Yesterday in my DBT group we discussed opposite action. When you are feeling an emotion strongly, be it fear, guilt or shame, sadness or depression, or anger, you are supposed to determine if that feeling is justified. Not if it’s valid. If you feel it, it is real and it is valid.
Now, whether or not that feeling is JUSTIFIED is a totally different matter. Webster defines “justified” as “to prove or show to be just, right, or reasonable.” “Reasonable” being the key word here.
My therapist recommended thinking about what a poll of 100 people would say about the emotion you are trying to act out on. If the majority of those polled would say it is NOT justified, or reasonable, then that is the time to try opposite action.
Opposite action is doing the exact opposite of what you feel like doing in an attempt to regulate your emotions and change your mood. I have tried opposite action before, as described HERE. I found it to work very well. I started off angry at Jay, and decided instead of stewing in my anger, or sending a nasty email, that I would write about all the awesome things he’s done for me, and how much he loves me. By the end, I completely forgot about my anger. The key is to catch whatever emotion you’re wrapped up in before it turns into something you can no longer control.
My therapist told us that our homework for the week was to try out opposite action “just for fun”. She actually said that. “Just for fun.” LMCAO (which stands for “laughing my crazy ass off” for those who don’t know) Yeah, loads of fun. I know it’s sometimes more fun for me to wallow in those strong emotions, right or not!
I was trying to find a time yesterday afternoon to use opposite action. I got the chance when I was driving home. I get so angry when driving. The people here just flat out do not know how to conduct themselves while driving, but that is probably the case with idiots everywhere. I tend to get to the point where I’m slamming my fists down on the steering wheel, SCREAMING and cussing, and holding myself back from ramming my vehicle into theirs. So, here’s my question: What would be the opposite action in THAT case? What is the opposite action to road rage?
Yesterday during group, my therapist kept giving scenarios where opposite action could be used, and would then ask us what the opposite action would be. The other girl in my group answered several times, “Not do x-y-z?” That is the absence of action, not the opposite of the action one is wanting to take. So, the answer to my above question is NOT to not scream and refrain from hitting the steering wheel. That would be the absence of action.
Today, coming back to work from break I got another pretty bad case of road rage. Funny how that springs up EVERY TIME I get behind the wheel. The guy in front of me was driving 10-15 mph (literally) when I was trying to get back to work. I was LIVID. I wanted to get up really close to his bumper, all the while screaming at him and shaking my fist. Instead, I backed off, and told myself that he is probably just confused and not sure where to go. Or maybe there is something wrong with his car that is causing him to go slowly. Maybe he doesn’t know the streets very well, and is just being extra cautious.
When I started thinking from the other driver’s point of view, my anger began to dissipate. I took a few breaths and was able to calm myself down. I didn’t ram into him. I didn’t hit the steering wheel. I didn’t scream and cuss. And I felt better. I guess I shouldn’t be by now, but I am always amazed how much those DBT skills actually work.