July DBT Challenge: Opposite Action

By Valencia Agnew

My daughter was deathly afraid of giving presentations when in school. As a writing major, there was an elective open called Storytelling, but when she showed up on the first day, she found it was oral storytelling. The entire class would be public speaking. She was panicked, of course, and was ready to drop, but the teacher begged her to try it and said the point of the class was to give them the tools necessary to become better, even overcome their fears.

Whether it’s walking away from a fight when you’re angry or listening to a happy song when all you want to do is cry, Opposite Action is a technique used to counteract distressing emotions with actions that are helpful and not harmful, even if it's the exact opposite of what we feel like doing.

A natural urge when we’re faced with fear or any other emotion is to give into the feeling. Have you ever needed to give a presentation, but were too afraid? Wanted to talk with someone (a spouse, friend, parent, teacher) about an issue or concern, or how about wanting to ask a favor of someone, but fear keeps you quiet? Ring any bells?

You have a few options when faced with these situations. You can go with your automatic response and avoid it like the plague—the presentation, the talk, asking for the favor. Or, you can do the opposite action.

Opposite Action

A perfect time to use opposite action is when your emotions do not fit the facts. When you practice acting opposite of your emotions this will in turn change your emotional reactions.

Check the facts. If there is really no danger in giving a presentation, or talking to someone, or asking a favor, then instead of avoiding it, do it. Or at least approach it. Of course you may still feel some fear; however, the more times you are all in by approaching this over and over, the more the fear decreases and the desire to avoid decreases.

My daughter isn’t afraid of public speaking anymore.


Your DBT Challenge:

Do one thing you've been afraid to do.

Take the class rather than procrastinating. Do a presentation. Share a concern. Ask someone for help.

And then do it again.

If you’re an anxious person, even the littlest tasks can be daunting--ordering pizza, asking friends to hang out. We can only grow outside of our comfort zone.

What in your life are you letting hold you back?

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Dr. Valencia Agnew is the owner and founder of AFBHS, has been in practicing for over 18 years, and is the winner of several awards, including Grand Rapids Business Journal's 2017 Top Women Owned Business, the 2018 Giants Eugene Brown Medical Service Award, and 2018 50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan Award. You can learn more about Dr. Agnew here.

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