Dialectal Behaviour Therapy

5 Easy Opposite Actions To Catapult Your Life & Career Goals Forward

Opposite Actions

When you experience an emotion, a behaviour usually comes with it.

So, it makes sense to take opposite actions if your current behaviour doesn’t align with your goals, right?

However, when you are neurodiverse and emotionally dysregulated over time, your behaviour may have become ineffective/maladaptive.

Before working with me here’s what neurodivergent clients experience:

  • Crying out of frustration when an obstacle comes up
  • Made to feel like, they are too much so become a Camelon and suffer from exhaustion and burnout
  • Being shut down when contributing their ideas, made to feel wrong, so withdrawing and wanting to quit

How do you know when you’ve acquired maladaptive behaviours?

Any behaviour that STOPS you from adapting to new or difficult circumstances in a healthy way is ineffective

This is because your body causes you to react to emotions in a specific way depending on your level of psychological safety, for example.

  • If you don’t feel safe to take a risk on your team.
  • If you find it difficult to ask other members on your team for help.
  • If working with members of your team, your unique skills and talents are not valued and utilized.

Then you are not in an environment where you’re able to perform at your highest level, (pssst…you can take the neurodiverse friendly quiz to check). This unsafe environment results in hiding your whole self, survival mode, anxiety kicking in and ultimately, your behaviours become ineffective

This is why completing shadow work is important, but that is another post

A useful evidence-based tool you can cultivate today is called Opposite Actions.

The Opposite Action Skill allows us to choose to respond opposite from what our biological response would activate us to do

Doing the opposite action will help you change your emotion, so you have effective behaviours.

When does Opposite Action not work?

People have tried to fake it until they make it

To grit their teeth and just get on with it

This dishonours them, this dishonours you

Because you end up invalidating your emotions

Here’s the thing we are neither trying to dismiss our emotions or ramp it up, just to get it in perspective for that one moment.

The ability to sit with justified emotions is a skill which can be learnt using DBT distress tolerance skills.

Asking the questions: Does my emotion and its intensity match the facts of the situation? Or does it just match my assumptions of the situation?

DBT emotional regulation teaches people how to regulate their emotions, other DBT skills include how to tolerate distress, and effectively manage relationships. It also promotes mindful awareness of thoughts and feelings, which can help people understand why they feel specific emotions and how to cope with those feelings in a healthier way.

So let’s get into the actions

#1 Fear of Failure

Maladaptive behaviours: Not trying, measuring with the wrong stick

Reason: There are many reasons why people might fear failure. For some, it may be due to a lack of self-confidence or self-esteem. Others may feel that failure would mean admitting personal defeat, or that they have let themselves, their family, or their friends down. And for still others, the fear of failure may be based on a belief that success is the only way to prove oneself worthy or valuable.

Whatever the root cause of the fear of failure may be, it can often lead to paralysis and a reluctance to take risks or try new things. This can then lead to missed opportunities and stagnation in one’s life and career. The key to overcoming this fear is first acknowledging it and then taking steps to address

Taking Opposite actions for fear of failure

  • Create a fear list, identify the worst that can happen then create a what if plan
  • Bodydouble with a friend to help you stay accountable
  • Redefine what failure means

Reprogram your subconscious through my Fear of Failure Meditation

#2 Sadness

Maladaptive behaviours: Withdrawal from friends

Reason: Sadness is a human emotion that all people feel at certain times during their lives. Feeling sad is a natural reaction to situations that cause emotional upset or pain. There are various reasons why people can become sad, such as the loss of someone close to them, being rejected by friends, family members or loved ones, and so on.

Taking Opposite actions for sadness

If you withdraw when you are sad, make a point to talk/text/visit a friend next time you feel this way.

It might sound cliché, but the best way to deal with sadness is to talk about it. Bottling up your emotions will only make you feel worse eventually.

There are also several things you can do to physically alter your mood. Exercise, for example, is a great way to boost your serotonin levels and make you feel happier. Spending time outdoors in nature has also been shown to improve moods. And finally, don’t be afraid to indulge in some comforting comfort food every once in a while!

