Mindfulness of Thoughts Self Leadership

Mindfulness of Thoughts in DBT Distress Tolerance

Integrating Internal Family Systems for Enhanced Self-Leadership


In the realm of mental health and emotional well-being, the practice of mindfulness, particularly within the framework of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), has emerged as a powerful tool for managing distress. This article explores the concept of ‘Mindfulness of Thoughts’ as a crucial component of DBT’s distress tolerance skills. We will delve into how this practice aligns with the Internal Family Systems (IFS) model, particularly the concept of Self Leadership, and how it fosters a deeper understanding of our subconscious parts through curiosity.

Understanding Mindfulness of Thoughts in DBT

Dialectical Behavior Therapy, developed by Marsha M. Linehan, integrates cognitive-behavioral techniques with mindfulness principles derived from Buddhist traditions. The core of DBT lies in its emphasis on the dialectical process, which involves accepting one’s experiences while simultaneously working on changing harmful behaviors.

Distress Tolerance and Mindfulness of Thoughts

Distress tolerance, a critical component of DBT, is the ability to endure and accept emotional pain as part of life. Mindfulness of thoughts, under this umbrella, involves observing one’s thoughts without judgment and understanding them as mere mental events that do not necessarily represent reality. This detachment from the content of thoughts reduces their intensity and impact, fostering a more balanced emotional state.

Intersecting with Internal Family Systems: Self Leadership

The Internal Family Systems model, developed by Richard C. Schwartz, provides a comprehensive framework for understanding the psyche. It posits that the mind is made up of sub-personalities or ‘parts,’ each with its unique perspectives, feelings, and motivations. Central to IFS is the concept of the ‘Self,’ a core aspect of our being characterized by qualities such as calmness, curiosity, compassion, and clarity.

Self Leadership in Mindfulness of Thoughts

In the context of mindfulness of thoughts, Self Leadership becomes a guiding principle. It encourages individuals to approach their thoughts and emotions from a place of curiosity and compassion, mirroring the nonjudgmental stance of mindfulness. By recognizing and understanding the different ‘parts’ within, individuals can cultivate a more harmonious internal environment, leading to greater emotional balance.

Accessing the Subconscious with Curiosity

A key aspect of both DBT’s mindfulness of thoughts and IFS’s Self Leadership is accessing parts of the subconscious with curiosity. This process involves:

  1. Observation Without Judgment: Viewing thoughts as passing mental events without attaching to them.
  2. Curiosity and Openness: Approaching internal experiences with a willingness to explore and understand.
  3. Compassion and Acceptance: Embracing all parts of the self, even those that are painful or challenging.

Practical Application in Therapy

In a therapeutic setting, integrating mindfulness of thoughts with Self Leadership can be transformative. Therapists can guide clients through exercises that encourage them to observe their thoughts and engage with their internal parts from a place of Self. This process helps in recognizing that thoughts are not facts and that each part of the self has a role and a story that deserves understanding.


Mindfulness of thoughts, as part of DBT’s distress tolerance skills, offers a robust framework for managing emotional turmoil. When integrated with the IFS concept of Self Leadership, it provides a comprehensive approach to understanding and harmonizing our internal world. This synthesis not only enhances distress tolerance but also fosters a deeper sense of self-awareness and emotional resilience.

This psychoeducational article aims to provide a foundational understanding of the integration of mindfulness of thoughts in distress tolerance and its intersection with the concept of Self Leadership in the Internal Family Systems model. It’s crucial for therapists and individuals alike to appreciate how these practices collaboratively enhance emotional well-being and self-awareness.


  1. Linehan, M. M. (1993). Cognitive-behavioral treatment of borderline personality disorder. Guilford Press.
  2. Schwartz, R. C. (1995). Internal Family Systems Therapy. Guilford Press.
  3. Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994). Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life. Hyperion.
  4. Siegel, D. J. (2007). The Mindful Brain: Reflection and Attunement in the Cultivation of Well-Being. W. W. Norton & Company.
  5. Hayes, S. C., Strosahl, K. D., & Wilson, K. G. (2012). Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: The Process and Practice of Mindful Change. Guilford Press.