DBT Self Help - Opposite Action
Emotion Regulation

Emotion Regulation is the Dialectical Behavioral Therapy module that teaches how emotions work. It provides skills to help manage emotions instead of being managed by them, reduce vulnerability to negative emotions, and build positive emotional experiences.

Opposite to Emotion Action is a technique for changing painful emotions. The idea behind opposite action is that it can help you deal with distressing emotions by setting into motion an action that is helpful instead of harmful. Doing this counteracts the suffering you might otherwise feel because of the distressing emotion and prevents you from doing something harmful.

For example, if you are angry, there are many actions that you might take to express your angry feelings. But if the action that you take is one that is opposite to the emotion you feel, like walking away from a situation when you are angry, or distracting yourself with something nice, then we have put your energy into something that is eventually going to make you feel better. In this way, you not only reversed your action (walked away instead of yelling at someone), but you also began to make a change in your angry feelings. You didn’t escalate or heighten your 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 your emotions. You are using that angry feeling to take a different action. The result of this will be a gradual change in your 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 you are in, maybe out of proportion, or escalating, or be emotions that you want to challenge or change.

For example, if you are feeling very depressed and low and like no one wants you around and you might as well just stay in bed, a way to act opposite to the emotions is to get yourself up and do something (go for a walk, go to the grocery store, visit a friend, go to therapy, etc.). You are not denying your emotion, but you are challenging it by acting opposite to it. Instead of staying at home in bed, you are getting up and going out. You may not see big changes, but little by little you will notice changes in the way you feel.

When Not To Use Opposite Action

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 feel guilt 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. This is not a situation where you would want to act opposite to your emotion, because your emotion fits the situation.




To act opposite to fear, you must do what you are afraid of doing, over and over. This is much like exposure therapy. Approach events, places, tasks, activities, people you are afraid of. Do things to give yourself a sense of control and mastery. When overwhelmed, make a list of small steps or tasks you can do, then do the first thing on the list.


Much like fear, shame requires exposure. Shame is an emotional response meant to exert social control. Shame makes you feel like you’ve done something inappropriate and even that you yourself are wrong. The best cure for shame is to bring what shames you into the light. Do what makes you feel ashamed again instead of avoiding it.


Feeling sad can make you want to avoid activities and people. Instead, approach the situations. Go to that coffee date with a friend. Do those dishes. Try to do things that make you feel competent and self-confident.


Gently avoid the person you are angry with rather than attacking them. Do something nice rather than mean or attacking. Imagine sympathy and empathy for other person rather than blame.

Explore More DBT Skills

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Additional Resources

Mental Health Resources
We aren't the only mental health resource out there. Check out these books, websites, social media accounts, and more for additional support. Read More
DBT Flashcards

Making DBT skills second nature takes practice. Use these flashcards on their page, download your own to print out, or purchase our pre-made set from our shop. Read More

DBT Encyclopedia

DBT has its own lingo which can be hard to understand for beginners. Visit our homemade DBT Encyclopedia to figure out what a term means. Read More

Mindfulness Exercises

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Diary Cards

Diary cards help track your emotions, urges, behaviors, and skill use. They help you see patterns. Learn how to use them and get samples. Read More