When you feel sad, it’s important to take some time for yourself and do things that make you happy. For example, you can listen to your favourite music, read your favourite book, or take a walk in nature.

What my clients have found helpful is taking stock of a pleasant list to help regulate their emotions.

#3 Anger

Maladaptive behaviours: Fight, yell, and argue.

Reason: If you feel so angry that your thoughts are out of control, if you do things you regret, or if your anger is affecting your relationships and making life difficult at home and/or school, then it might be time to take a timeout and get yourself to a quiet place.

Opposite actions for anger

Taking Opposite actions for anger

You can take opposite actions to the anger by lowering your temperature, relaxing your muscles, dropping your arms down, smoothing out your face, unclenching your jaw, etc., each step will reduce the emotional intensity by a small amount. 

The final step of ‘dropping’ the anger will have a large reduction in emotional intensity.

This is because our internal energy level is low, so this state feels calm and relaxed to us.

Right now, you may feel that your anger is very strong – it may be helpful for you to imagine yourself as being calm and relaxed instead.

If you typically start to yell when you are angry, try talking quietly and politely.

The more you practice self-control and relaxation techniques, the easier it will be for you to calm yourself down quickly when your anger starts getting out of control. It may help if you keep a log of how often you get angry, and what made you angry. This may show you that there is not always a good reason for getting really angry.

It can also help to talk about your feelings with someone you trust and care about.

Always start with the preface of whether you are sharing to vent or sharing to solve

  • Take a short break from the source of anger.
  • Say something nice to someone, whether it’s the person you’re angry at or not.
  • Give your pillow a hug.
  • Let go of tension in your body.
  • Exercise.

#4 Guilt

Maladaptive behaviours: Irritable, always on edge, overly clingy or apologetic.

Reason: Guilt can be hard to overcome because it often serves a valuable purpose.

Guilt is usually triggered by our conscience, which is our internal moral compass. The conscience is designed to keep us in line with our values and make sure we behave in ways that are consistent with those values. So guilt usually arises when we do something we believe is wrong, or when we don’t live up to our own high standards.

For this reason, guilt can be very powerful motivator. It can help us to take responsibility for our actions, learn from our mistakes, and make changes in our behaviour. That’s why guilt is an important part of Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT). DBT helps people to understand their emotions

Taking Opposite action for guilt

There are a few things you can do to help stop feeling guilty:

  1. Acknowledge your feelings. Don’t try to shut down or ignore your feelings of guilt. Accept them and understand why you’re feeling that way.
  2. Talk about it. Sharing your feelings with someone else can help to lessen their power over you and make them easier to deal with.
  3. Take action. Once you’ve acknowledged and talked about your feelings of guilt, take action to rectify the situation that’s causing them. This could mean offering a genuine and sincere apology without defending yourself, making amends, or taking steps to prevent the same thing from happening again in the future.
  4. Forgive yourself.

#5 Jealously

Maladaptive behaviours: To make assumptions, gossip or try to gain control

Reason: Jealousy is often born out of insecurity and a fear of losing something or someone. It can also be triggered by feelings of envy – wanting what someone else has. Jealousy can be destructive and lead to resentment, bitterness, and even violence.

Taking Opposite actions for jealously

It’s important to remember that jealousy is usually based on irrational thoughts and fears and that it can be overcome with patience, understanding, and communication.

Jealousy is usually a sign that you’re not feeling good about yourself, that you have an unmet need. When you feel good about yourself, you don’t feel the need to compare yourself to others.

  • Acknowledge someone else’s achievements, in meditation we use the term namaste, means the light you see in them is what is in you.
  • Make a list of things you’re proud of and read it every day.
  • Spend time around people who make you feel good about yourself
  • Limit your exposure to people who make you feel bad.


Download The Opposite Action Worksheet

DBT for Neurodivergents Bundle

Podcast episode on Opposite Action


Good Therapy

Dunkley, C. (2020) Regulating Emotion the DBT Way. 1st edn.

Doshi, N. and McGregor, L. (2015) Primed to Perform.

I believe everyone should be celebrated, not just tolerated, so I help to build inclusive workplaces.

Tel: 0800 832 1453
Mail: ruth@ruth-ellen.com

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