Emotion Regulation: Three Mind States of DBT

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) addresses the use of problematic behaviors, like restriction, binge eating, and/or purging, by guiding the individual to adopt healthier, more sustainable coping mechanisms. DBT is focused on four major skill domains that play a role in everyday life: mindfulness, distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness, and emotion regulation. In today’s blog post, let’s take a closer look at emotion regulation and explore the three mind states of DBT.

So what is emotion regulation?

Well, it’s exactly what it says! The emotion regulation skill set module guides us through different ways of processing and regulating our emotions. We learn how to identify and let go of feelings that are causing distress and negatively impacting our most effective decision-making. In order to use the tools of emotion regulation, it’s important to first understand the three mind states of DBT, including the Emotion Mind, the Reasonable Mind, and the Wise Mind.

Emotion Mind

In this state of mind, our thoughts run wild. Emotions are in the driver’s seat, determining our decision-making abilities and leading to reactive patterns and, at times, impulsive actions. It’s no surprise, then, that it’s very challenging to have a rational, objective, and fact-based perspective of reality when in this space. This mind state is often referred to as “hot.” With emotions running the show, the engine is on overdrive.

Reasonable Mind

If the Emotion Mind is “hot,” then the Reasonable Mind is “cool.” In this state of mind, individuals rely on their reasonable or logical brain to evaluate a situation. Facts, statistics, thinking, and planning drive all problem-solving. In this mind state, we tend to be less connected to our emotions.

Wise Mind

Looking at these three mind states as a Venn Diagram, the Wise Mind is the space in the middle, where the Emotion Mind and Reasonable Mind overlap. We rely on both our emotions and our rational thoughts to address a problem and determine the best solution. By accessing the Wise Mind, we honor our “gut feelings” and intuition. Sure, we may not want to listen to our gut — it may even lead us in a difficult or painful direction — but our Wise Mind allows us to make well-considered decisions in spite of our emotions.

Everyone has a Wise Mind, even though it can be difficult to find.

It may also feel different for each person. Here are some ways that you may experience it:

  • You may have a sense that you’re stepping back and viewing a situation from an outsider’s perspective.
  • It may be the calm that follows a storm — that sense of peace experienced immediately after a crisis. 
  • You may experience Wise Mind after making a decision that you know is the right thing to do. There’s no fear or anxiety around your choice because you have no doubts.
  • It may feel like seeing the whole picture when you previously only saw bits and pieces of a situation.
  • Finally, it may feel reluctant. You may want the answer to be different (as we touched on above), but you know the correct choice thanks to the Wise Mind.

Fortunately, you can practice accessing the Wise Mind with a simple exercise.

Set an alarm for a certain period of time each day and check-in with yourself. For instance, every three hours, think about how you are experiencing the moment. Consider your thoughts and emotions. Just observe and write them down — no judgments! At the end of the day, review your notes and look for a pattern. Have you learned anything about yourself?

Like any skill, the more you practice, the easier it will be to slip into the Wise Mind when needed.

Reach out to the team at Columbus Park to learn more about our highly effective evidence-based approach to eating disorder treatment.