Sunday, April 24, 2011

States of mind

I thought I'd share a story today, but first let me explain something that will be relevant to my tale.  Marsha Linehan, Ph.D., renowned for developing Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, describes three states of mind - the reasonable mind, the emotional mind, and the wise mind (which consists of equal parts emotion and reason).

Obviously the goal is to spend as much time as possible using your wise mind.  For me, I spend more time in my wise mind than ever before in my life; alas, no one can dwell there all the time.  This story is about a recent incident that took me FAR from my wise mind...

We'd just spent a long and stressful day at court.  (My husband and I have been back and forth to court several times over the past few months, as he is embroiled in a battle with his ex-wife over custody of their five year old daughter).  Court always makes me anxious and I always seem to be irritable when the day is over.

There have been a few other highly stressful things going on at home too.  There is one issue about which I have been extremely stressed and frustrated for the past two or three months.  It's something my husband recognizes is a problem and he and I have spoken about it many times.  I have explained to him how stressed and overwhelmed the issue is making me feel and he has pledged to do everything he can to remedy the situation.

We got home from court and were sitting down to a late dinner.  Somehow, we started talking about the aforementioned problem.  The discussion got heated and at some point I just lost it.  I think I caught my voice of reason napping.  The second I started yelling at my husband - REALLY yelling -- my voice of reason jolted awake.

"Um, Melody," she said.  "You should probably stop.  This isn't a good idea.  And you're not being very nice."  I know, I know.  It seems like my voice of reason is a little on the weak side, huh?  But she's really not.  She gets a lot of exercise on a regular basis so she's actually quite strong.  It just happens that she's also been doing a lot more work than usual lately (due primarily to the stressors I mentioned earlier) and she's worn out.  That's probably why she was asleep in the first place!

Needless to say, the emotional part of me was in no mood to listen to my voice of reason.  All the while I'm yelling there's a heated debate going on in the back of my mind.  My voice of reason cautions me to stop yelling before I say something I'll regret later.  My emotional voice has her own thoughts about this.  "I've tried it your way," she tells my reasonable voice.  "I let you do most of the talking most of the time.  I only put my two cents in when it's helpful to you.  Obviously, he [my husband] isn't understanding how important this issue is to us.  Your way isn't working.  It's my turn to try."

My reasonable voice - being reasonable - listened to my emotional voice and considered what she'd said.  She decided that emotional voice had a point.  Reasonable voice had been talking to my husband for weeks about the issue we were now arguing about.  Unfortunately, very little seemed to have changed as a result of her efforts.  Her strategy just wasn't working.  Maybe emotional voice would have better luck.

I think that's why I lost it - not because my emotional mind hijacked the rest of me but because getting emotional actually seemed like a reasonable option, at least at the time.  Plus, I've been under a lot of stress lately.  My reasonable mind has had to work a lot harder than usual to keep things in balance.  It's overwhelmed.  I'm overwhelmed.

The next day, my husband and I sat down to talk about (and to try to resolve) the argument.  I'd already apologized the night before - I've never been one to stay angry very long and I also believe in saying sorry when you make a mistake.  "You were acting like a crazy person!" my husband said to me.  Not what I like to  hear, especially as a mental health professional.  I can't beat myself up though; we're all human.  Like everyone else, I am a work in progress. 


  1. I have similar issues with my wife. They cause me great stress.

  2. The thought of taking on a child or children into a new marriage had got to be very stressful. If there's a difficult ex in the picture and i'm going to guess there is, I think it's perfectly human for you to have a weak moment.

  3. Jen - Thanks for understanding:-)

  4. What a difficult situation to be in, especially since these things can take a lot of time, effort, and energy on everyone's part. Hang in there!

  5. Thanks for this courageous story and helpful insights it shares. I really like the positive approach, and it's interesting also how your "rational voice" and "emotional voice" mix as you share the story, bringing out the wisdom of your experience!

  6. Hi Melody -- First look at your blog -- great job!
    I often experience the kind of inner dialog you describe, but with different characters. I just call them myself and my alter ego. I recognize the latter as a composite of the voices of several influences in my life including parents and an older brother.
    I've engaged my alter ego in some amazing conversations, which I actually transcribe as they play out. We've learned much about each other this way, and have even made some deals on how we can better get along!
    Keep up the good work!


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