HomeDialectal Behaviour Therapy5 Easy DBT Opposite Actions You Can Use Today

    5 Easy DBT Opposite Actions You Can Use Today


    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 emotionally dysregulated over time, your behaviour may have become ineffective/maladaptive.

    Before working with me, here’s what my clients experience:

    • Crying out of frustration when an obstacle comes up
    • They are made to feel like they are too much so they become like 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 when it becomes a maladaptive response.

    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 taking a risk on your team.
    • If you find it difficult, ask other team members for help.
    • If you are working with your team members, your unique skills and talents are not valued and utilised.

    Then you are not in an environment where you can perform at your highest level. 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 respond opposite to what our biological response would activate us to do.

    Doing the opposite action will help you change your emotions and behave effectively.

    When does Opposite Action not work?

    People have tried to fake it until they make it

    To grit their teeth and 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 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: Do my emotion and their 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 tolerating distress and effectively managing 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 healthily.

    Being emotionally regulated is the result you get from taking the Healing from rejection sensitivity dysphoria 5-day challenge.

    So let’s get into the actions;

    #1 Fear of Failure

    Maladaptive behaviours: Not trying because you’re 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 talking about it is the best way to deal with sadness. Bottling up your emotions will only make you feel worse eventually.

    There are also several things you can do to alter your mood physically. 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 occasionally!

    When you feel sad, it’s essential 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 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.

    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.

    Our conscience usually triggers guilt, 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 don’t live up to our high standards.

    For this reason, guilt can be a potent motivator. It can help us take responsibility for our actions, learn from our mistakes, and change our behaviour.

    Guilt isn’t helpful when…

    • Guilt becomes paralysing: When we feel guilty, we may become stuck in our thoughts and actions, preventing us from taking constructive steps towards change or resolution. We may ruminate on our mistakes, replaying them over and over again in our minds, which can lead to further negative emotions like shame or anxiety.
    • Guilt can be disproportionate: Sometimes, our feelings of guilt may not match the severity of the situation or our actions. This can lead to excessive self-blame and self-punishment, which can be harmful to our self-esteem and mental health.
    • Guilt can be self-centred: When we feel guilty, we may become overly focused on ourselves and our own feelings instead of considering the needs and perspectives of others. This can lead to a lack of empathy and understanding in our relationships.
    • Guilt can lead to a sense of helplessness: If we feel guilty about something we cannot change or control, we may become overwhelmed and hopeless, which can impact our overall well-being.

    Overall, it’s important to acknowledge and reflect on our mistakes and take responsibility for our actions. However, excessive or ongoing guilt may not be helpful, and we may need to practice self-compassion, forgiveness, and self-care to move forward and make positive changes in our lives.

    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, please 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 can be overcome with patience, understanding, and communication.

    Jealousy is usually a sign that you feel bad about yourself or have an unmet need. You don’t need to compare yourself to others when you feel good about yourself.

    • Acknowledge someone else’s achievements; in meditation, we use the term namaste, which means the light you see in them is what is in you.
    • Make a list of things you’re proud of and read it daily.
    • 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

    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.

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