People and poets have all told us to let our emotions run wild and to do whatever we want. When we let go of our dormant emotions, we also feel a sense of relief. This mantra of doing whatever our hearts desire, however, might not be appropriate in all situations. This is attributable to the fact that all emotions trigger some kind of action, which may or may not be acceptable in every case. For example, when we are filled with rage and frustration, we want to fight. It goes without saying that hitting someone is never the right thing to do. In such situations, we should try a different approach: do the opposite of what we feel.
Simply put, the opposite action is choosing not to do what your feelings are encouraging you to do. The opposite action strategy can be beneficial because we are often heavily influenced by our emotions. This behavioral strategy prevents our emotions from getting the best of us. The fundamental premise behind the concept of opposite action is that all of our impulses drive us to do certain actions. In some situations, these actions can endanger others, if not simply be inappropriate and impractical. This is where the opposite action strategy comes to the rescue. It allows you to be a rebel and go against your emotions, while avoiding any destructive behavior.
Related Read: Emotions Aren’t Facts: How to Separate the Two
When you are anxious or depressed, your emotions may lead you to hurt yourself or even contemplate suicide. If you are lonely and sad, you may want to isolate yourself in your room, avoid social gatherings, and cry yourself to sleep every night. In these situations, if you use the opposite action strategy, you will slowly learn to overcome the thoughts and feelings that reinforce the unhelpful behaviors.
However, opposite action should not be equated with suppressing feelings. It does not mean dismissing the validity of your emotional experience. In fact, your “action tendencies” might be right in some cases. For example, if there is a ferocious lion in front of you, your fear would prevent you from approaching the predator. Or if you are happy, you would want to celebrate. When the action is appropriate for the situation at hand, there is no harm in expressing oneself.
So, if you are going through a difficult time, do not give in to your emotions by not going to see your friends. Instead, do the opposite action—get out of bed, get dressed, and visit those who care for you. This may lift your spirits and make you feel better. You will be happy you did not concede to your natural emotional reaction in the end.
In this way, the opposite action strategy can assist you in reversing your negative emotions and uplift you. So, if you are outraged, do something nice for yourself; if you are ashamed, share your feelings with a trusted friend rather than burying them. By doing the opposite of what your emotions tell you to do, you are taking a stand against anxiety and depression. Over time, it will become easier and you will feel better too.
When you think about it, the concept of opposite action is quite radical. We have been conditioned to believe that the best time to do something is “when we feel right.” If we have to tell someone the truth, for example, we will wait until the time is right (i.e., until we “feel” we can tell them). However, if we know this is the right thing to do, why should we delay? Why not just go ahead and do it? This also will prevent us from being slaves to our emotions and acting on the spur of the moment. It will make us more conscious of our actions. This article by Healthline explains more on how you can take charge of your emotions: How to Control Your Emotions: 11 Strategies to Try.
When using opposite action, keep one simple rule in mind: use it when emotions and facts do not correspond. Emotions can be illogical and irrational at times. When they are, you should be prepared with your opposite action weapon. Here are some examples of when you should be using opposite action:
When you are socially withdrawn: You may avoid all forms of human interaction; however, your isolation will only make matters worse. This is where your emotions can be counterproductive because being with those who care for you is the only way you can feel better.
When you are lethargic: It is OK to take a short break and relax, but you should be cautious because you do not want your lethargy to become a habit. In such a situation, resist the temptation to crawl into bed. Instead, wake up, make a to-do list, and be ready to cross something off your list.
When you feel like you have failed: Sometimes, you may avoid doing certain things because you believe you are incompetent. However, this feeling is misguided because you cannot predict the outcome simply by sitting on your couch. Even if you screw up, you should remember that perfection was never your objective in the first place. You should be proud of yourself for making the effort.
Going against your feelings is easier said than done. But our RDU counselors are here to help you. At RDU Counseling for Change, you can learn the art of opposite action through our mental health counseling and online therapy in Raleigh, NC. Our Wake County counseling sessions include individual, couples, and family therapy. If you want to become the master of your emotions, you can contact us at (919) 713 0260.