Three Styles of Thinking in DBT
Marsha Linehan outlines three states of mind, or ways we have of thinking about things: the reasoning self, the emotional self, and the wise self.
The Reasoning Self:
The reasoning self: the part of ourselves that we use when we’re thinking logically or reasoning something out. When we use this part of ourselves, there are few or no emotions involved. If there are emotions present, they don’t significantly influence how we behave. Rather, the focus is on thinking logically about something: organizing your day at work, leaving instructions for the babysitter, deciding whether you should drive or take the subway to work, taking minutes at a meeting, and so on. It may take a while and you may need to help, but you can usually come up with at least one example.
The Emotional Self:
Usually we have more difficulties coming up with examples of times when we’ve acted from their emotional self—the part that often gets us into trouble, as our behaviors are controlled by the emotion we’re feeling in the moment. Some general examples, such as feeling angry and lashing out at someone, feeling anxious and avoiding whatever is causing the anxiety, or feeling depressed and withdrawing and isolating. Try to come up with some examples of your own: When have you acted from your emotional self? Usually you can relate to this thinking style and examples come rather easily.
The Wise Self:
The difficulty often lies in being able to see that you have a wise self, which is the combination of the reasoning self, the emotional self, and intuition. In other words, we feel our emotions and are still able to think straight, and we weigh the consequences of our actions and choose to act in a way that’s in our best interests in the long run, even if that means behaving in a way that’s quite difficult. Again, some examples: You’re having an argument with your partner, and instead of saying something hurtful that comes to mind, you bite your tongue because you know you’ll regret it later. You have an urge to drink, but part of you recognizes this as an ineffective way of coping, so you call your mother or go to an AA meeting instead.
It’s also important to understand that acting from your wise self doesn’t necessarily entail a humongous achievement. Some smaller examples: You wake up in the morning and feel down; it’s cold, it’s still dark outside, and your first impulse is to call in sick. But instead you roll over, turn off the alarm, and get out of bed. This is your wise self. Or say it’s 5:00 p.m., your “partner’s going to be home from work soon, and you promised you would cook dinner, but you’re exhausted and don’t feel like it. Yet you do it anyway. This is your wise self.
Sometimes you’ll say something like, “But I have to go to work because I have to pay the bills; that’s not acting wisely. But the truth is, no one has to go to work, we choose to go to work. We could choose to not go and the bills wouldn’t get paid. When you make a choice to get out of bed and go to work, that choice comes from your wise self. You weighed the consequences and decided what would be more effective in the long run, even though it wasn’t necessarily the easy thing to do.
Sources: DBT Made Simple by Sheri Van Dijk