Coping Skills

The Emotions and Opposite Action

These are the ten primary emotions as I learned them in my DBT treatment program this summer.

Knowing more information about them helps me understand what’s going on inside me and what I need to do to resolve the situation, if anything (see the flowchart under Emotion Regulation in the DBT Skills Summary).

Emotions are important!!

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The picture says:

The Ten Primary Emotions

Fear

  • signal: threat to health and happiness
  • urge: flight, fight, freeze
  • opposite action: approach mindfully

Anger

  • signal: threat to health and happiness
  • urge: defend, attack
  • opposite action: be gentle, take a time out, willing hands

Sadness

  • signal: something is lost or missing
  • urge: replace, isolate, withdraw, ruminate
  • opposite action: activate

Disgust

  • signal: toxic to health and happiness
  • urge: avoid, throw up, get rid of it
  • opposite action: approach mindfully

Guilt

  • signal: I crossed my values
  • urge: repair/fix, hide, avoid, compensate
  • opposite action: don’t apologize, self-validation 

Shame

  • signal: I crossed group values, will be judged or excluded
  • urge: hide, don’t do it again
  • opposite action: reveal, tell, show

Joy

  • signal: good for health and happiness
  • urge: continue to do it
  • opposite action: avoid, focus attention elsewhere

Love

  • signal: relationship is good for health and happiness
  • urge: pursue and maintain, spend time with them
  • opposite action: focus on other goals

Jealousy

  • signal: fear of losing something that matters to someone else
  • urge: protect, control
  • opposite action: trust, give space, don’t stalk

Envy

  • signal: wanting what someone else has while feeling equally entitled 
  • urge: get it (motivation) 
  • opposite action: count your blessings and accomplishments 

What’s this opposite action thing?

Opposite action is a DBT skill I really like and have been using a lot.

Once I’ve identified what emotion I’m feeling and validated myself, I determine whether it’s justified or unjustified and if the emotion is helping me to be effective in this moment.

All emotions are valid. It is what you are feeling, and that’s the way it is. There’s probably a good reason you’re feeling that way, even if the reason no longer applies to this current situation. But an emotion is only justified if the presence, intensity, and duration of the emotion fit the facts. For example, fear is justified when a threat is present. My fear is often caused by reminders of trauma and is often unjustified. Shame is justified when I’ve broken a group’s value. Guilt is justified when I’ve broken a personal value. Sadness is justified when I’ve lost something. Et cetera.

If the emotion is unjustified, then it’s time to use opposite action! Opposite action is doing the opposite of the urge an unjustified emotion is giving me. I’ve been using opposite action a lot for shame. When I feel shame, my urge is to hide. But, if I 1) identify that I am feeling shame and 2) find that it’s unjustified, then I know I need to use opposite action. Instead of hiding my face, getting squirmy, curling up, running away, talking quietly, and not speaking, I do the opposite. I stay where I am. I sit on my hands so that I can’t cover myself up with them. I keep talking about whatever thing I think is “weird” but which really isn’t. I put myself out there. It is very uncomfortable, but it helps the shame go away.

Instead of wallowing in my (unjustified) feelings, I react in a more effective way. Yay opposite action!

Understanding emotions has been really helpful to me.

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