Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) has a lot of useful concepts, but one of my favourites is wise mind. Wise mind is the area of overlap between our emotional mind and our reasonable/rational/logical mind. To put it another way, it’s like being able to draw on our left brain and right brain at the same time. It’s not that either mind state is wrong or invalid, but we tend to function best when both sides are engaged.
Wise mind involves an element of mindfulness. It’s easy to get naturally pulled towards rational mind or emotional mind depending on the situation, and mental illness can make those pulls more extreme. To be in wise mind requires being in touch with what is presently going in both of those mind states and then integrate them. This process is hard to do without mindful awareness, but once that balance is found, rational mind can help pull you back when emotion mind starts to get worked up, and vice versa.
Engaging wise mind involves three key steps: observe, describe, and participate. Observing should be as impartial as you can manage, without judgment. Describe is about labelling your reaction, and in giving it a label, recognizing that it is what it is and nothing more than that. Participating is about interacting with the environment in a way that’s consistent with a balanced state of mind.
Our upbringing can have a lot do to with our natural inclinations around emotional and rational mind. I think my mom was pretty in touch with wise mind, and maybe sometimes leaned toward rational mind. My dad would have swings into emotional mind every so often and become quite angry, clearly losing touch with the rational mind side.
I’m a pretty logical, science-minded kind of person, so rational mind tends to be fairly active during non-stressful times. During stressful periods, though, I swing sharply into emotional mind, and it usually takes the passage of some time before I’m able to find balance again.
The various skills that are taught in DBT are useful for getting in touch with wise mind, but wise mind is something that anyone can practice. Like any mental skill, it works best when practiced during times of low stress rather than high stress. Try to tap into what each side of mind is telling you at a particular point in time, and then try to integrate the two.
Personally I’ve found the idea of wise mind quite helpful in conceptualizing my reactions in order to understand what was behind them. Having the recognition of rational and emotional mind helps me to be a little more self-forgiving when the balance goes out of whack.
Is wise mind a concept that you’re familiar with or have utilized? How has it been helpful for you?
Some further reading: