Opposite Action is one of the most sought-after skills of dialectical therapy in teens. Through Dialectical Behavior Treatment, teens are taught a range of abilities that they can apply to modify unhealthy and ineffective behaviors. The DBT skills for teens are broken down into four main modules: Emotion Control, Mindfulness Distress Tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness.

A well-known skill within the Emotion Regulation set is known as Opposite Action. This skill is beneficial to adolescents who are struggling with anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem, as well as anger management issues and trauma, and much more. In this article, we'll provide a brief explanation of the way this DBT technique works.

When to use the opposite action

In DBT, not every skill should be used at any time. There are certain cases where Opposite Action is not the right skill to implement. When your emotion does fit the facts of your particular situation and/or is fully justified, then one should not use the opposite action.

For example, let’s say a teen feels guilty or ashamed when they walk into class because they cheated on a test the day before, and now the teacher is handing back their papers. In this case, the emotion of guilt is fully justified. It makes sense for this teen to feel guilty and ashamed.

Such a situation wouldn’t call for an Opposite Action like ignoring the guilty feelings, feeling confident, sitting up straight, and being proud. It would, instead, call for the teen to brainstorm how to solve the problem of dishonesty. Perhaps they could go up to the teacher after class and explain what happened. Or talk to their parents and ask them for ideas.

Let’s give another example. A teen feels anxious because they’re walking home alone at 2 am. It’s dark outside, and a few hooded figures approach from behind. In such a situation, the emotion of anxiety does fit the facts. Anxiety is the appropriate emotion to feel in such a scenario. So, the teen should go along with the urge to run the other way. Opposite Action, which, in this case, would be approaching the other figures calmly and proudly, walking straight up to them, engaging with them, would not be a good idea, because it would probably increase.