Mind reading is something that many of us do quite consistently. Like the other thinking errors it has become something of a survival skill. As a therapist in Burbank, Beverly Hills and Rosemead I have seen this many times in clients and patients.
If you are in a rough neighborhood or a delicate situation, mindreading can help you extricate yourself from problems. The problem with it is that we assume that we know how others are feeling and what is motivating them. This can lead to misjudgments on our part. The old adage applies here, “Don’t assume because you make an ASS out of U and ME.”
The classic mindreading scenario is walking into a room and the conversation stops. Does this mean that they were talking about YOU? Sometimes we think that. It IS possible, but it is more likely that the people in conversation were talking about personal issues that they might not want everyone to be aware of.
Mindreading comes from projection. We project our own feelings and thoughts onto other people. We assume that they are feeling and thinking along the lines that we suppose. The problem here is that we are NOT tuned in enough to what others are actually saying and conveying. We think we know what they mean or are getting at. But isn’t this the antithesis of good communication? Isn’t it the opposite of reading our partners appropriately and listening to what they are actually saying?
Mindreading also leads to defensiveness. We think we know what the other person is driving at and we get defensive. (Sometimes leading questions reveal intent but sometimes we miss the point too.)
There are several steps to getting out of the mindreading trap. Recognize in your own mind what you think the other person is thinking. This is a little easier if you are not in the spur of the moment. Bringing thoughts out into the open can shine a light of logic on an irrational though.
What are the pros and cons of buying into this though? Do a cost benefit analysis. This is particularly helpful if your mind reading is regarding what your boss at work is thinking or your significant other. Usually our inner critic wants to protect us from harm. But what is the cost to you in terms of your own well being? Your mental health.
Do you have any evidence for your assumption and is there any evidence against your assumption? – and against your thoughts? The cognitive Behavioral Therapy thinking error of filtering might make us see only evidence supporting our view. Can you test the evidence? Talking to a trusted friend or therapist about these ideas can give you a clearer picture of where you are.
One of my favorite Seinfeld episodes was where George Costanza did the exact opposite of everything. As George put it,
“It became very clear to me sitting out there today, that every decision I’ve ever made, in my entire life, has been wrong. My life is the opposite of everything I want it to be. Every instinct I have, in every of life, be it something to wear, something to eat … It’s all been wrong.”
Well this is a very extreme example, and not Everything we do in life is wrong, nor are all of our mindreading efforts, incorrect, but it would be worth a flier if we operated in a fashion opposite to the negative outcomes and expectations that we have. Again, consider the pros and cons and costs and benefits of these actions. If we recognize the cognitive distortion of mind reading and then learn to challenge it we can help to reduce self-consciousness, social anxiety, and anxiety.