Opposite to Emotion Action the last suggested technique for changing painful emotions. Like all of the techniques we have been learning about, it takes a lot of practice to be able to use it skillfully. The idea behind this technique is that it can help to deal with distressing emotions by setting into motion an action that is helpful, not harmful. Doing this counteracts the suffering you might otherwise feel because of the distressing emotion.
For example, if we are angry, there are many actions that we might take to express our angry feelings. But if the action that we take is one that is opposite to the emotion we feel, like walking away from a situation when we are angry, or distracting ourselves with something nice, then we have put our energy into something that is eventually going to make us feel better. In this way, we not only reversed our action (walked away instead of yelling at someone), but we also began to make a change in our angry feelings. We didn't escalate or heighten our feelings, but did something that made the feelings decrease, by putting something positive in their place.
It's important to know that this skill is not about trying to suppress our emotions. We are using that angry feeling to take a different action. The result of this will be a gradual change in our emotions.
The kinds of situations in which it is appropriate to use this technique are ones in which the emotions might not be realistic to the situation we are in, maybe out of proportion, or escalating, or be emotions that we want to challenge or change.
For example, if we are feeling very depressed and low and like no one wants us around and we might as well just stay in bed, a way to act opposite to the emotions is to get ourselves up and do something (go for a walk, go to the grocery store, visit a friend, go to therapy, etc.). We are not denying our emotion, but we are challenging it by acting opposite to it. Instead of staying at home in bed, we are getting up and going out. We may not see big changes, but little by little we will notice changes in the way we feel.
Several years ago, I needed a major amount of dental work done. I had been a dental phobic all my life. I had major panic if I even smelled a smell like a dentist's office. But I really wanted this work done - it was mostly cosmetic work, and my brother had agreed to pay the whole amount, enough, as the dentists said, to buy a new car at the time. I was so scared that I could not sleep for days before my first appointment. But I went. And when they called me to come in to the office, I picked myself up and went in. I was screaming no, I can't, inside, but I did anyway. This process lasted five months. I did not lose my fear right away, but I made myself keep going, and as the time went on, I had less and less fear, and now I think nothing of a trip to the dentist. I had to act opposite to my fear in the beginning, to eventually reach a place where that fear had turned into acceptance.
Sometimes this is NOT the best thing to do. If you are afraid because you are in an unsafe situation, pay attention to that fear. Do not go into that unsafe situation.
If you are ashamed about something, and that shame really does not belong to you (i.e. it is from your past or from when someone told you you should be ashamed), you might try to do what you feel ashamed about over and over and over (like buying a new dress, or getting medical treatment, or eating a hearty lunch), do these things over and over, until you are desensitized from the shame.
But if you feel shame because you have done something that is contrary to your sense of right or your own ethics, then do your best to repair the situation and to apologize, and then move on. This is not a situation where you would want to act opposite to your emotion, because your emotion fits the situation.
Can some of you give examples of how you have acted opposite to your current emotion? Can you describe a situation in which it was not appropriate to act opposite to your present emotion?
What do you do when you are angry?
What are some opposite actions you could take when you have these emotions?
Look at Emotion Regulation Handout 10, "Changing Emotions by Acting Opposite to the Present Emotion." There are suggestions for dealing with fear, guilt and shame, sadness or depression and anger. Pick a situation in your life, and use these suggestions to come up with a plan of action. Keep practicing your action, and watch to see what happens with your emotions.