When Love Doesn’t Fit the Facts: Part II Opposite Action

Originally posted February 7, 2019 jamieschmidtlpc.com/blog

So what do you do when love does not fit the facts? When you realize the love you feel towards a person or relationship is not actually in your best interest? Of course DBT has a skill for that as well!

Opposite action is rooted in the awareness that there are specific action urges associated will the expression of each emotion. When you love a person or thing – what behaviors do you want to do as an expression of that love? Usually love means an increased desire to spend time with someone plus a willingness to be cooperative and weigh their needs against your own. In romantic relationships it likely also includes engagement in intimate contact. 

When love is justified, these behaviors nourish the relationship and keep the interpersonal connection strong. When love in unjustified these behaviors can keep us emotionally tied to someone we know is not healthy for us. 

Once you have determined love is unjustified, you can use knowledge of how emotions function to help you break from the relationship. In the simplest form, there are 5 phases in the expression of an emotion. 

Prompting Event ⇒Biochemical Changes ⇒Action Urges ⇒ Behaviors ⇒After Effects / Retrigger

1) An event occurs that prompts the emotions to begin. This can be external or internal (a thought).

2) Biochemical changes begin to occur in the body. Hormone levels fluctuate in response to the evolutionary demand of the emotion.

3) Action urges appear. These urges are universal and tied in with the primary evolutionary function of the emotion. Think most basic needs – survival and procreation.

4) Behaviors & outward expression of emotion. Where you do the action of the action urge. Includes behaviors, facial expression, dialogue and tone.

5) After effects or retrigger emotion. Many emotions are self-perpetuating. When you act on their action urge, the behaviors create a loop, which keeps the emotion continuing to refire in your brain. 

Opposite action works by hacking this chain between links 3 and 4. If all of the action urges of love are motivated in increasing interpersonal connection, than choosing to act in ways opposite to that will help decrease emotional connection.

How To: Opposite Action to Love 

The first step is to determine that love is unjustified. I want to emphasize that this should not be a rash decision. I encourage you to meditate on it, read about justified and healthy vs unhealthy love & use the DBT framework to check if it fits the facts.

Once you are committed to severing ties, identify the action urges associated with love for you. What behaviors do you want to do that would keep you tied to this person? Is it a yearning to see them and be in their presence, calling or texting, staying connected on social media or maybe checking in through another person they are close to? Take the time to list out and identify all of the behaviors you can. The more you think of, the more you have time to cope ahead for and the more likely you are to withstand those moments when the emotional urges are highest.

Commit to behave opposite to love urges when they appearCreate plans of action for situations you feel are most likely to occur or that you are most vulnerable to. Mentally rehearse behaving as your most effective self and staying strong no matter how intense the urges become.

When the urges arise, commit to acting 100% opposite. You do not want to simply just avoid doing it (i.e. just withstand the urge until it passes). You want to throw yourself in the opposite direction. Want to send them a DM on IG when you see a post they are tagged in? Not only do you not do it, you unfollow and then block them so you are less likely to see triggers of them in the future. 

Continue to implement your opposite actions, every time the urges arise. As with all DBT skills, your mastery increases with practice. Each time an ineffective urge appears and you choose to withstand it you are proving to your brain that your Wisemind is stronger than any emotional pull. Over time you will notice a decrease in intensity and frequency of the urges. 

The ending of any relationship is hard because it involves the severance of emotional ties.  Though it is often a necessary step towards building the life we dream of, I know how extremely painful this can be. If you are currently in the process of letting go of an unhealthy love, I wish you the best as you continue upon your journey. I know opposite action can be a helpful addition to your skills repertoire! 


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Published by Jamie Schmidt, LPC

Just a human being on a journey of self discovery. Psychology + Spirit + Healing

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