Opposite Action is a very popular Dialectical Behavior Therapy skill among teens.
In Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), teens learn a variety of practical skills they can use to change unhealthy and ineffective behaviors. These skills are divided into four core modules: Emotion Regulation, Mindfulness, Distress Tolerance, and Interpersonal Effectiveness.
One well-known skill in the Emotion Regulation set is called Opposite Action. This skill is helpful for teens struggling with depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, anger-management issues, trauma, and more. Here, we’re going to give a brief overview of how this DBT skill works.
When to Use Opposite Action
Use Opposite Action when you’re experiencing a painful emotion that doesn’t fit your particular situation, or isn’t effective for you at that time. For example, let’s say a teen feels heightened shame every time she walks into class. She did not do anything wrong to her peers or teachers, so there is no particular justification for feeling ashamed. But the fact is that she feels ashamed, worthless, and has a low sense of self-esteem every time she walks into that class. So she hardly speaks up in class or raises her hand.
This is a good time to use Opposite Action.
Because her emotion (shame) does not fit the facts of the situation and isn’t effective, she should do exactly the opposite of what she’s tempted to do. She wants to slink back to her chair, try to hide, remain unobtrusive, and stay silent. Opposite Action tells her to walk in the room with her back straight, puff out her chest, and sit up at her desk. Opposite Action tells her to keep raising her hand and answering questions. Yes, even though this will be very hard for her to do.
How DBT’s Opposite Action Works
Dialectical Behavior Therapy theorizes that changing actions – even when not done genuinely – leads to changed emotions. In this vein, teens who feels depressed and want to stay in bed should do exactly the opposite. They should get up, get dressed, and get out of the house. DBT theorizes that they’ll feel better this way, even if they don’t want to get out of bed in the first place. Opposite Action also teaches them to push themselves to take part in pleasant activities that they used to enjoy, whether it’s cooking, art, sports, reading, or something else—despite the fact that such a depressed teen may feel they cannot, or don’t deserve, to feel more positive.
When Not to Use Opposite Action
In DBT, not every skill should be used at any time. There are certain cases where Opposite Action is not the right skill to implement. When your emotion does fit the facts of your particular situation and/or is fully justified, then one should not use Opposite Action.
For example, let’s say a teen feels guilty or ashamed when they walk into class because they cheated on a test the day before, and now the teacher is handing back their papers. In this case, the emotion of guilt is fully justified. It makes sense for this teen to feel guilty and ashamed. Such a situation wouldn’t call for an Opposite Action like ignore the guilty feelings, feel confident, sit up straight and proud. It would, instead, call for the teen to brainstorm how to solve the problem of dishonesty. Perhaps they could go up to the teacher after class and explain what happened. Or talk to their parents and ask them for ideas.
Let’s give another example. A teen feels anxious because they’re walking home alone at 2am. It’s dark outside, and a few hooded figures approach from behind. In such a situation, the emotion of anxiety does fit the facts. Anxiety is the appropriate emotion to feel in such a scenario. So, the teen should go along with the urge to run the other way. Opposite Action, which, in this case, would be approaching the other figures calmly and proudly, walking straight up to them, engaging with them, would not be a good idea, because it would probably increase,
DBT Mental Health Treatment for Teens
If you are struggling with depression, anxiety, self-injurious or suicidal behavior, trauma, low self-esteem, loneliness, jealousy, or more, consider a teen treatment center that specializes in Dialectical Behavior Therapy. A DBT teen rehab center will help you learn skills like Opposite Action that can help your depression, anxiety, anger, or any other painful emotions or mental health issues you’re struggling with. Check to see if you’d benefit from a teen residential treatment center (RTC), partial hospitalization program (PHP), or intensive outpatient program (IOP).
Originally from California, Yael combines her background in English and Psychology in her role as Content Writer for Evolve Treatment Centers.