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Dialectical Behaviour Therapy: Reasonable Mind, Emotion Mind & Wise Mind

Updated: Dec 1, 2020

Reasonable Mind

Facts and common sense are the framework of reasonable mind. You are in reasonable mind when you think logically and rationally. This intellectual or scientific state of mind defines reality in terms of facts, numbers, equations, or cause and effect. Whether balancing your check book, baking a cake or working a crossword puzzle, you need the knowledge of reasonable mind.

Reasonable mind is important to learning skills. You need to understand how a skill works and when to apply it. Reasonable mind is a storehouse of information, helping you define a problem objectively and determine a solution. To use skills, you need to know what the different skills are, and how to call them forth when you need them. For example, to regulate emotions skilfully, you must be able to name them, understand what events and interpretations prompt certain emotions, know what emotions feel like, what emotions compel you to do, and their aftereffects. The more you know and the more you practice the stronger reasonable mind becomes.

Reasonable mind is much easier when you are healthy, strong, sober, rested and fed but much harder when you are sick, weak, stoned, tired, or hungry. Emotion mind starts to take over when you are stressed or don’t feel well.

Although, reasonable mind is critical to dealing with reality, many of life’s problems have an emotional aspect.

Emotion Mind

If reasonable mind runs "cool" then emotion mind runs "hot." Passionate, extreme, and intense reactions in emotion mind make reasonable, logical thinking difficult. When an emotional state controls your thinking and behaviour, emotion mind has taken over. Acting the way you feel is how emotion mind behaves. Emotion mind can flood your system with energy in anger or zap your energy in depression. Impulsively acting the way you feel can lead to out of control behaviour creating chaos, hurt feelings, and more problems. Emotion mind tends to be careless, irresponsible, mindless, impulsive, and impatient. Strong emotions distort facts, magnify excuses, and shrink your perception of consequences.

Of course, a certain amount of emotion mind can be beneficial. Intense love is a motivation for intimate relationships. Intense devotion or desire motivates staying with very hard tasks and sacrificing oneself for others. Mothers running through fires to save their children are in emotion mind. People high in emotion mind are often passionate about people, causes, and beliefs - these are the dramatic, fun people of the world.

Misery and distress are emotional reactions to problems in living that make a difficult situation worse. You can, however, learn to use emotion and logic together in concert to improve your quality of life. This is the goal of Wise Mind.

Wise Mind

Wise Mind is the active integration of Emotional Mind and Reasonable Mind. Wise Mind brings together the logic of reasonable mind and the sensitivity of emotional mind to a serene state of mind. When you relate what you know (your smarts) to your problems (what hurts) you are being skilful and in Wise Mind.Wise Mind joins what you know to your problems. Your effort to link your problems causing misery and distress with your reasonable, logical abilities is the basis of skilfulness and Wise Mind. But Wise Mind is more than this too; the magic of Wise Mind is intuition.

Intuition understands the meaning, significance, or truth of an event, without having to analyse it intellectually. Such intuitive knowing combines emotional experiencing and logical analysis yet goes beyond them. Sometimes emotion can masquerade as intuition. You feel certain you "know." If this "knowing" is intuitive it will still be valid when examined without the emotion of the moment. A calm certainty validates your intuition, helping you discern whether your certainty is emotionally biased or truly intuitive. Intuition has qualities of direct experience and immediate recognition, with the roots of reason and experience.

As you use your skills, you learn to act intuitively out of Wise Mind. Wise Mind is similar to intuition or, perhaps, intuition is similar to Wise Mind. Acting intuitively out of Wise Mind, you trust that you know beyond what you think and feel. This takes flexibility, imagination, and open-mindedness. Awareness, in general, nurtures Wise Mind. Polarized thinking and a rigid worldview interfere with Wise Mind.

A way to become wise is to practice being wise. Such practice requires dedication to learning skills. Practice identifying and solving your problems of living. Some problems, of course, are quite easy and involve little more than writing a to-do list and following through on your plan. Everybody has problems in living. Successful people are better at accepting what they cannot change and changing the things they can. These successful people are informed with knowledge, armed with experience, and guided by intuition. Be willing to bring together the problems of living with your experience, knowledge and intuition.

