“Emotions are, at their core, packets of rapid intelligence.”
– Dr. Tori Olds, paraphrased
As I progress through Tori’s Minding the Heart training, I am finding myself latching onto and gravitating towards seemingly simple phrases that are wildly changing my established paradigms. She dropped this little nugget of information at yesterday’s session, and it made me feel both intense relief and excitement.
We’ve been [incorrectly] taught since a young age about the “right” and “left” brains (i.e. the former is more creative, the latter is more analytic). Generally people get thrown into boxes of either “nerdy-smart” or “artsy-creative”, rarely both. Even stereotypes of femininity and masculinity can be separated using this oversimplified dichotomy.
And all too often in our harried, “let’s fill up the calendar until there is no room to breathe” lifestyles, we tend to favour the concept of the “left brain” more and more – praising those who have the steely nerves, the analytical thinking, the rational approach. For some, including myself as a young child, emotions were frowned upon. Emotions meant weakness; emotions meant that you were letting your heart overcome your mind.
As a society, there is pride in being “rational”, and corresponding shame in being “emotional”.
In a world where we constantly bottle up our emotions for the sake of productivity, keeping up with the Joneses, or trying to appear like we “have it together”… no wonder we end up anxious, depressed, and frustrated!
(image from here)
In Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (my favourite therapeutic method), there is a concept called the Wise Mind that (simplifying here), argues the following:
- Imagine a Venn diagram.
- One circle encompasses the Rational Mind: the purely analytic thought, devoid of emotion.
- The other circle encompasses the Emotional Mind: the gut feelings, acting on impulses, etc.
- As we make decisions (e.g. execute behaviors), sometimes we get stuck working in one “Mind” or the other. This manifests as distress or disorders.
- The intersection of these two circles is the Wise Mind. In this state of mind, we are actively listening and appreciating both our Rational and Emotional Mind.
The concept of the Wise Mind is a little hard to grasp for DBT beginners because it seems both “duh” and confusingly abstract at the same time. How exactly does one listen to both minds? Isn’t the Wise Mind a mind of its own? What is this three-in-one package I’m supposed to listen to?!
Tori’s quote above solved that confusion for me instantly: the Wise Mind is not trying listening to two minds like a multitasker, or trying to find compromise between two bickering voices. It is understanding that the Rational Mind and the Emotional Mind can be the same thing – and that is the Wise Mind. Such a small shift in thinking, but what a change it has made in how I view this concept!
Emotions are, scientifically, more primal instincts that have developed through millions of years of evolution. It is our genetic coding giving us instruction in a way that does not require 10 minutes of processing time by our “logical” brains. But regardless of time or mechanism, emotions are there to relay some sort of information – some sort of intelligence. Emotions are intelligence.
For those of us who feel shame for experiencing emotion instead of being “rational” or “analytical”, this is huge. You’re not shirking your “rational” mind by listening to your emotions. It doesn’t make you less intelligent or analytical if you are moved deeply by feelings. Because ultimately, those two items – emotional feeling and rational thought – are both two sides of the same coin.