Different States of Mind | Emotional, Rational & Mentalizing Minds

different states of mind

The mind is a complicated thing. And we often find ourselves experiencing different states of mind. Understanding these different mind states can be an extremely useful tool to help navigate anxiety and overwhelm.

Your current state of mind can have an impact on the way you think, feel and act. It can influence the way you respond to situations and the things that you say. As such, it does help to understand each state of mind.

In my time in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), one of the things I learned was to think about the mind as having three different states.

What are the Three Different Mind States?

The three different mind states (as per DBT) are:

  • Emotional mind
  • Rational mind
  • Mentalising mind

I’ll unpack them in more detail below.

Emotional Mind

emotional state of mind

Your emotional mind state is all about feelings. These emotions can be enjoyable, or they can be unpleasant. But they make life worth living. It’s a powerful force that colors our experiences with feelings ranging from joy to sorrow.

Rooted in the limbic system, this aspect of our consciousness often acts instinctively and can be triggered by external stimuli or internal thoughts.

A world without emotions would be empty. The pain only makes the pleasure more enjoyable. It makes us feel alive, fills us with passion, and connects us with the world.

Emotions are also useful in motivating us and can be a catalyst for much-needed change.

I’ve made some of my most empowered decisions when I’ve been in my emotional mind, but your emotional mind can often make you impulsive. I have never been a fan of impulsivity, so I typically try to avoid spending time in my emotional mind. Often, until it explodes or results in a stomach ulcer. But I have been working at feeling my feelings, as opposed to letting them build up.

The emotional mind, like a small child, can be triggered easily and bring on emotions that are unpleasant or too strong. These feelings can be frightening and overwhelming since they are spontaneous, and we can’t control them.

For example, as a toddler, if you stub your toe, you immediately burst into tears. As an adult, you’ll likely be annoyed and in pain, but you know it’s just a stubbed toe.

The emotional mind doesn’t have that same rationality.

Recognizing and embracing the emotional mind involves acknowledging the richness emotions bring to our lives while also learning to navigate the potential impulsivity that may arise. Practices such as developing mindfulness skills and emotional regulation techniques become valuable tools in managing the intensity of emotions associated with this state.

Rational Mind

rational mind state

If you’re thinking clearly and logically, you’re using your rational mind. It doesn’t do any feeling and is often logical, factual, analyzing and cold.

The rational mind, residing in the prefrontal cortex, is the bastion of logic and reason. This part of your mind is essential in anticipating and solving problems on a day-to-day basis. It’s responsible for planning, organizing, and focussing, especially when something challenging is involved. It is an essential component in a crisis because it can help you to find solutions.

Using this part of you can help you to reduce the intensity of emotions. Because of this, it can be easy to want to stay in your rational mind.

Getting stuck here can shut you off from your emotions and make you seem robotic and cold. This makes relationships with other humans difficult because without emotions, we don’t connect as deeply.

It can make you distance yourself, leading to loneliness and numbness, making life seem empty. For a while, I loved being in this mindset, but eventually, the people that I cared about distanced themselves from me. It became very lonely and made my anxiety even worse.

Striking a balance involves acknowledging the importance of logic while allowing room for emotional intelligence. Practices like mindfulness meditation and yoga can help in integrating rational thinking with emotional awareness, fostering a more holistic and connected experience.

Mentalizing Mind

mentalizing mind

You can’t stay in either the emotional state of mind or the rational state of mind for a long time. The mentalizing mind is the best of both worlds.

The concept of mentalizing, also known as reflective functioning, allows us to take care of our feelings and our thoughts. It helps us to think about our emotions in a rational way and experience how our thoughts feel.

This state of mind, often associated with the anterior cingulate cortex, provides a bridge between the emotional and rational minds. As such, in our mentalizing mind, we can reflect and understand our emotions.

With this mindset, we can also learn to understand both our own behavior and that of others. They allow us to develop relationships and take care of them. Being in our mentalizing mind encourages us to understand that all people have thoughts and feelings, and so do we.

Through mentalizing, we begin to understand who we are. This gives us meaning and allows us to form successful relationships. It teaches us to feel the intensity of emotions but pause before we act.

It can help us approach our emotions with curiosity and explore the underlying thoughts and motivations.

Integrating Our States of Mind

Neither state of mind is good or bad. They each have their place and serve us in specific ways. But to truly connect with ourselves and master our anxiety, we have to embrace all three mind states. We have to adopt a holistic approach that involves integrating the emotional, rational, and mentalizing minds.

This integration cultivates emotional regulation, sound decision-making, and a deeper understanding of oneself and others. Therapeutic approaches, such as Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT), often emphasize this integration to promote overall mental well-being.

different state of minds

The Different Mind States and Everyday Life

In daily life, recognizing the dominant state of mind in a given situation can be transformative. When faced with challenges, we can learn to consciously shift between states to respond appropriately. For instance, if overwhelmed by emotions, taking a step back to engage the rational mind can provide clarity. Similarly, practicing mentalizing in interpersonal interactions fosters empathy and enriches relationships.

It’s our responsibility to learn how to embrace the symphony of emotions, the logic of thought, and the delicate balance between the two. I’ve been learning how to do it for years, and I still haven’t mastered it. It’s an ongoing process, and some days are easier than others (a mental health check-in is a great way to see where you’re at on a given day).

It’s all about cultivating self-awareness, learning different coping skills, and moving through it.

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