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  • April Griffin

Connecting with your Wise Mind with DBT

Updated: Aug 5, 2023

An eagle flying above a misty forest

If you struggle with the aftereffects of trauma or experience intense emotions such as anxiety, anger, and shame you may frequently feel overcome with strong emotions. When you experience strong emotions you automatically start to operate in survival mode and the actions that follow, if you are not in fact in danger, may be more intense than needed for the situation.

This survival mode in DBT is called "Emotion Mind". Maybe being in emotion mind and reacting quickly helped you survive a chaotic and unpredictable caregiver or environments in your childhood, but now your trauma reactions are stronger than needed to navigate your current situation. For example, when criticized by a partner, you might explode, rather than talk things out.

Emotion mind is a good state of mind when it matches the situation. Emotional reactions can protect us quickly in dangerous situations. Emotions can also help us bond to others, for example, in falling in love. However, the downside of emotion mind is that we react automatically and do not slow down to think and understand the situation, and as a result some of our emotional reactions can make situations worse rather than better.

Alternatively, thinking about things entirely in a rational way without considering emotions is call "Reasonable Mind" in DBT. This is cool, calculated, rational and just considering the facts. Reasonable mind is a helpful state of mind when you are working on taxes, finding and following directions, studying for a test, or editing an assignment for grammar issues.

Prior to becoming a counsellor I was a legal advocate and used my reasonable mind extensively to understand tenancy and income assistance rights. I found it exhilarating to analyze the law and advocate for people. You might have had similar experiences where you find your rational mind was helpful and served you well.

The downside to reasonable mind is that you can appear cold or disconnected from people when operating entirely from the reasonable mind. You might cut people off or argue without connecting to the person you are working with in order to be right or win. Many people may find they go from one extreme of emotional mind to reasonable mind.

In DBT we hold the two opposites can be held together at the same time, and that the synthesis of the reasonable and emotional mind is "Wise mind". Wise Mind is the best of both emotional and reasonable mind, considering the facts, but also being in tune with your emotions. Wise mind is the deeper well within of intuition. It takes time to learn how to access this well of wisdom.

There are many different ways to become familiar with your wise mind, including meditation, prayer, walking, stretching your body, singing, being on the land or in nature, and connecting with teachings from your elders and culture. Wise mind involves slowing down, usually breathing, and taking time to let your emotions settle and shifting to a different wise way of seeing your situation

It can be helpful to think of metaphors for connecting to your wise mind including: drawing from a. deep well of wisdom within yourself, connecting with an older/elder part of yourself, looking at it from another point of view -like from that of an eagle as pictured above.

So next time you find yourself in your emotion mind and feel stuck there, stop, take a breath, and imagine connecting to your wise mind and ask yourself "What is my wise mind telling me that I need now?"

DBT states of mind: emotion mind, wise mind and reasonable mind

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