Written By: Lauren Barris, LCSW-C
Recently, I found myself faced with an incredibly painful and difficult decision. I was given a choice to make that would impact my life as well as another’s. In this moment, I felt so utterly and completely torn. I had limited time to make my decision, and the consequences of my choice would be permanent. There was no middle path, no painless alternative.
I’ll be honest, in this moment I had to call upon every DBT coping skill I have ever taught to my clients. I was grasping at them, flipping through each one in my mind in a desperate attempt to get relief from emotional pain, a clear mind to make a decision -anything other than the suffering that I was experiencing. I tried Self-Validation --that helped me to stop judging my emotion. I reached out for support --that helped me feel like I was not alone. I tried Opposite Action to sadness --that helped, but the sadness (and tears, lets be honest) kept hitting me in waves, again and again. It kept using it, and it did offer intermittent relief, a sense of control, and the ability to function when I needed to. I thought about Radical Acceptance. But man, that felt very much out of reach. I whittled it down to just acceptance, whatever amount I could muster, and that felt possible. I was able to accept the situation that was in front of me, and accept that I had to make a choice.
In this moment, I thought about Wise Mind. That elusive state of mind where you see the truth and value in both the emotions you are having, and the cognitive, factual pieces that cannot be ignored. I thought, if there was ever a moment where it was crucial to get into Wise Mind, this is it. The tricky thing is, finding Wise Mind is not as simple as just mashing together your emotions and your thoughts into a big sticky mess. It’s recognizing and lifting out the truth from each side, and making a choice that honors both. It’s listening to your intuition, and following your gut. For me, I imagined myself ten years older, looking back on this day, reflecting on my decision, and even letting it guide future decisions. Only when I imagined these things, did my choice become clear.
I made the decision that was consistent with the person I would want to be; consistent with the values I would want that ideal self to have. Ten years from now, I could look back at this decision and be at peace with it; I could explain it to loved ones if I had to. The choice validated and honored my emotion, and also took stock of the factual information I was receiving. This decision was incredibly painful to make (far more painful in the short-term than my alternative would have been), and at the same time, it was followed by a deeper sense of calm, of “intuitive knowing,” and peace.
Wise Mind is evasive. It is so hard to find, especially when we need it most. And in spite of, or perhaps because of its elusiveness, striving for it as often as possible helps us live more of our lives in that balanced, intuitive state, where nothing is shut out, and at the same time no one side has total control - we are “driving the bus,” not just our feelings, and not just our thoughts.