When Emotions Run your Life

In Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), Marsha Linehan describes each person as having three states of mind; emotion mind, reasonable mind, and wise mind. When we are in emotion mind, our emotions run the show and drive our thoughts, decisions and behaviour.

Reasonable mind is the opposite of emotion mind. When we are in reasonable mind, our logic drives our reactions and we are not tuned into our emotions.

When we are in wise mind, our emotions are calm and accessible, we listen to our logic, and tune into our intuition and gut instinct. Our decisions and behaviours are thoughtful, purposeful, and wise. We all have a wise mind, we just don’t always use it.

 Emotions cause Reactive Behaviour

When we are in emotion mind, we are impulsive and reactive. We want to get rid of intense emotions in the quickest way possible. We don’t care about long-term consequences.

If we are in emotion mind we often eat, drink, gamble, have sex, or use drugs to excess. We use these things compulsively because they distract us from our emotions and give us brief pleasure.

Instead of substances and activities, we may use other people to calm down our emotions. We expect them to talk us down, reassure us, and help us feel better about ourselves. They replace our internal voice, which we don’t trust or value. We start to need the person more and more often  to soothe us.

If the other person is unable or unwilling to talk us through, we become distraught and angry. Others become overwhelmed by our emotional demands and pull away, adding to our quiet despair.

If we are in emotion mind most of the time, we may stay in bad relationships to avoid the pain of leaving. If a relationship ends, we may jump into another one to avoid grieving. Our tolerance for emotional pain is zero, yet our impulsive behaviour means we are almost always suffering.

Our logic and gut instinct tells us to make changes that will relieve our suffering in the long-term. Because we can’t tolerate the short-term pain, we hope for a miracle instead.

DBT Skill: Self-Validation

If we want to get to wise mind, we must first calm down our emotions. Intense emotions block our rational mind; regardless of whether the emotion is negative or positive. Even positive emotions, such as falling in love with a married person, can stop us from listening to logic or our gut instinct.

Our emotions intensify when we don’t feel understood. We want validation from others, but it’s our inability to validate ourselves that keeps our emotions high. If we accept and validate our own emotions instead of relying on others, our emotions will decrease in intensity.

Listening and validating our own emotions and perspective is healing and comforting. Validating ourselves makes it possible to experience hurt without becoming devastated.

For someone who hasn’t felt valued most of their life, learning to trust and value themselves takes effort and commitment. It is worth the hard work to end a life of suffering. For more information read the post on self-validation and go the the Additional Resources section.

If you have an experience you’d like to share, add a comment at the bottom of the page. I’d love to hear from you.

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”
― Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

Related Posts

All Logic No Fun

Differentiating between Emotions and Thoughts

Suffering is Optional

Marijuana to Regulate Emotions

Are you Listening? Validate Yourself

When Mistakes Feel Shaming

Your Self Talk Defines You

How to Stop Faulty Thinking Habits

Mindfulness Lesson from my Granddaughter

Additional Resources

Emotion Regulation: An Easy Guide

Emotion Regulation: Psychology Today

Getting to Wise Mind

Author: Jenny

I am a counsellor at Walmsley Counselling Agency in Prince George, BC. I have a Master’s Degree in Counselling Psychology from the University of Calgary.