Beauty and the Borderline

A Journey towards Integration

Core Mindfulness: States of Mind

Taking Hold of Your Mind:  States of Mind

There are three states of mind:  Reasonable (or Rational) Mind, Emotion Mind, and Wise Mind.


Reasonable Mind is when your “school brain” is in control.  You’re like Mr. Spock from Star Trek (or Mr. Data if you’re a NextGen fan).  Cold, clinical, logical, rational, almost robotic.  All reason, no emotion.

Emotion Mind is when you’re acting from your feelings without listening to sense or reason.  Your heart is in control, you’re carried away by your emotions.

Wise Mind is a combination of reasonable mind and emotion mind.  You’re using your good sense and thinking rationally, and you’re also aware of your feelings.

—adapted from Skills Training Manual for Borderline Personality Disorder by Marsha Linehan, p. 109.

The goals of mindfulness are to help us to become aware of our state of mind (reasonable, emotion, or wise) and to achieve wise mind.  Mindfulness is a core skill of DBT, and improves the learning and practice of all other DBT skills.

There’s a lot out there about mindfulness — what it is, how to achieve it, etc.  Some of the claims seem outrageous, as if being in Wise Mind puts you into some sort of Zen Guru-type state of enlightenment.  All your feelings, thoughts, and actions are integrated into a cohesive whole.  You’re calm in the face of danger, able to handle everything skilfully and effectively, confident, courageous, master of yourself, and you magically “know” you’re doing the right thing.  Sounds bloody wonderful!

So far, after eight months, I haven’t been able to achieve such a rarefied, lofty state.  Of course, I have BPD, so I have trouble recognizing and validating my emotions, much less obtaining mastery over them.  In my experience, Wise Mind is when you can balance and hear from both Reasonable and Emotion Minds.

By practicing mindfulness, you start to notice, or be aware of, the different thoughts that poke into your mind without even being aware of it.  You learn and practice how to notice what your body feels, what your emotions are.  So, for example, I get into an argument with my partner.  He’s said something that hurt me, and I want to lash back, hurt him back.  I’m mindful of my feelings, that is, I’m FEELING them, and I know I’m hurt and angry (Emotion Mind).  I’m feeling intense; a bitchy little insult is on the tip of my tongue.

But a little voice inside my head says, “Wait!  Are you sure you want to do this?  You want to hurt him now, but do you want the consequences of that?  The argument will only get worse.  You will not solve the original disagreement.  And maybe he misspoke, or you misinterpreted him.  Maybe he didn’t really mean to hurt you.”  That’s my Reasonable Mind talking.  (She seems quite long-winded here, but I experience all these thoughts in a flash, almost subconsciously.)  Through mindfulness practice, I’ve learned to recognize it, and not push it away.

THAT is Wise Mind.  It’s being able to pay attention to that little voice of reason when you’re ready to kill.  It’s noticing and validating your emotions even when you can’t (immediately) express them.  It’s a balance, and it’s not easy at first.

DBT Skills Training breaks down the practice of mindfulness into two kinds of skills, “What” and “How”.  We’ll look at those next.

Other resources:

Wise Mind: Experiencing Integration & Intuition from WikiBooks

Core Mindfulness — Part One (Emotion, Reasonable, and Wise Mind) from Living with BPD

Core Mindfulness, Mind States, and Wise Mind from DBT Self Help

What is “Wise Mind?” from Mindfulness Muse


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: