Wise Mind, Emotion Mind and Reasonable Mind in DBT

In Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) there are three states of mind we can operate out of:

  • Emotion Mind (or Emotional Mind): In emotion mind, our emotions are in the driver’s seat. We act based on what our emotions are telling us to do, and our thoughts are driven by our emotional states.

  • Reasonable Mind: In reasonable mind, reason and logic are in control. We act and think rationally and logically, without the influence of our emotions.

  • Wise Mind: Wise mind is the synthesis of emotion mind and reasonable mind. It’s where these other two states of mind intersect. When we’re in wise mind, we’re in touch with our emotions and how we’re feeling, but we don’t let our feelings and emotions control us. We act and think rationally and logically, while also taking our feelings and emotions into account.

Wise mind is an important skill in DBT because it help us access our inner wisdom and intuition. We often check in with our wise minds when using other DBT skills.

DBT Skills: Wise Mind, Emotional Mind & Reasonable Mind

This transcription was auto-generated by YouTube. I’ve only added minimal editing, so I apologize for any errors, run-on sentences, etc.

In dialectical behavior therapy wise mind is one of three states of mind we can operate out of. Through wise mind we can access our inner wisdom and intuition and get in touch with our gut feelings. In order to understand what wise mind entails it’s helpful to first look at the other two states of mind: reasonable mind and emotional mind, also known as simply emotion mind.

Reasonable mind is the state of mind we generally associate with thinking. It’s cool, rational and task focused. When we’re in reasonable mind we’re governed by facts, reason, logic and pragmatics values, and feelings aren’t important. We’re like Spock on star trek. Cool calm collected and logical.

Emotional mind or emotion mind is the opposite of reasonable mind. Emotional mind isn’t necessarily unreasonable, but it’s not reasonable in the sense that it doesn’t rely on reason. It’s not concerned with facts or logic. Emotional mind is hot, mood dependent and emotion focused. When we’re in emotional mind we’re governed by our moods, feelings, and urges to do or say things. Facts reason and logic aren’t important.

Reasonable mind is important in many aspects of our lives. And depending on what we’re engaged in sometimes reasonable mind is all we need at the time. But other times, because it is strictly logical and rational, the lack of consideration for our emotions and how we feel when we’re operating out of reasonable mind limits its effectiveness for making certain types of plans and decisions, and solving problems that have some emotional component to them and need to take in the bigger picture.

Now emotional mind allows us to be in touch with our feelings and emotions. But it can also lead us to act impulsively and make decisions based on whatever we think is going to make us feel better right now without regard for how these actions or decisions might affect us in the future. Actions taken while we’re an emotional mind aren’t strategic or goal oriented. It’s a crisis mode way of reacting. We’re trying to escape some distress that’s going on right now, and we’re not concerned with the longer term consequences or what happens next.

So while aspects of reasonable mind are necessary for dealing with rational and logical matters, decisions and plans, reasonable mind alone is often not sufficient because it fails to consider our feelings and emotions. Now emotional mind does take into account our feelings and emotions, but it does this at the expense of the rational logical and practical side of things.

Now wise mind is the synthesis of reasonable and emotional mind. It lies at the intersection of these other two states of mind. Wise mind is the wisdom within each of us. In wise mind we see the value of both reason and emotion. It’s where reason and emotion overlap. Now before we talk about wise mind in more detail let’s take a closer look at emotional mind and reasonable mind. And we’ll start with a couple of examples of operating out of emotional mind.

Let’s say you and your partner have an argument and you’re really upset and angry with maybe some sadness and anxiety about the state of your relationship mixed in. And you’re feeling so horrible you lash out at your partner, insulting them calling them names. Maybe even throwing something across the room or punching a wall and then slamming the door and announcing the relationship’s over as you storm out.

Now in this scenario you’re acting based on your emotions. Your urge to do something to stop feeling as bad as you do is so strong that it drives your action, overriding any voice of reason in your head. It’s all emotional mind and no reasonable mind.

Or maybe in the middle of a very stressful project at work you’ve reached your breaking point. You’re overwhelmed and you just can’t take it anymore. Maybe you fling your work across the room in frustration and despair. Or just get up and leave and go home, maybe firing off an email to your boss saying you need off the project. Or even walk into their office and announce that you quit. You’ll do anything you can to escape the overwhelming emotions you’re having as quickly as possible.

And then maybe you go have some drinks to help you forget about everything. Or crawl into bed ignore calls and texts and emails and barely get up for the next few days and hide from the world because you just can’t face things anymore. Again your emotions are dictating your actions and you’re operating strictly out of emotional mind. And this isn’t so unusual because when we’re feeling really strong emotions it can be hard to access reasonable mind at all or to even remember that something like reasonable mind exists.

Now if you were to approach these same problems from reasonable mind the results would be much different. In the first case you might decide to take a time out and step away from the argument with your partner until you’ve both had a chance to calm down. Instead of ending the relationship then and there maybe you’d make a pros and cons list to try to figure out if the relationship is still working for you. And maybe you’d find that even though there are some problems overall the relationship looks pretty good on paper.

