Do you feel like you have no control over your actions? Do you feel like your emotions drive all of your decisions? If so, then it’s time you learn a little bit about wise mind and how it can help you start walking a straighter, less complicated path.
When you begin dialectical behavior therapy, you learn that we all experience three “states of mind” or perspectives in which we analyze the world. Our responses to situations and the choices we make are often directly related to the state of mind we’re in at any given moment.
For example, when we evaluate events and people using logic and reason, we’re living in Rational Mind. Some activities, like buying a car or cooking with a recipe often require us to access this state of mind to make the best decisions because we can analyze the situation objectively and make decisions based on reason and knowledge. However, there are other times when Rational Mind can actually cause is to appear “cold” and “uncaring,” so living in Rational Mind all the time isn’t ideal.
Inversely, when we allow our emotional responses the chance to dictate everything, we’re in Emotion Mind. Although many of us learned from a young age that emotions weren’t acceptable, our feelings can help us communicate our needs or guide us to safety in dangerous situations. When we get stuck in Emotion Mind, though, we can feel “out of control” and make decisions that we later regret. Therefore, this isn’t the best state of mind to live in all the time either.
Luckily, though, there’s a state of mind that balances both our rational thoughts and our emotions: Wise Mind.
Wise Mind is the “middle path” between rational mind and emotion mind. According to Marsha Linehan, Wise Mind is “that part of each person that can know and experience truth.” Some refer to wise mind as “intuitive knowledge” or “spiritual intuition,” but it is really so much more than that. Wise Mind is seeing a situation from all sides and, regardless of your thoughts and feelings, finding a way to effectively move forward.
So what the heck is Wise Mind actually like?
Personally, I am just starting to catch myself accessing Wise Mind after nearly three years of practicing DBT. I notice it in small moments, like when I discuss parenting topics with my ex-husband or when I set aside my worries about the future and say, “This isn’t a problem I can tackle today.”
I read this beautiful analogy Marsha Linehan wrote that compared Wise Mind to a deep underground well, and I find that picture pretty accurate for my own Wise Mind. It’s always there beneath the surface; I just have to make sure that the ground is clear so that I can find the entrance to that space. Because no matter how hard you try, you can’t access Wise Mind if your other two states of mind get in the way.
I know what you’re thinking: How can I access Wise Mind when I feel everything so intensely?
I often refer to my emotional intensity as “the storm inside me,” and for years I let that storm dictate nearly every action of my daily life. So when I started DBT, I didn’t trust my own Wise Mind at first because it felt foreign and entirely too calm.
However, I’ve since learned that choosing to act in wise mind doesn’t mean you can’t experience emotions — it’s more about learning how to turn down the volume on those emotions so that they’re a soft rumble of thunder in the distance, not a bolt of lightning right in front of you.
Wise mind is like a muscle, so you have to exercise it and develop it before it can help you do the heavy lifting. You can start working on your wise mind by trying out visualization-based mindfulness exercises, by observing your thoughts, or even by throwing yourself into the present moment without letting your mind wander.
Although it may feel like an overwhelming task at first, learning how to access wise mind can be a game changer for those of us with BPD who struggle with emotional intensity or impulsive decision-making. It just takes some willingness to work towards change and a little bit of practice.
Want to learn more about Megan’s personal BPD journey? Check out her blog, Living On The Borderline.