Opposite Action Part 1

Part One: Opposite Action

Hi, I'm Marsha Linehan.  I'm a professor at the University of Washington and I'm here on this tape to teach you some behavioural skills.  Now these are skills I've been working on developing for a really long time. I do a lot of research and I work with a lot of people and the good news is, as far as we know, these skills work. 

Now the skills we're going to be working on are the skills that have to do with emotions.  And this particular class is a class on how to change your emotions.  And specifically, it's how to change emotions that you want to change.  Now it's really important to pay attention to what I just said 'emotions you want to change'. So we're not working on emotions other people want you to change, other people don't like, other people have told you are not acceptable, etc, etc, etc. And we're not working on the emotions you love, the ones you want to keep around, the ones you don't want to get rid of.

Now, everybody has emotions that they don't like.  Sometimes you have emotions that you never like. Like hate, maybe, or disgust or real sadness. Ok.  Those might be emotions you'd always like to get rid of. But other emotions, sometimes you want them, like anger, and sometimes you absolutely don't want them, like anger again. So we're going to work on... the skills we're going to work on here are just how, when you've decided you want to reduce an emotion, how would you do it. 

Now the facts of the matter are, there are lots of ways to do it and we're not going to go over all those ways. We're going to go over one specific way of doing it, and the name of that skill is Opposite Action. So we're going to work on the skill of Opposite Action as a way to reduce emotions you don't want to have.

Now some of you may have a copy of the Skills Training Manual that I've written.  And if you've got that Skills Training Manual then you are going to want to look  at Skills Training Handout 10 and the name of that is the Emotion Regulation Handout 10 and it's on page 161. So you want to be... you can follow along that while I'm talking.

Now the other thing is, even if you have that and for sure if you don't have that, you are going to probably want to take some notes.  And so in order to take notes, my suggestion would be for you to get up, walk to the tv set, push the pause button, go get yourself some paper, get yourself a pencil and then when you come back, sit down and get the thing running again. And while you're going to do that, I'm going to go to a different room and get ready to teach the skills. And I'll see you in a minute.


Now you may be wondering 'What in the world is the skill of opposite action?'  So you have to know a few things about emotions first.  And the most important thing to know for the class today, is that every emotion has an action. That's... it's sort of if an emotion wants you to do something. And each emotion kind of makes you want to do something different.  So for example, when you're afraid, what you want to do is run away.  For example, if you're in a theatre and someone yells 'FIRE!' and you get terrified, what do you do?  You run.  In fact, that's how people end up panicked.

And have you also noticed that you also... if you aren't running away from it, you just avoid going there in the first place.  So you're really afraid of applying for a job.  So what do you do? Now admit it, you don't apply for the job. Or, you're really afraid of being criticized at a party so either you don't go to the party, or you avoid every single solitary person you thing might say something critical.  I get afraid sometimes in meetings that if I say something, I'll get criticized.  So what do I do?  I keep my mouth shut. I know that's hard to believe, but I've actually done that. 

So.  Ok. Now, that's fear.  So let's go through a few other emotions just to make sure you get the point.  Ok. What do you want... what do you want to do when you are angry? Attack.  That when people when they get angry that's when people attack other people. You either attack him by hitting him, or pummeling him, or by yelling at him. 

What do you want to do when you're sad?  Have you ever noticed that when you are really really sad, usually what you want to do is that you want to crawl into bed and put the covers over your head. You don't want to do anything. When you get sad, you get slowed down and you sort of want to stay where you're at. And you just sort of go like this:

And you don't want to do a thing.  So that's when you are sad.

Or, how about when you are ashamed.  Now what do you want to do when you are ashamed? Now shame is a very interesting emotion. Have you noticed that if you're ashamed, usually what you want to do is hide. Start wanting to go like this?

So the point is what?  Every emotion has an action. That's the first point you've got to remember.

Now the second point is, if the emotion has an action that means the emotion causes the action. You can actually change the emotion by changing the action.  In other words, not only do emotions cause actions, but actions cause emotions.  And you can change your emotion by changing your action.

So it's kind of a vicious circle - emotions cause actions and then actions cause emotion. And emotions cause actions and actions cause emotions, emotion cause actions, around and around and around, around, around, around.  And the best way to think about it is that emotions love themselves.  They just keep themselves going. That's why it's so difficult to change.  Because they go round and round and round.

One of the ways that you can change your emotion is to just reverse the circle.  We just start with action that is opposite and that circle starts going in the other way. And the emotion starts going down. Kind of like a miracle. 

So that's what we're going to work on tonight, is how to change your emotion by changing your action. 

Now there's one more little detail that you've got to learn. So you've learned one point already which is emotions have actions. So we'll assume you've got that. You've learned, two, that you can change an emotion by changing the emotion action.  So that's point two.  Now you only have to learn one more thing and then I'll tell you how to do the whole thing. And the other thing you've got to learn is this, is that it doesn't always work. Changing your action does not always change your emotions.

And so you've got to figure out when is it going to work.   The simple rule is this:  Opposite action will work whenever the emotion is not justified by the situation. So that's the basic rule.  So the one thing you've always got to figure out is 'Does the situation actually justify the emotion?'

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