listening to the wise mind

Readers, it may have come to your attention, as you’ve followed me throughout this blogging adventure, that I’m a bit of a feelings person.

I mean, I’m a therapist, so it makes sense that I’m a feelings person in the sense that I understand feelings. I get feelings. I can look at someone’s face and body language and figure out what emotions are bouncing around their head. I can pluck an emotional heartstring like the prettiest darn harp you’ve ever heard. I can sit down and process emotions with someone in my sleep (not that I would, since it wouldn’t be very nice of me, but still: doable). But there’s more than that when it comes to being a feelings person.

When I talk about being a feelings person, I tend to mean that I listen to my feelings first and my thoughts second. I get vibes. I look for emotional energy in a room. I tend to trust my gut instincts over a logical argument. If my feelings are stuck somewhere, it’s hugely unlikely that any amount of thought or logic is going to change them, much to the annoyance of my therapist, who likes to tell me that there’s a breakdown in my cognitive triangle.

My husband, on the other hand, is totally a thoughts person. This dude is thought-oriented like you wouldn’t believe. He likes logic. He likes reason. He spent a few months as a philosophy major just so he could hang out and talk about logic and reason with other logic-and-reason-minded people for hours on end. He gets very confused when I flail around about feelings and he doesn’t understand why I can’t grasp simple concepts of logic, and then gets much more confused when I explain that I understand his logic perfectly, my feelings just don’t care about it.

So, fellow therapists, the feelings person and the thoughts person–sound familiar?


The Wise Mind idea is a concept that comes out of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, a treatment approach that combines cognitive and behavioral therapies. It was originally designed to treat borderline personality disorder by Marsha Linehan, a psychologist who developed the model based on her own lived experience with mental illness and suicidality.

The idea of the Wise Mind is simple: When we make decisions based only on reason, we miss out on the impact of emotional experiences. When we make decisions based only on emotional impulse, we miss out on the knowledge and logic that the rational mind provides. The Wise Mind combines both of these intelligences, and allows a person (or, in our case, a family) to take the logical experience of the rational mind and the sensitivity and feeling of the emotional mind to approach an issue with serene, informed confidence.

DBT is designed to be an individual approach, but I’ve had the luck of watching it apply in my marriage as well. This past weekend, the Husband and I went out to Westchester to explore the place where we’ll be living come April, and I just about had a panic attack in the car. I didn’t really like the apartment we had already decided (in a previous Wise Mind conversation) that we were going to take. I didn’t like how far we were from town. I didn’t like that I couldn’t walk to work. I didn’t like so many things.

But while I was flailing, Husband was thinking. And when I stopped flailing long enough to come up for air (and also to take some more migraine medication, because that was just adding insult to injury on a rough day), he gave me the rational mind approach. But he also listened to my emotional mind, and gave me room to have all of my feelings (and there were many). And what we ended up deciding, once again, was that yes: this was the right choice. This was the right, wise choice for our family–not just the family we have now, but the family we hope to have in the future.

Listening to the wise mind isn’t easy. As an emotional mind person, I tend to dig my heels in. I latch, stubbornly, onto anxiety and fear and worry, onto nervousness and apprehension. I don’t like change, and I fight tooth and nail against all logic attempting to remind me that change is, in fact, a part of life. The wise mind, as far as I tend to be concerned, can screw right off.

Fortunately, I’m not the only one in charge of making sure I listen to the wise mind. Until I learn how to do it myself, I have plenty of help. And I’m even learning to step away from my insecurity over needing to be independent, and accepting the help that’s being offered.

Maybe I’m learning to be wise after all.

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