Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) – Part 3 – United States of Mind

This is part three of a six-part series based on Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), a highly researched set of practical tools to help manage emotions and crises as well as replace old, ineffective behaviors with new, effective ones. Learning and implementing DBT skills helps many individuals obtain support and independence for living a satisfying life. 

In the mindfulness module of DBT, three states of mind are explored. When we respond to events and make everyday decisions, we operate out of one of three states of mind at any given point in time: Emotional Mind, Rational Mind, and Wise Mind. The word mind refers to a state of being or way of thinking. The purpose of understanding these three states of mind is to gain awareness of which one you primarily operate out of internally, as well as what body sensations you experience while in each one. 

Have you ever said something out of anger, fear, or pain? Has your child ever frustrated you to the point you’ve said things you don’t mean because they struggle to manage their emotions effectively? When that happens, you are operating from Emotional Mind. 

In Emotional Mind, your emotions are in control of your way of being and thinking. You are likely overwhelmed by emotion, and logical thinking is difficult in those moments. When stuck in Emotional Mind, you may act impulsively, and others could view you as ”hot-headed” or “too intense”.  When in Emotional Mind, the right brain (right hemisphere) is more engaged than the left brain (left hemisphere). Emotion Mind may manifest in various ways. For example, when you are in Emotional Mind, you may experience one or more of the following:

  • feelings of rage
  • muscle tension
  • extreme thoughts 
  • sweating or perspiring 
  • racing heart 
  • the urge to fight or flee 
  • raising your voice
  • yelling or screaming at someone

On the contrary, when your brain operates in Rational Mind, you are focused on your thoughts, ignoring emotions as a part of your decision making. In this state of mind, you will often feel detached and have difficulty connecting with the emotion you or others are experiencing. When in Rational Mind, the left brain is more engaged than the right brain. When using Rational Mind, you are often seen as calm and focused on a task. Emotion does not play into the equation at all when you are fully in Rational Mind. This often comes across cold and unfeeling in relationships where some type of emotion is needed.

In Wise Mind, both your logic and emotion are integrated together in decision making. This allows you to observe and respond to others without intense reaction (a response of Emotion Mind) or acting aloof or uncaring (a response of Rational Mind). When in Wise Mind, the right brain and the left brain are more balanced.  In this state of mind, you are more capable of bringing together the wisdom of emotion and logic in order to make wise decisions, act in the way you want to act, and keep your relationships healthy and strong. 

The goal is to work toward living in Wise Mind. In order to do this, you will need to be aware of what is happening in any given situation. If you are in Emotional Mind, the goal is to take a break and decrease the intense emotion until you can think more clearly. Perhaps you could take a walk, exercise, or distract yourself in another healthy way. If you are in Rational Mind, the goal is to allow compassion and empathy to connect you with what others may be feeling and needing from you. This will help you to get in touch with your Emotional Mind in order to balance the two. When you are able to move yourself into Wise Mind, then you can talk with the person you are frustrated with or decide what to do with a clear, open mind that will lead you to liking yourself, helping others continue to like you, and making good decisions for all involved. 

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