Wisdom grows when you use your senses, develop your mind, and learn skills. Wisdom takes work. Start working by learning core mindfulness skills, interpersonal effectiveness skills, emotion regulation skills, and distress tolerance skills.

Wisdom, Wise Mind, or wise knowing depends on integration of all ways of knowing something: knowing by observing, knowing by analysing logically, knowing by what you experience in your body (kinetic and sensory experience), knowing by learning and experience, and knowing by intuition. Knowing in these ways develops with awareness and awareness expands as you observe, analyse experience, learn, and intuit. By exploring the various ways of knowing and becoming more aware, you develop a sense of wholeness, continuity and coherence.

Wise Mind is like riding a bike, which takes effort, balance, and steering. You can learn Wise Mind, like you learned to ride a bike, only by experience. Just like you must pedal to start a bike rolling you must be willing to expend a little extra effort to initiate Wise Mind. As you would fall over if you were too far to one side or another on a bike, find Wise Mind by making the effort to find the balance of your emotions and thinking. Intuition steers you toward Wise Mind. The negative emotions (anxiety, depression, anger, shame, and guilt) are like putting on the brakes. Like you can jump on a bike and ride, you can learn to activate Wise Mind and do the best you can.

As you bring Wise Mind skills to the problems in living you will develop mastery. Mastery, the feeling of being competent and under control, does NOT mean you won’t make mistakes. Mastery is the attitude of bringing your skills to your problems in living.

You will develop self-agency and self-awareness as you develop mindfulness, regulate your emotions, are effective interpersonally, and tolerate distress. Self-agency is the feeling you have when you are in control of your own behaviour. Rather than feeling your behaviour just happens, self-agency owns the behaviour and takes responsibility for it. Self-awareness is the sense you have that your different roles, feelings, attitudes, and mental states fit together coherently.

Meditation and Wise Mind

Mindfulness exercises like meditation develop inner calm, emotional control, perseverance, and a strong sense of self. Herbert Benson, MD of Harvard Medical School was one of the first to research the therapeutic value of meditation. He found that meditation could elicit what he called the "Relaxation Response," which is the physiological opposite of stress and anxiety. Meditation heals the damage of stress. One of the simplest meditation exercises is to follow your breathing. When you meditate on your breath, you can find Wise Mind in the physical centre found at the bottom of your inhalation. You can develop the ability to find your centre during meditation and get to know this calm cantered place well. If you learn where your centre is and how it feels, you can go to this place, confident that you are responding in Wise Mind. Although meditation may be unfamiliar, you can cultivate the ability to be mindful.

Meditation and mindfulness develop your ability to observe what is going on within yourself in any situation. One way that people commonly experience this is to step back from one’s thoughts and feelings and release your attachment to these mental phenomena. The goal here is to reflect on your thinking and feeling, independent of the circumstances, observing what is going on in one’s mind like watching clouds drift through the sky.

Qualities of Wise Mind

Wise Mind is calm. It is almost always quiet and peaceful. When change or acceptance is necessary Wise Mind is the serenity of knowing which course to take. Wise Mind is not trapped in all-or-nothing thinking and can focus on what is effective and functional.

In Wise Mind, you are in control of emotional mind. Behaviour is not mood dependent (controlled by one’s emotions) but at the service of one’s inner wisdom. Eventually, objective self-observation and self-description are attainable from this slightly detached point of view. In fact, you can learn to experience extreme emotions like anger or fear while staying in Wise Mind. This takes lots of practice – for everybody. Likewise, in Wise Mind, you are able to access the knowledge of reasonable mind.

Wise Mind is courageous, i.e., feels scared but does what is needed in the situation anyway. Willingness is doing what is needed in each situation. Willingness often requires courage.

Wise Mind is confident. Self-confidence is knowing you can handle whatever problems in life comes along. When Wise Mind becomes clear, fear disappears. Wise Mind knows you are doing the best you can under the circumstances. When you skilfully approach your problems causing misery and distress, you are in Wise Mind and doing the best you can.

Artwork by Alejandra Salgado

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