How to Have a Balanced Response When Emotions Are High

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How to Have a Balanced Response When Emotions Are High

By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD


We’ve all had moments when we’re just too emotional to think straight. Whether we’re feeling the bliss of new love, or the anger of betrayal, acting in the heat of the moment can lead us to do or say things that we may later regret. It can help to have some reliable guidance when your emotions are likely to get the best of you.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy offers a way of managing intense emotions that offers just that kind of guidance. It suggests that there are three states of mind: the emotional mind, the reasonable mind, and the wise mind. Another way to think about your reactions is that there are things you want to do, should do, and would be wise to do. Learning to recognize these states of mind and reflect on your thinking with them can be quite helpful.

Emotional mind: In this state of mind, you are motivated by the things you instinctively want to do. You are “in” your emotions and have little or no concerns about the consequences of your actions.

Example: Stopped at a red light, Dan had been looking in his rear view mirror and watched driver looking down at his phone as he drove right into Dan’s car. Furious, Dan really wanted to scream at the guy for being so dumb, and maybe even drive his point home with his fists.

Reasonable mind: In this state of mind, you are motivated to act as you “should” act. You are inclined to follow society’s expectations and to behave in ways that are likely to be effective.

Example: Before getting out of his car, Dan reached for his insurance information in his glove compartment. He then calmly resolved the matter with the other driver and headed directly to work.

Wise mind: In this state of mind, you consider the situation, your thoughts, and your emotions as decide on a wise response.

Example: Before getting out of his car, Dan was highly aware of his anger. He loosened his fists and took a couple of deep breaths to help soothe his frayed nerves. Then he reached for his insurance information in the glove compartment and calmly resolved the matter with the other driver. Finally, he decided to go for a short walk at a nearby park before heading to the office. He knew that he would be more effective at work if he gave himself the chance to calm down before jumping into his hectic day.

In the wise state of mind, you respond with acceptance and respect for your circumstances and your emotional reactions to those circumstances. You actually experience your emotions while simultaneously having a reasonable response. These different states of mind are integrated into one wise response. Finally, when you access your wise mind, you will find that you also experience a sense of peace deep within.


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