7. Reflect on the outcomes from following through with the opposite actions and notice any improvements in your emotional state or if the intensity of the original emotion has decreased.
Emotions and opposite action steps
• Anger: Instead of reacting impulsively and lashing out at others, practice responding with kindness and compassion to yourself and others, while engaging in activities that promote relaxation, such as diaphragmatic breathing.
• Sadness: Instead of isolating yourself and withdrawing from others and laying in bed participate in activities that give you a sense of pleasure and mastery, despite the urge to withdraw and do nothing.
• Shame: Instead of hiding from away from the source of shame, reach out to friends and family for support, practice self-care and compassion and use kind self-talk, while engaging in self-soothing.
• Guilt: Instead of engaging in self-blame practice self-forgiveness or actively prevent to make similar mistakes in the future.