skip to content

opposite thinking – carl robbins

Do you remember when George on Seinfeld discovered that "doing the opposite" helped him be successful beyond his wildest dreams? Well, as it turned out he may have actually been onto something.

Marsha Linehan, PhD, an excellent clinician and researcher, has developed a cognitive-behavioural skill that would make Mr. Constanza proud. Much of her approach will sound familiar, but she puts it together in a way that can be quite helpful for those who want a skill for changing unwanted emotions. Research supports her theory.

James has discovered some of these principles on his own (see JustDoIt). Please don't be tempted to reduce this to a gimmick like "paradoxical intention." This is not about tricking yourself into anything or playing some unsustainable mind-game.

I'll review some of the principles of Opposite Action:

  1. Every emotion has an associated action (behaviour). These pairs include:
Emotion
equals
Action
Fear equals Run (avoid)
Anger equals Attack
Sadness equals Withdraw
Shame equals Hide
  1. Engaging in the associated behaviour perpetuates and even intensifies the emotion (e.g., avoidance maintains fear)
  2. To change the emotion, do the opposite of the action that the emotion "tells" you to do

Emotion Opposite Action

Emotion
equals
Action
Fear equals Stay (or approach)
Anger equals Gently Withdraw
Sadness equals Engage, get active
Shame equals Approach (or reveal)
  1. Opposite action only works if the emotion is NOT justified. For example, fear is justified if the situation threatens your health, safety, or well-being. If these threats don't actually exist, then your fear is not justified (please don't get hung up on the word "justified" – "realistic" or "well grounded" may be a better choice)
  2. If you do Opposite Action, it only works if you do it all the way. So, just going into the restroom if you've been avoiding them is not enough. You have to take your mind into the restroom as well. This is why distraction can ultimately interfere with getting over your fear.
  3. Opposite Action only works with repeated practice. You can only know if it works by trying it for a while.
  4. Perhaps most important, this is a skill for feelings that you want to change , not feelings other people want you to change or feelings that you think you should change.

For more information, Dr. Linehan has a very good videotape on the subject. See the website www.behavioraltech.com

top of page