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Act Opposite to Increase Your Self-Esteem

Learn tools to talk back to negative thoughts that keep you stuck. Acting opposite will help you take small steps to make big changes in your life.

Many times, we listen to the mean voice when faced with a situation or urge that brings about negative emotions or fear. Even when we want to be challenging the negative thoughts, they can feel too strong. Sometimes a quick fix won’t do the trick and small steps towards the bigger goal, which is eliminating this negative self-talk, can be really effective for building self-esteem.

Easy Technique to Increase Self-Esteem

One of the ways to do this is act opposite, and push yourself into action or small actions that lead to a bigger shift. The idea behind this technique is that it can help you deal with distressing emotions by setting into motion an action that is helpful, not harmful. Doing this counteracts the negative thoughts that keep you stuck.

Example of How Acting Opposite Works


Lets take Craig, who was frustrated with himself. He frequently talked about how much he wanted to get in shape. In front of his friends, he would call himself, “pudgy” or “fat” while ordering a burger and beer. Once he got home, he would watch his shows and call it a day, avoiding the tennis shoes near the door and the commercials about weight loss products or working out. Overtime, the idea of going to the gym filled him with fear and anxiety. He had avoided it for so long, could he even walk in? He continues to avoid, feeling worse and worse about himself as the days go by.

Emotion: Fear
Action Urge: To go to the bar or go home where he is comfortable.
Opposite to Emotion Action: Go to the park, gym, or an event after work, invite a friend over, or watch a workout video.

This doesn’t mean he has to workout. It means he has to do something out of his comfort zone. Simply going to a new location or doing something opposite to his current routine can help spark some inspiration. Doing some sit ups while watching TV or walking around the park with a friend after work could be the smaller shifts that pull him out of the negative thinking hole. He has to try them before he can say “they won’t work”.

Steps to Act Opposite and Boost Your Self-Esteem

1. Figure out your emotion or the negative thoughts you are telling yourself
2. Figure out what action goes with that emotion.
3. Ask yourself ‘do I want to reduce this emotion?’
4. Figure out what the opposite actions could be.
5. Do the opposite action all the way.

Say you just found out your close friend at work got a raise and you have been working your tail off, never getting recognized for anything. Or your sister just got engaged and you believe it will be years before you even go on a date. It can be hard to be happy for others, let alone happy with yourself, when you are triggered by their good news. Acting opposite can help.

Emotion: jealousy, envy, comparison
Action Urge: To act passive aggressively, gossip with friends or co-workers, or beat yourself up; reminding yourself of all the reasons you are not “good enough”.
Opposite to Urge: approach the person or situation and be thoughtful. Congratulate them (imagine if you were in their shoes). When negative thoughts about them or yourself come up, notice what you admire about them and what you hope you can gain from their experience. How does this person or situation inspire you? What will taking and gossiping about it do for you? Only reinforce more negative thoughts. Try to talk about it in a positive way with friends.

Make Small Shifts

You may be thinking, that sounds great but I have deeper stuff that keeps coming up. Opposite action can help with that too. Guilt or shame about a past situation can lead you to want to avoid or push down feelings. Instead get active and face it. If you made a mistake, say you’re sorry. Make up for what you have done wrong. If someone harmed you, try and find some empathy for them. You don’t have to forgive, but look at the situation from a larger scope. Where they suffering?

Emotion: Guilt/Shame
Action Urge: To hide, avoid, withdraw, stay stuck in the process
Opposite to Urge: Get active. Accept the consequences. If you did something wrong, apologize. Deliberately distract from the thoughts, get outside and interact with other people (this can be going to the store and talking to someone or meeting a pal for coffee).

Staying stuck in the negative thought patterns will do nothing for you. Trying a new approach may be uncomfortable but the outcome is a much healthier self-esteem.

Emily is the author of Express Yourself: A Teen Girls Guide to Speaking Up and Being Who You Are.You can visit Emily’s Guidance Girl website. You can also find her on FacebookGoogle+ and Twitter.

Author: Emily Roberts MA, LPC

Emily is a psychotherapist, she is intensively trained in DBT, she the author of Express Yourself: A Teen Girls Guide to Speaking Up and Being Who You Are. You can visit Emily’s Guidance Girl website. You can also find her on FacebookGoogle+ and Twitter.

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