A DBT Skill in Review: Opposite Action for Anger

By Kristen Quinones, LMSW

A lot of my clients use journaling as a way to process their emotions and experiences. It can provide a healthy release and a nice space to place their thoughts and feelings outside of themselves. I recently started incorporating DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) skills into my work with clients. One of my favorite skills is called Opposite Action. The name says it all. Act in the opposite way you would typically act for any given emotion. Every emotion has what we call an action urge. So it is important to identify what your action urges typically are for different emotions and then reflect on what the opposite would be. If you usually isolate yourself when you're sad, the opposite action could be to call a friend. If you usually run away from a situation when you are scared, the opposite action could be to confront your fears.

Opposite action for anger can be incredibly useful for maintaining healthy relationships. Sometimes when we speak or act out of anger we can suffer negative consequences. Emotions are heightened, and this clouds our judgment and ability to see reason and logic as a reality. Let’s discuss a way to use opposite action for anger and journaling before confronting a friend during a conflict.

If something happened in a relationship that has been upsetting you or causing you anger, I would encourage you to start by journaling about it and getting in touch with your own thoughts, views, and emotions. Perhaps make a list of things that are making you angry. Then for each bullet point on the list do the following.

  • Check the facts. List factual evidence for reasons why that may have happened the way it did.

  • Check their point of view. Imagine how the other person views the situation or may understand it.

  • Acknowledge your role. Identify ways you may have contributed to the issue.

  • Be mindful of how this person feels about your relationship in general and what their intentions may be.

Use this journaling technique to process your anger and widen your perspective. Then proceed with opposite action by communicating your feelings to the other person in a mindful way, versus speaking out of intense anger where you may yell, use hurtful language, or feel out of control. This skill takes practice and will not negate your anger. However, it will help you maintain healthy relationships when navigating anger.

Linehan, M. (2015). DBT skills training manual handouts and worksheets. New York: Guilford.

Kristen Quinones is a therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. If you are looking for support in finding solutions to enhance your overall wellness, contact Cobb Psychotherapy by calling 718-260-6042 or emailing reception@cobbpsychotherapy.com, and see how therapy can help.

Elizabeth Cobb