#Askingforafriend: Acting opposite to the emotion

February 17, 2021 / by / 0 Comment

By Mike Wallace
GCU Office of Student Care

You don’t feel like doing something, and it might be the result of intense dread caused by fear, a negative experience or not knowing how things will turn out. Or you simply might feel like doing something else.

Scenarios can involve wanting to lash out because of an injustice or feeling slighted in some way (e.g., road rage) or  shameful experiences that stay with you to the point that it is extremely hard to even confront a situation that slightly resembles that traumatic event.  

Writing a term paper, doing a not-so-fun chore, having to confront a friend who hurt you, speaking in public in front of peers, asking out that cute girl you just met at GCBC, having to go through the whole day with a coffee stain on your shirt when you are not able to change … I could go on, but I think you get my drift.

What all these scenarios have in common, though, is that they elicit emotions that can paralyzed you. These emotions/temperaments, such as fear (anxiety), anger, guilt and shame, are good because they serve a purpose but become troubling when they are toxic or unproductive. 

The good news is that there is an effective coping tool. Acting opposite to the emotion is an element of dialectical behavioral therapy that is effective once you recognize your ineffective emotions or temperaments.

Marsha Linehan, founder of this approach, said that when your emotions become unproductive and/or toxic, you need to act opposite to their energy in order to obtain mental balance.

When you realize that their emotions/temperaments are not working for you, you can see patterns in your life that are unproductive and limit growth.

“Act opposite” examples:

  • When anger tells you to lash out, yell, hit or break something, act opposite. Take a deep breath, go for a walk, count to 10, but slow down to let your executive mind catch your emotion and temper that anger.
  • When shame is unjustified (distorted) and tells you to run or hide, act opposite. Keep doing the behavior over and over and/or stay in the situation until your negative thoughts abate. In other words, keep your stained shirt on and do not run from an embarrassing moment. Actors, for example, are told to just keep going if they miss a line or a cue. The lesson is to work through the shame – do not avoid it.
  • When fear is irrational and tells you to avoid something, act opposite and do/face the situation anyway. Get on the plane, give the speech, ask her out …
  • When it is a temperament issue and your inner lazy man is calling, act opposite and take that first step toward the goal. Start that paper, clean that first box in the attic …

The beauty of this skill is that once you take the first step, it gets easier as natural momentum kicks in. You’ll feel better and stronger afterward.


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