And while this is a more reasonable approach there’s still something missing, because it doesn’t take into account the true extent of the emotions you’re feeling about the relationship. In reasonable mind things can often look good on paper despite the fact that they don’t make you happy. And maybe when you do your pros and cons list it looks like you should want to stay in the relationship. But you feel unloved unsupported and alone. Or you feel like you love the other person, you’re just not in love with them. But these feelings don’t get factored in from just reasonable mind alone.

Or in the example from work, a reasonable mind might tell you you can’t walk away from your job until you’ve got another one lined up. And for now you just need to force yourself to get through it survive the next few weeks and hope things start to calm down and look better after that. And in the meantime you can update your resume and maybe start looking for another job. And while that makes sense and is a reasonable thing to do, you can’t always just bear down grit your teeth and grind your way through something. More than half the total number of lost working days are due to stress anxiety and depression. And so sometimes you can’t ignore your feelings and just force yourself to do your job because that’s the reasonable thing to do.

So operating solely out of either reasonable mind or emotional mind doesn’t give us the whole picture. Instead we need to look at the intersection between reasonable mind and emotional mind and how the two of them overlap. And so that’s the first aspect of wise mind. Wise mind takes into account both reasonable mind and emotion mind.

So looking at both what reasonable mind and emotional mind are telling us is a good place to start. But it’s not sufficient. And this is why we need wise mind. The essence of wise mind is that it taps into our intuition and inner wisdom. It does more than just take into account the reasonable and emotional side of things. It involves our gut feelings, and that’s something we just can’t get through analysis. It doesn’t translate onto paper. And that’s what’s missing when we try to figure something out but just can’t find an answer that feels right.

So how do we get in touch with this intuitive, inner wisdom aspect of wise mind? Wise mind is considered a mindfulness skill. So wise mind involves approaching situations mindfully. Now when we’re being mindful we’re aware of our thoughts, and we’re aware of our feelings. But we’re able to step back from them and maintain some distance and perspective and just observe them rather than getting caught up in them. And when we do this our thoughts and emotions start to calm. Our minds become more quiet. And as a result space opens up in our awareness. And in this space our intuition and inner wisdom or gut feelings can start to emerge.

But it’s not an immediate or automatic process. You can’t just quiet your mind calm your emotions and expect an epiphany to arrive. You can’t just flick a switch and have a light bulb go off in your head that illuminates your inner wisdom. If you’re not used to practicing mindfulness you’ll probably struggle to even quiet your mind at first. And if you’d like some tips on how to practice mindfulness meditation check out the video i link to in the description.

But it’s important to realize that insight and inner wisdom arise in their own time, and all we can do is make space for the process to unfold by creating the right conditions by quieting our mind and calming our emotions which allows us to hear our inner wisdom when it tries to speak to us.

So one way we can try to access wise mind is to open ourselves up to both the reasonable and emotional mind side of the equation. And then bringing a question to mind and asking ourselves what feels right? What feels true to myself? Or test out a decision by asking yourself does this feel right? Does this feel true to myself?

But you can’t force yourself to have a moment of clarity or intuition. You can’t control when wise mind speaks to you. You can only invite it in and then make sure you’re listening. So let’s look at some additional ways using mindfulness to encourage wise mind to speak to us.

We can start with a simple mindfulness of breath exercise, just bringing your attention to your breath and following the physical sensations of your breathing in your abdomen as it expands and contracts on each breath in and each breath out. And then once your thoughts and emotions have started to quiet down and your attention is focused on your breath and your abdomen, seeing if you can allow your mind to settle into your gut into the space just behind your navel, just allowing your mind to rest here. And opening yourself up to wise mind and seeing if any intuition or inner wisdom begins to emerge.

And now here are a few wise mind exercises by Marsha Linehan who developed dbt:

Asking wise mind a question: breathing in silently ask wise mind a question breathing. Out listen for the answer. Listen but don’t give yourself the answer. Do not tell yourself the answer. And just listen for it .continue asking on each in-breath for some time and if no answer comes just try again another time.

Asking is this wise mind: breathing in asking yourself is this wise mind. Breathing out listening for the answer listen but don’t give yourself the answer. Do not tell yourself the answer. Listen for it. Continue asking on each in-breath for some time. And if no answer comes try again another time.

Dropping into the pauses between inhaling and exhaling breathing in notice the pause after inhaling breathing out. Notice the pause after exhaling. And after each pause let yourself fall into the center space within the pause. And in this space between the breaths see if any wise mind intuition starts to arise.

So try not to be discouraged if you have trouble accessing wise mind. Wise mind skills are not automatic. They take practice/ so try some of these exercises when you’re not in the need of the skill so that when you do need it you’ll already have some experience using it. But there’s no magic trick or guaranteed way to invoke wise mind. All you can do is open yourself up to it and listen.

But the more you practice these wise mind skills, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to tap into wise mind and get in touch with your inner wisdom and intuition. And i know this can be a hard concept to grasp, so please let me know if you have any questions in the comments.

If you have any questions or comments, please leave them on the YouTube video page.