Opposite to Emotion Behavior

Opposite to emotion behavior is a technique that comes from traditional behaviorism, but has been adapted to treat emotion dysregulation in newer science-based therapies such as CBT and DBT. The goal of the intervention is to cut the cycle of behaviors, thoughts, and feelings that maintain negative mood states. By ceasing behaviors that fuel negative emotions, you can reduce the intensity and duration of the emotion. 

Emotions love themselves. The more we feel an emotion, the more we engage in behavior that makes us feel that emotion even stronger. When we're sad, all we want to do is curl up in bed for hours on end, usually not eating, not talking to anyone, listening to sad music... Sound familiar? The problem with this, is the more we lie in bed not doing anything, the more physiologically depressed we become. This then leads to us feeling even sadder, and eventually we can be pretty demoralized when we look around and realize we've wasted the whole day.

To break this feedback loop, we need to engage in a behavior inconsistent to the emotion we're trying to manage. This is a technique called opposite-to-emotion behavior. To do this, identify the emotion (sadness), identify the mood-dependent behavior (inaction/isolation), then do the opposite of that (exercise, social interaction, productive behavior). After a while, the feedback loop is broken, and you have successfully managed that painful emotion. This works for any emotion:

Anger: Instead of engaging in conflict, act opposite to that emotion by gently withdrawing, or even better, doing something nice for someone else.
Fear/Anxiety: Instead of hiding or avoiding, approach what you are afraid of with full commitment.
Unjustified guilt or shame: Instead of trying to keep something (that is not shameworthy or morally wrong) a secret, expose it with the spirit of acceptance.
Justified guilt or shame:  If you did something that was out of line with your values, do something in-line with your values that overshadows that other thing.

Please note this is not intended to be a way of not feeling your feelings. Emotions are important cues that something important is happening. This technique is merely a way of managing emotions if you're afraid they might become too intense, or last a little too long. Give it a try the next time you have an urge to hide in bed and listen to sad music. You might be surprised at how you can turn around what might have otherwise been a day wasted!

For more information on cognitive behavioral treatment of mood disorders and anxiety, visit Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in Los Angeles


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